By Chantal Brocca
With emerging designers embracing new production methods such as upcycling and skipping the go-to fabric houses to scour dead stock warehouses and repurposed vintage alternatives, it seems sustainable fashion is well on its way to becoming a tangible threat to the system.
Wowing the crowds with theatrical spectacles just isn’t enough, and the number of people waking up to the shady, purposefully murky practices of fashion industry moguls is steadily on the rise. And the message is especially trickling down to the younger generation – more and more design students are choosing to explore the options afforded by sustainable methods, beginning with the use of organic fabrics all the way to more hardcore zero tolerance, zero waste methods.
To illustrate, Eluxe brings you interviews from a couple of the world’s young designers who are out there teaching their peers and the world that every choice we make is a vote. Andrea Brocca stole the Guinness World Record of ‘Youngest Couturier’ from none other than Yves Saint Laurent at age 16. TED Talk favourite, animator, author, model, entrepreneur and designer Maya Penn has won multiple awards and was featured in publications from Forbes to Cosmopolitan from as early as 13. Natasha Rose has just launched her very first sustainable collection at the age of 16, and at 17 years old, Rose Bourke has already achieved success with her Anti Vice Studio designs.
Multinational fast fashion giants beware: this is the future generation talking.
1. When did you realise you had a talent for design?
I still don’t think I have a talent for design, I just saw a gap in what was being offered, an absence of the types of clothes I wanted to wear that were also sustainable. I just envisioned what I wanted to wear and that’s what ended up on paper (my first drafts). I had a little help from a trained fashion designer, who helped draw the designs and make them simpler to make (less waste).
I would draw clothes since I could pick up a pen, and as a 9/10 year old I would design “Andrea Brocca” imagined campaigns of my products within a setting, focusing in detail on the functionality of the products, the clothing aesthetic, and the way they are constructed. I would also make bags and clothes, and I understood then that I could design with identity, which is ultimately the source of a label. But I never really believed I could turn those ideas into a reality until I was 13, and I got 3rd place for the Harpers Bazaar Arabia Fashion Illustrator of the year, and understood I could articulate my illustrations into something tangible. That same year I started working and designing for Temperley London, and my creation for her label, the ‘Andrea Dress,’ sold out worldwide on Net-a-Porter. It was the push I needed: after two years, I founded my brand and opened a boutique, selling my made-to-measure evening wear gowns for a Middle Eastern clientele base, which helped me receive the Guinness World Record as the Youngest Couturier in the world at age 16.
I have had an interest in fashion for as long as I can remember. When I look back at photos from when I was younger I was always wearing something new and… exciting! Pink feather boas paired with a yellow sundress and round glittery sunglasses. That was my style. But the first time I took an interest in design I was around 10 years old: one day at school, one of the girls I would play with during snack time at the playground brought back a pack of fashion croquis. She showed it to all the girls and explained that you could drawn on or design any clothing you wanted – you could even add stickers! I was hooked. All our snack and lunchtimes for the next week were taken up designing clothes. I even took home a blank croquis and photocopied it so I could keep designing even when I wasn’t at school. Eventually, the other girls got tired of it and moved on to the next toy – but for me, it’s been 6 years and the passion lives on.
I’ve always had a passion for art in all its forms, including fashion design. I started by creating items for myself such as headbands. After receiving many compliments on my designs and being asked the question “where can I buy one?” I had the idea to start my own fashion line. I love incorporating inspiration from nature into my designs. I think that nature plays such a big role in my design style, not only aesthetically but also through using more sustainable methods/materials to create my items which is healthier for the environment.
Why is sustainability important to you?
Sustainability is the only way forward, in my mind. I feel like if we don;t integrate sustainability into our lives on a holistic level, then we will be unable to make a difference. That’s why I think changing what we wear is important. But I also think we would be foolish to think that we can stop the negative impacts of our current habits through ‘people power’ alone, however pessimistic that sounds. I think real change will only be accomplished if the companies and corporations change as well, which is why I wanted to create a sustainable business, to be part of that private enterprise shift. I think sustainability is about preserving what life we have for the future generations, ensuring that they have access to basic health standards and freedoms that we have now – clean air, safe and plentiful food and cute, harm free clothes!
There’s so much surface out there. If my design process – which is my most personal dialog within myself – has an ethical backdrop which is in line with my morals, I can feel proud about the work I am doing, and this an incentive to wanting to share and influence the audience with my work from a sustainable perspective. At the end of the day, what we produce and what we wear says a lot about us and the values we want to communicate. The question we have to ask ourselves is: what kind of world do we want to build?
Sustainability is important to me for reasons why it should be important to everybody. We are guests to this beautiful planet called Earth therefore, like any good house guest, we should care for it. To keep it simple, if Earth dies so do we! When I first dreamt of creating my own fashion brand, making it sustainable didn’t even cross my mind. It wasn’t until I chose an organic fabric, out of multiple other samples I received, that I decided to inform myself. The more I found out, the more I knew that I shouldn’t just make this a sustainable brand but that I NEEDED to – I realized life had been guiding me on that path all along and this was exactly what I was meant to do.
Since the day I was born I have been eating organic, and I grew up in the “countrysides” of Australia surrounded by nature. As a young kid I adored animals and even wanted to have my own place to care for marine animals. I realized throughout the design process of our first collection I had constantly been inspired by nature. Even the brand name features a piece of nature: the Rose. It was like it all came together.
