Designer Barbara i Gongini creates kick-ass clothes for kick-ass fashionistas
By Chere Di Boscio
Fashion designer Barbara i Gongini has a rebel heart. The Faroe Islander may come from a small town, but she rejects societal order and other normative pressures, using her garments to express an imaginative tale that shines with the freedom of self-expression.
Her construction process is aimed at crafting garments eloquently suitable for both men and women. Typical sartorially structural forms are challenged with experimental pattern-making to create new, strong geometric cuts and soft ovoid silhouettes. Self-expression and individual empowerment are central in the creation of each piece.
Since graduating from Denmark’s School of Design at the Institute of Unica Design in 1996, designer Barbara i Gongini has been an advocate for sustainable design and received a special recognition in 2014 at the Denim Challenge, hosted by the world’s largest sustainable fashion event, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit.
Barbara i Gongini has also been an active participant in the Nordic art discourse, working in close collaboration with various film, musical, dance and photographic artists. Here in this exclusive interview for Eluxe Magazine, she talks about sex, denim and rock ‘n’ roll.
Designer Barbara i Gongini Interview
You have said you think everyone in the fashion supply chain should be ‘pushing for eco-friendly solutions and fair trade…’. Tell us a bit about how your brand does that?
We are pushing our boundaries to be 100% eco friendly, which is of course, hard to reach. The supply chain needs to support that, too. We are constantly engaged in a debate on sustainability. Among other ways, we strengthen our knowledge on the timely and complex concept by attending seminars and listening to speeches. A couple months ago, the brand was represented at a EU conference, speaking to a group of ministry-level politicians on how to address the problems related to sustainability.
What we do in practice to make the brand more sustainable concentrates on an ongoing search for eco-friendly fabrics and dyeing processes. We also pay special attention to ethically choosing the production facilities and how they comply with the manufacturing requirements both inside and outside the EU. We take a comprehensive approach to sustainability across all branches and operations, trying to find answers to questions such as: “How can we do our part in reducing consumption?” and “What can be done to increase the lifecycle of a garment?”
So what are some of your core sustainable production techniques and values?
Some of our core sustainability-enhancing design values are:
Wardrobing: All new pieces are designed to be compatible and styleable with the pieces from previous collections to encourage keeping old garments in rotation.
Multiways: A feature resulting from the design teams penchant for deconstruction, multifunctionality fuels the wearer’s imagination, eventually strengthening the bond between the garment and the consumer to promote prolonged use of the clothes.
Upcycling/Recycling: Archive styles are brought back to life through deconstruction and new design processes. Old stock fabrics used with previous collection are implemented into new ones to minimise wastage.
Zero waste: The brand is carrying out various scrap-sourced projects. Scrap leather from our leather supplier, for example, is sent to our studio and further developed into all new pieces such as a cap, a scarf and a bowtie.
Your clothes seem very rock and roll and wonderfully dramatic to me. Does music or theatre play any role in influencing your designs? Are there any artists in particular who inspire you?
Everything that stimulates the senses is always a source of inspiration in the design process. All sound compositions or visual attractions that make a strong impact on us count as important reference points.
You were recently recognized in the Denim Challenge at Copenhagen Fashion Summit for turning unexpected silhouette into a classic product. Tell us a bit more about this
The denim niche is something very particular – it has its own life in the industry. We had a really interesting project where the classic denim elements met with the avant-garde. It made us very happy that sustainable and eco-friendly designs were saluted as progressive and current.
Your designs are quite androgynous, yet highly sensual. How would you describe the interplay between your designs and sexuality?
We started as an androgynous brand, which was flirting with the unwritten perception on genders in fashion. It is based on our notion of gender fluid fashion where androgyny is the center of both men’s and women’s collections. Core essence is kept through our unisex pieces.
What recent innovations in sustainable fashion have most impressed you?
We’ve recently been feeling the concept of circular economy a lot. As opposed to the conventional, linear economy (make, use, dispose), in circular economy we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. Applying this concept into fashion defines our design philosophy at the moment.
How do you feel about the new ‘buy from the runway’ trend instigated by Burberry?
Unfortunately this is a concept, which can only be executed by the big players of the industry who are strong in capital. Small or medium range businesses like Barbara i Gongini will at this point not be able to take the risk of having stock that is eventually not sold.
What upcoming events or projects are on your agenda?
We are currently working with very interesting collaborations with several creatives from the Nordic countries. They will be revealed alongside the upcoming collection.
All images courtesy Barbara i Gongini. To shop the collections, click here.