“I have known since I was a child that I wanted to be in the fashion industry,” recalled Miami-based fashion designer and stylist Pangea Kali Virga, “from watching the Fashion TV Network instead of cartoons, poring over magazines between children’s books, or sketching during family road trips, my childhood consists primarily of fashion memories. I started formal training learning how to sew and sketch at 14.”
Since then, through her own creativity, persistence, and fearlessness, Pangea Kali Virga has made an everlasting imprint on the fashion industry.
Born and raised in New York, the artist graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology in 2012 with a degree in fashion design.
A few years later in 2015, Virga launched her “complex, narrative and unique” namesake fashion brand. During this time, Virga released stunning collections, like Pieces of Me, which were featured in various publications. The designer then decided to take a break to design for other labels and to travel around the world before making an impactful comeback in 2019.
“Fashion, in some respects, feels like my first language, so it only felt natural to continue speaking to the world through this medium,” said the entrepreneur who revealed that she feels most fluent using fashion as a mode of expression which directly led to her decision to create a brand.
“I believe that clothes have the power to change the world, bring people together, and help individuals find their inner voice and I wanted to help facilitate those things.”
The native New Yorker explained that growing up in the fashion capital of America had a direct influence on her design aesthetic, “New York City is a world of aesthetic possibilities, a hybrid of cultures, and significantly less judgemental when it comes to fashion expression. New York City allowed me to really play around with clothes and push my creative limits as well as learn about fashions from other regions of the globe.”
While Manhattan is a melting pot, the nomadic designer took her cultural curiosity abroad and traveled to other places like Vietnam and Kansas City.
The now Miami-based designer said that the magic city has also influenced her approach to design, “Miami has broadened my interest in using bolder and brighter colors in my work. Also due to the nature that my work is dictated by the upcycled materials, I am sourcing/receiving, the fabrics used are primarily coming from clothing worn by Miamians.”
Along with the sites that Virga has seen, she credits art as another inspirational source for the work that she has produced, “I really value fashion as an art form and making one-of-a-kind clothing showcases that these pieces are not just commodities, but pieces of art to hold on to for a lifetime. When designing and crafting a piece I often think of the designs as making a piece of art, considering carefully the composition of seams and shapes, colors and textures, of feel and line work.”
“Clothes are expressive and allow you to turn your body into a canvas, with the right clothing you can fully bloom into yourself, try other realities on, and change your relationship to space and culture, does art not elicit similar emotional and mental experiences? Is getting dressed not a performance we all get to enjoy?” questioned Virga, “The art and fashion industry have always been deeply intertwined and I find much inspiration in the halls of art museums, galleries, and through my friendships with other artists.”
With this in mind, Virga envisions that her clothing will be worn by “someone dynamic, creative, compassionate, with an attention to detail. People who have so much to say to the world. An individual who believes in the inherent value of clothes, the artistry that goes into the design, the labor that goes into execution, and the unique nature of this wearable art form.”
In regards to her design process, she stated, “I think design should be original, honest, and stand for something. I have no interest in making work revolving around trends or a specific aesthetic. My design philosophy is to let my questions guide me, to continue trying new techniques with every new garment, and to follow my instincts.”
“The influences for my designs are primarily internal. The basis for the collections are often questions or conflicts within me that for my own sanity I need to explore, define, and lay to rest,” explained the designer, who has participated in ten fashion shows, “My influences, in a nutshell, are existential fear and the deep desire to provide the opportunity for other people to see themselves differently in my clothing. Because isn’t that the point of clothing? To put on some kind of mask that facilitates the way you want to see yourself and how you want to live your life? I also find inspiration in the complexities of nature.”
Virga has released more than ten collections and each has had a different concept in which she says is reflective through the colors she chooses, “A collection about the balancing act of being a nudist fashion designer was rendered in all neutral skin tones of the shades I have been throughout my life, for example.”
As the designer mentioned, she chose to create her pieces once because she views her creations as wearable art, “My original designs are now made almost entirely of up-cycled materials, everything from donated sweaters to shower curtains, resulting in each garment being entirely unique and impossible to identically reproduce. I believe that mass production decreases the value of clothing and promotes a mentality that makes clothing disposable (which leads to unimaginable amounts of pollution and waste).”
“I want clothing to be seen as an investment, as a future heirloom, as a cherished thing to make memories in, making everything one of one hopefully creates a bond between the wearer and the piece that will last many years.”
Virga is committed to helping transform the fashion industry to being more sustainable and equitable through her brand, “The fashion industry pollutes more than the transportation industry, all cars, planes, trains, boats combined. Fashion is a huge contributor to unethical employment through inhumane manufacturing practices, reckless polluting practices leading to climate change, and there is so much racism at every level from production to retail. Why would anyone in good conscience go with the flow of these current practices and contribute to it?”