Sustainability just makes sense. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter of our Earth, only second to oil. So when I first started my brand, I knew I had to build it around eco-friendliness. We all call this beautiful planet home, and I think it’s so important to protect it. We need to create a greener tomorrow for our future generations, and there is a role that everyone has to play for us to get there.
3. Which sustainable techniques do you most admire?
Zero and Minimal waste pattern cutting is the sustainable technique I am most stimulated by. There’s an intellectuality behind this process which makes my design process much richer, as there is no end goal, therefore the technical discoveries are plentiful. I find that I am able to create the kind of shapes that would have normally taken numerous resources with simple manipulations!
I really admire waste free designs – designs that use the entire piece of fabric without any cut offs. I also am a big fan of the innovation in environmentally friendly fabrics ie. tencel and algae derived. What I love most is how the sustainable industry is constantly innovating and developing, always trying to better itself and prove that it’s a viable and stable alternative. It’s incredible!
Dyeing clothes with flowers! My seamstress actually showed me this technique since she knew I was very interested in sustainable fashion. Some of the results you can achieve are really stunning. I hope to use it in a collection to come.
Another one that I admire is the use of recycled plastic in fabrics. I am so fascinated by it! I first found out about it from some shoes I saw by Adidas and since then I have seen it used in many products, such as in swimwear right here in Barcelona. I think it is such a great idea, especially considering the amount of plastic we use every day, and how much ends up in waste. Again, I hope to use this technique in a future collection, maybe Natasha Rose Swim?
There are so many new and innovative sustainable techniques and technologies on the horizon, from creating fabric and plant leather from fermented tea, digital printing/dyeing, recycling plastic trash into a variety of fabrics, etc. I’m always excited to see what’s next.
Whose designs and philosophies most influence you?
I’d say that my three designers are Cossac, The Reformation and Stella McCartney. I love how they combine a unique aesthetic with ethical and sustainable design. They are really leading the way of blending the line between mainstream, style and sustainability, it’s incredible. And the three designers are all so different!
The philosophy that influence me the most is “Do what you like, as long you don’t harm another feeling thing and do what you can, to prevent harm to another feeling things”. This really guides me in my choices, and how I run my business. I always try to choose the options that will help as many people as I can. But I also try to make time for myself, make sure that I’m continuing to make sure I’m healthy and happy. That’s the idea, anyway!
I admire Madeleine Vionnet’s work and philosophy very much. She labelled herself a technician, but was one of the richest minds of the 20th century, design wise. She was an innovator of her time, and basically invented the bias cutting we know today.
I have always been inspired by Christian Dior’s designs from a young age. I was so infatuated with the New Look movement he created and I have even read his auto biography. I love the brands attention to detail and their couture collections have inspired me in many of my designs, even though their lack of sustainability is a huge downfall. I love to take aspects of couture and bring them over to ready-to-wear.
Philosophy wise I think Stella McCartney has influenced me in the later stages. I could relate to the brand and its high-fashion status whilst sticking to sustainable ethics. Honestly though, nothing inspires like small sustainable brands – I know how hard it is and I’d love to collaborate with them in the future!
I’m greatly inspired by vintage fashion, and a lot of those styles are reflected in my designs. I have tons of vintage pieces in my own wardrobe. I love the idea of reusing and giving these beautiful pieces a new life. I love finding new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. I like brands such as Eileen Fisher and EDUN and what their philosophies are. For example, EDUN focuses on ethical fashion, creating long-term, sustainable growth opportunities by supporting manufacturers, and community-based initiatives. I think it’s important for companies to incorporate sustainable and ethical methods into their business as much as possible.
Where do you see your brand in five years?
I want to be continuing to sell high quality, on trend designs, but I would like to have transitioned to Australian made (my designs are currently made overseas) and to a more sustainable fabric (currently using GOTS cotton), such as tencel. I would like to have become more broadly recognised and synonymous with youthful, playful and ethical fashion.
I want to have met and collaborated with great young minds, and have my brand a react to these collaborations. I am learning that, now more than ever, we all move forward together, and that unity is sustainable fashion’s strongest chance to transcend survival, and thrive!
Having already cultivated a clientele base in the Middle East for made-to-measure evening-wear, I will develop the couture aspect of my brand further. The garments I create reflect the strength and fluidity of the female body, along with a technical know-how. I want to translate this creative process into a high end ready to wear context. With an RTW schedule, I can articulate my woman in a more accessible manner. In five years, I want to commercialize my couture process, and apply it to precious daily garments.
That’s a good question! In five years I hope to have opened my first headquarters here in Barcelona and be looking at opening another in New York, to be closer to the American market. I’d like to have established a closer connection to my customer base and to have understood how to really communicate the style of the brand. I feel these first five years are about building a really good base for the brand in order to expand into foreign markets, opening a new chapter for Natasha Rose in terms of pushing boundaries and experimenting with creativity, merging it with my love for cinematography to become a big voice for the sustainable fashion movement.
Helping consumers understand what they are wearing and, most importantly, CARE about what they are wearing – like most, the thought of fashion hurting the planet didn’t even cross my mind, let alone it being the second most polluting industry in the world! I want to open people’s eyes, like mine were, about the true effects of fashion as we knew today.
Still continuing to grow globally even faster than it already is today, and hopefully inspiring other brands in the fashion industry and beyond, to take a greener approach.
All images: the designers unless otherwise stated. Main image: Savoir Flare