This Catholic fashion label is taking on the industry, challenging women to go deeper in expressing their identity.
Is the fashion industry a place where Catholic women can belong?
This is the question Veronica Marrinan and Olivia Swinford (now Sr. Maria Dominique) asked three years ago as students at the Fashion Institute of Technology. They boldly answered “yes” to their question and created Litany, the first Catholic fashion label in NYC.
The designers set out to be the solution to an industry that often reduces a woman’s value to her sexual appeal and the beauty standards she’s pressured to live up to.
But rather than opting out of the industry entirely, the team at Litany seeks to create clothing that incorporates theology in every stitch, in the hopes of bringing women to a greater understanding of their identity as being made in the image and likeness of God.
With the motto “garments that clothe the soul,” the blossoming company has released their latest collection of ethically made silk blouses. Meant to accompany women in their vocation in all seasons of life, their made-to-measure production technique encourages the wearer to recognize the unique beauty and dignity of their own body.
I sat down with Litany designer and Creative Director, Veronica Marrinan, to pick her brain on the role of Catholic women in the fashion industry and how her company is seeking to make change.
Lillian Fallon: What made you want to take on the fashion industry as a Catholic woman?
Veronica Marrinan: When I first decided to study fashion design, it was largely born out of a desire to make clothing that was modest and not boring. But as I began to refine my own design process and learn more about theology of the body, that mission expanded far beyond that original idea. I was looking around and seeing pieces of that calling in the industry — the desire to reveal the beauty of woman, but [also] reducing her to how she can be sexually commodified; the desire to express the wearer’s personality, but missing the mark by creating trends that were transient and in contrast with the steadfast reality of the wearer’s soul.
I saw that people wanted to wear clothing that mattered, but the fashion industry was just falling short. I think, as Catholics, we bring a deep, penetrating gaze to everyday beauty, and I felt we were being called to use that in service of women who were aching for their clothing to be a way to know themselves and be known by others.
Many Catholic women struggle with feeling that their interest in fashion is materialistic. How do you respond to that struggle?
I think it’s a concern that comes from a very good place! We want to be humble, and give glory to God, not ourselves.
When we consider humility, I think it’s important to remember that humility isn’t about trying to make ourselves smaller, or folding ourselves into less space. It’s about truth — acknowledging the truth of who we are and how God made us, and that we are not Him.
It is possible to glorify God by how you dress, by delighting in how He has made you beautiful. You need only spend the amount of time and energy on your appearance that helps you feel like yourself and gives glory to God by treasuring the beauty He has created you with.
You can wear a pretty dress that doesn’t make you feel like you’re playing a part — that you can put on and not be preoccupied by how you look the rest of the day. Isn’t that what Jesus said? “Don’t worry about what you will wear” — that’s a preoccupation right there. That’s something helpful to avoid. When you feel you are dressing in a way that feels true to who you are, your personality, the way God made you, and you feel like yourself in — you naturally stop considering how you look to other people. And that’s a big component of vanity, isn’t it? Being caught up in controlling other people’s view of us.
How has the fashion industry failed women? What is the answer?
Most creative directors are men, even though they’re designing for women. They don’t have the same sense of what women need from their clothing because they don’t have the same lived experience, and then women end up with small pockets — or none at all! We want to wear clothing that matters — but often the fashion industry does not help women make a positive impact with their clothing.
Women are worthy of clothing that helps them be most true to themselves and the dignity they were created with. The fashion industry has an immense opportunity to help women be confident in who they are, but for so long it’s created different narratives about what confidence is. It’s told us that confidence is about liking how you look to other people. And so much of that has turned into “Are you sexually desirable?”
The fashion industry tells women what they should want, instead of asking them. And asking is the answer. Who are you? What makes you, you? How do you want your clothing to express that? How can we serve your dignity? Asking those questions and affirming the goodness that is there, instead of dangling confidence like a carrot behind the next purchase of a micro-mini skirt, that is what women deserve!
Is there a place for Catholics in the fashion world? How does Litany play arole in that?
Yes! Wherever there is beauty, God’s love is waiting for us. Sometimes we may need to untwist it, to order it towards goodness, and as Catholics that is our calling! To untwist the lies from the truth to restore and honor beauty. That is what the fashion industry so desperately needs, and because it needs that it can look like it isn’t a place for Catholics. But I think that’s an even greater sign that there is a place for us here.
With Litany, we want to help affirm the goodness that is already here, while bringing healing to the places that are aching for it. Celebrating and honoring the beauty of the human person through colors, shapes, fabrics – and paying attention to the personhood of each woman being served so that she feels safe in the goodness God has created in her.
What’s next for Litany?
We’ve got three projects coming up this spring and summer that I’m so excited about! We’ve created a silk dress that can be worn multiple ways in a print filled with the truths of our Faith. We’re in the fitting stage, which is one of my favorites — learning what we need to do so this garment will fit each woman’s body in a way that is just right for her.
We’ve also chosen a few of our customer favorites to redesign as a capsule bridal collection for all of the peripheral beauty leading up to marriage — bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, engagement photos and the like. We may have a collaboration up our sleeve to surprise you with, too! And finally, I’ve been praying with the Holy Family a lot over the past year or so, and our Fall Collection will be inspired by the fruits of that contemplation.
More than anything, we want Litany to be a force for change in the fashion industry that makes women’s dignity something that cannot be ignored. We’re already thinking about how we can help young girls discover their personal style in a way that is uplifting, and how we can make the industry a more safe and creative space for models, workers, and customers alike.
Our mission is to create clothing and conversations that inspire a deep prayer life in the wearer and help them accept the goodness of how they were created- and we’re well on our way to making that a reality.