The fashion designer expressed that she hopes that other independent designers and consumers can follow her lead, break the mold, and try a more sustainable approach to mutually benefit the planet and labor to their lifestyles and wardrobe while confirming that her designs will remain zero waste and upcycled as well as handmade.
Pre-pandemic, Virga was hosting monthly workshops teaching individuals how to mend, customize, and preserve their clothing for life-time use, in which she clarified, “These skills can be very empowering and allow people to hold on to their clothes for much longer. I hope to get back to them soon as more people get vaccinated and tested with regularity.”
The accomplished stylist, who has produced dozens of editorial photoshoots, is also determined to use her platform to help others. As the Executive Producer and co-founder of Miami on Sight, Virga uses this community-minded fashion project to showcase Miami based sustainable designers. This initiative “produces recurring fashion and design events with a focus on outreach, accessibility, environmentalism, and inclusivity to create connections between the arts community and the general public.”
In addition, Virga’s brand is currently donating 10% of proceeds to For The Gworls, which is a project that assists Black trans efforts for funding gender-affirming surgery and housing costs. The curator explained how strongly she feels about giving back, “No one can accomplish anything substantial on their own. The only way to see real improvement in the world is to team up and support, encourage, and showcase the efforts of others doing admirable things.”
Pangea Kali Virga’s brand is unique to others as it makes a statement in a number of ways,
Overall, the seasoned fashion designer explained that through her namesake brand, she wants people to understand that, “with the help of clothing they can transform themselves for a few minutes, a few days, a lifetime into countless beings, that they can make ethical decisions with their money in an unethical capitalist society, and that fashion can be really fun.”
Pangea Kali Virga
CM: How do you feel your brand has evolved since your first collection?
PKV: Since I started Pangea Kali Virga, I have switched my focus to sustainable design and have gotten more experimental with technique and shape.
CM: Did your time at the Fashion Institute of Technology help you in any way when creating your brand?
PKV: My time at FIT was invaluable. Even though my work has expanded into territory that was never covered at FIT, primarily the sustainability angle, I was given an incredible foundational education that gave me confidence in my abilities.
CM: How would you describe your personal style? Is it similar to that of your brand?
PKV: My personal style is eclectic and runs the gamut from elegant to raver to dominatrix to hippy. My brand is just a reflection of these different sides of my personal style and dreams.
CM: What has been your greatest accomplishment and lesson you have learned through your brand?
PKV: The greatest lesson is that design and ethics can go together. My greatest accomplishment is being able to make so much art with so many people who are near and dear to my heart, what a dream it has been to share these moments and celebrate as friends our magazine covers, fashion shows, publications, and more. It has also been such an honor to create Miami On Sight as well, and crafting these public fashion shows from the ground up that gave a voice to so many local artists, from designers to musicians to graphic designers. I am still in awe of those events and the process that went behind making them a reality, it was work that encompassed all my focus and energy to execute.
CM: Has there been anything in the industry that you have had to overcome?
PKV: Being a designer is exciting because there is always something new to learn and try out. Sometimes tackling these new things can be a struggle, whether it’s designing for cultures you have little understanding of or designing menswear for the first time. Having a brand has its own challenges as well since I had no formal education in business, marketing, or brand development, but it is gratifying learning these things through experience. There is nothing you can’t learn from making mistakes and calling people up who know more than you for advice.
CM: Do you have any advice for aspiring fashion designers?
PKV: Listen to and seek out feedback, but always have faith in your vision. Have confidence in your unique approach, you are the only you so don’t second guess yourself too often. Collaboration is key to growth, always reach out to other people in the industry who you admire and see if they are open to partnering on a project. Try to be on the right side of history with your production and craft methods, sustainability as a foundational aspect of a brand is actually creatively liberating!
CM: You have already accomplished so much and have created a beautiful brand, what’s next for you and your brand? What else do you hope to achieve in the next 5 years?
PKV: I will be launching an online shopping platform for people who want to collect their original Pange Kali Virga pieces, starting February 28th.All available online samples will be listed available for purchase or rent. Everything on the shop will be available for custom order and can be purchased in full, in installments, or by trade for other goods and services. Ethical fashion should be accessible to all. The brand will also start offering mending kits and smaller accessories to offer things at accessible price points for individuals who want a piece for a lower price point.
I have recently been venturing into fiber art wall hangings for a solo exhibition in April at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, using many of my smallest scraps, so expect more of this art for sale and exhibition over the coming years.
I also have a vegan cookbook coming out at the end of February, which even though is not fashion related, my veganism is the direct inspiration to me looking more into the unethical practices of the fashion industry and reforming my brand. The book is titled QT Cookbook, for qt vegans who love qt animals, and is filled with easy, inexpensive recipes, and very cute pictures of animals.
To Learn more visit: