Interview with Christine Tran + Colton Winger of cuniform
cuniform is a Seattle-based personal styling agency whose mission is to bridge the gap between style and personal identity with a focus on sustainability, aesthetics, and ethical manufacturing. Working directly with clients, they provide services for any budget to achieve a functional, beautiful, and socially responsible wardrobe.
If we look closely, clothes touch our lives in deep and profound ways. Using clothing as their tool of choice, Christine and Colton are thinkers, makers and healers who fiercely venture into vulnerable territories to reveal truth and the essence of an individual. This work invites the client towards a truer beauty. I have had the pleasure of a cuniform wardrobe audit where I experienced their creatively agile yet highly structured working method firsthand. Unflattering and irrelevant items were removed from my closet, freeing me to more fully step into a truer personal style. Here, I interview Christine and Colton who are more than stylists at the top of their craft, they are truth tellers.
Judy: Authenticity. Self-discovery. Self-aspiration. Connection. Self-esteem. Confidence. Subversion. Education. These are some values cuniform promotes, making a statement about self worth through personal style that is a far cry from materialism. By being with a client for a 5-hour wardrobe audit, you enter into vulnerable territory. Would you tell us more?
Christine: There are many ways in which clothing and fashion can be viewed as frivolous, and rightly so. But clothing and personal style can also be a powerful tool for self-expression, and that’s where our emphasis lies. These descriptors and values are our reminders that personal style and clothing can be a vehicle for self exploration and examination. It’s a really amazing thing to help and see clients move through their daily lives with so much more comfort, when their clothing makes sense for them.
Step one for us begins with a Wardrobe Audit. Which is usually our initial service with a client, and it lasts for five hours (at least three of those hours are spent directly interfacing with our client). Imagine having two strangers come to your house to look at the clothing choices you’ve made — it’s vulnerable to say the least. So not only is our job to help strategize individual wardrobes, but it’s also our job to help ‘see’ and articulate our client’s personal style, through lots of observation, big and small. Reading energy and body language is a significant part of that, it helps us to decipher someone’s style, even when they can’t.
Colton: As Christine mentions, clothing and personal style can be a powerful tool. And for us, clothing is just that — a tool. One quote that has stuck with me for many years is “Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter, I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book.” To me, this sheds light on living consciously. Really spending time thinking about what you’re working on, whether internally or externally. We don’t need clothing to dignify us, but rather, it’s a beautiful tool to be able to paint a picture of what we are experiencing on the inside.
We’re avid believers in this and we work with clients to use clothing to say something about how they feel on the inside, as an outward expression. Clothing and personal style is one of the first things someone deciphers when they’re standing in front of you, or see you as a passerby. For us, being able to help clients hone in on telling stronger personal messages by using clothing in this way is incredible — you begin to hear areas of their lives unfold and develop; in work, relationships, perception of themselves and the world. It’s very beautiful.
We do a lot of this by putting ourselves in the client’s shoes and in order to do that, we spend time sharing a physical and energetic space with them in order to read their energy throughout our entire process. This allows us to provide the best outcome for whomever we are working with so that their wardrobe is functional and beautifully shares stories about what they want to express or what they’re thinking on the inside.
Judy: How do you see clothing as a medium that can transform lives? What is your universal hope for the individuals who you style?
cuniform: There’s a study in which some people take a test while wearing a doctor’s white coat and some people do not. The people wearing the doctor’s coat perform something like twice as well as the people who are not wearing it. The scientists then conduct a secondary study, in which they take the same coat and tell the new round of test taker’s that it’s an ‘artist’s coat’. The new round doesn’t perform nearly as well as when people thought it was a doctor’s coat. In a nutshell, clothing is transformative.
We believe that it’s life transforming when our inner selves are manifested outwardly, i.e. when who we feel we are on the inside, matches our visual outside. Not only that, but in a way that’s flattering, easy, and environmentally responsible.
It’s a way to encapsulate self-love and also have a larger awareness of the world and those around you, without taking a ton of time and energy. For us, it allows our client’s to not only feel authentic, but to simultaneously have more time and space for the things that are important to them, without having to sacrifice the visual self-expression.
What’s our universal hope for the individuals whom we style? Two things. One. To have successfully helped them feel more comfortable in their own skin. Over and over we’ve had clients tell us that they ‘strangely feel more like themselves’ after working with us. We’ve learned it’s hard to see oneself. We have lots of voices in our heads, things ‘like don’t wear white after Labor Day’, and random advice, advertising, etc, etc. It’s far easier for us to observe when a client feels strong, confident, and sexy — or in other words, like the best version of themselves.
Two. We hope to shift the thinking around shopping. We view every single wardrobe purchase as an investment; beautiful pieces to actually be worn, and to know where they come from, and to make sense for the individual.
Judy: cuniform partners and collaborates on creative projects. What ideas and future projects are you excited about and envisioning?
cuniform: We just finished a collaborative event with Eileen Fisher Renew. Eileen Fisher Renew is the recycling branch of Eileen Fisher. Eileen Fisher will take back any piece of EF clothing made ever, give their client’s a store credit for it, and then figure out what to do with the pieces — gently worn pieces are resold, some pieces get naturally dyed (like indigo dyed) and resold, and some get made into one-of-a-kind new garments. Essentially, Eileen Fisher has created their own full loop system, which we love them for, not only that, but they use really beautiful fabrics on their pieces, and we are definitely fabric nerds. Our event was bringing together items from our cuniform Recycled collection (our inventory of recycled designer and modern clothing), along with our curated picks from the Eileen Fisher Renew Seattle warehouse. So we still have a lot of excitement around the success of that, and in regards to what’s next? More communication. More talk around sustainability and one’s own personal point of view, but in what forms that will take…we’re open and still building those ideas.
Judy: That’s an exciting and relevant partnership. We will stay tuned for more! C+C, what outfit makes you feel authentic and alive to who you are right now?
Christine: A sweatshirt, jeans, and a good coat. Sorry if that’s like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich answer of asking a chef about their favorite meal. But it would be fresh ground peanut butter and homemade jelly on local bread.
Colton: My wardrobe right now is a variety of the same pieces so every outfit makes me feel authentic. A version of an interesting button down (big sleeves, longer, etc.), a stove pipe cropped trouser and a cuban heeled boot.
Judy: And lastly, what is the wisest piece of advice you have received?
Christine: Listen to your client’s, whether they know it or not, they’re always telling you how to get better and what they need.
Colton: “There’s no such thing as good energy or bad energy. It’s all just energy”….Christine and I always joke about this one time we were on a plane from NYC to Seattle and we both happened to have an interview with Oprah on the television with subtitles and at the same time, we looked at the one other and pointed. Oprah had just said “Everybody just wants to be heard.” We’re all the same and many of us have a universal problem, trying to communicate what we feel. And by using clothing as a tool, we believe cuniform can help.
Judy: Thank you Christine and Colton!