Interview with Rosita: Sustainable Clothing is Much More than You Might Think
It is worldwide acceptable to celebrate spring just like any other season. However, here at Biomedicanna, we know that spring is much more important to us and our lives than we might think in the first place. As nature rebirths, we, the people, change in many ways, starting with practices that are closest to us. Clothes are often called our second skin, which must transform together with us and embody sustainability and responsibility to ourselves and everything around us, or that’s how it used to be. Today we invite you to rethink fashion and start diminishing the impact our clothing habits have on nature.
As the first month of spring is already half over, we share with you our fantastic interview with Rosita. Rosita Kužmarskytė has been working as a freelance fashion designer and product developer for several years and recently opened her fashion design studio 'KUZ', which helps fashion brands and emerging designers run a responsible and efficient fashion business.
-Rosita, tell us a bit more about yourself and your work as a fashion design studio founder.
-I am the founder of the 'KUZ' fashion design studio. Every day, we help ambitious people and small companies start their clothing businesses by providing guidance and assistance. This activity idea came to me quite organically. After finishing my university studies in fashion technologies and business, I moved to Riga, Latvia, but finding a job seemed very tricky as I did not know the local language. Therefore, I decided to start freelancing and doing what I knew best at that time. During my studies, I did an internship in London, where I could perfect my skills in technical drawings. Technical drawings are the main tool to transfer rough ideas to technical language, which can be used and understood by pattern makers and tailors. Orders to draw technical sketches started piling up very quickly, together with questions regarding materials, contacts of professional tailors, etc. I soon expanded my services – everyone was interested in learning how the idea of clothing on paper gets turned into reality because you do not have to be a professional with lots of experience to understand the basics of the process.
At one point, I had so many orders that I had to give out some of them to my colleagues, hired a tailor myself, but I burned out quickly as it all became too much for me. I seriously thought about quitting freelancing and applied for a junior designer position in Poland's fast-fashion company. Things were going well – I successfully went through three of four selection stages and was one of few people out of one hundred something group to get an invitation to an interview. The last stage showed to be too tough for me, and it crushed my creative spirit as after being declined, only one tiny step stopped me from getting that job. Besides, I was told I would only be allowed to create one particular type of clothes, for example, pants; designing pants for one week seems fine, but three months or three years seemed to be too much for me. I am an extrovert, and I want to express myself differently through different projects; therefore, the mentioned job would be too monotonous and boring.
That was the turning point when I decided to move back to Vilnius, Lithuania, and open my fashion design studio. I gathered a small team, and the motivation was so strong it only took us a month to finish the studio, and the majority of the equipment – mannequins, sewing machines, materials, etc. – were our own as we all come from the same background with the same dreams. That was the beginning; however, I still do not call myself a designer to this very day – I design commercial clothing, and there is not much artistic inspiration in what I do every day. Well, I need the inspiration to create, but the process is very different. I make up the mood board, see which lines and styles work and which do not; once I come up with this structural work, I start combining the whole collection and developing the things that look great.
-Was it difficult to find new clients? Were they surprised about your studio's work?
-Soon after the studio's opening, various orders started to accumulate, revealing clients' needs. For some time, we worked only with foreign clients; I thought that Lithuanians did not need my services. Therefore, I did not advertise my studio much. However, a few posts and comments in various Facebook groups were very significant – surprisingly, there were so many people interested in the KUZ activity. It turned out that Lithuanians as well want to get broader consultations regarding clothing design. The times when we only cared about selling some colourful sweaters are behind – creators wish to have a unique and responsible clothing development process.
Sustainability practice in production made-to-order is not common yet. This method is applied when garments are made only when the business gets orders from their customers wishing to buy them and prevents businesses from having unnecessary stock. Usually, enterprises announce that they are collecting orders to purchase a specific clothing model, and after two or three weeks, buyers receive the finished product. Now everyone is so impatient and wants to get the product as soon as possible, but this habit does not go hand in hand with sustainability. The made-to-order business model fits my fashion design studio's idea because it allows brand creators to concentrate only on the artistic (research) side of clothing, not worrying too much about the technical work that my team does.
-Do clients usually accept the idea of sustainability behind the made-to-order clothing well?
- We offer our clients this model, but we cannot force them to choose it. As we work with many different businesses and individuals who have different needs, ideas, and opportunities, the made-to-order model, of course, does not fit everyone. In most cases, the company's choice also depends on the buyer – some buy deliberately and are okay with waiting; others shop impulsively and choose trendy things combining eco-friendly fabrics and material for packaging. There were many cases when I did not accept the order as people asked me to design and make technical drawings based on items from luxury, high-fashion brands. Such inquiries oppose my approach to clothing design – I do not want to ruin my well-being for additional finances. My work goal is to be surrounded by like-minded persons, and working with this type of person is more of a joy.
Regarding sustainable fashion, each person or brand that contacts me with their clothing ideas is unique and exciting. For example, one of my clients wanted to incorporate their country’s national clothing patterns into the modern streetwear design – the final work is breathtaking - colourful & empowering. The business owner brings her own story into the brand based and production is based on the made-to-order model. In this case, sustainability does not mean producing minimal amounts of items or using certified cotton only – it’s also about bringing a unique story to the market.
-Getting back to the studio, what are the services that your studio offers?
-We engage in the designing process, starting with the idea and bringing it up until the manufacturing. We create clothing pieces, consult and help explain what businesses need to put into their brand's product to stand out from the competitors, what materials they should use, how to communicate clothing's quality, etc. We discuss all of this during the first meeting, which usually lasts longer than the rest of the process. Then a structured search for inspirations takes place, later come technical drawings, and if the clients are happy, we do a mock-up to see which materials would look better. Later pattern makers prepare the patterns according to which we prepare prototypes and show them to our clients for their feedback – maybe the pockets are too low or too high, perhaps the shoulders are too broad. We get notes on every little detail and send comments to our pattern makers to make adjustments.
This process takes up one or two, a maximum of three prototypes, to perfect the piece to the client’s perfection. Later a pre-production sample reaches the tailor to be followed accurately. It’s interesting how several years ago, this whole process used to be considered unnecessary. A designer or a person with an idea came up to a tailor with rough sketches or just pictures to follow. A tailor is a person to cut and sew the fabrics in high quality but not read the client’s mind, and that is followed by dissatisfaction, anger, and miscommunication. Many times people give up not understanding why their idea couldn’t be realised. The whole process of collecting ideas, thinking everything upfront, and combining design and tailoring skills makes most of our daily work allowing designers to enjoy their artistic process and tailor‘s receiving clear orders on how to prepare their garments. This process minimises the sampling stage leaving clients with faster and better results which links perfectly with sustainability.
Not only are we talking about sustainability with our clients, but we are also trying to be an example to others. After projects, our studio fills with various fabric pieces, but none of it ends up in a landfill or somewhere else – we use them for other projects and ideas. Disapproved prototypes are also transformed into other pieces of clothing (prototypes too). When we cut materials, we try to place everything as neatly as possible to have as little clothing scraps as we can, which can’t be achieved with large manufacturers because saving time is more important for them than saving fabric or the environment.
I also notice that people prefer to wear clothing that does not wrinkle, so naturally, brands would want their clothing to be made using such materials. Usually, they use mixed materials, cotton and polyester, which are the most harmful to the environment as no one can recycle them. In the studio, all prototypes are made using a hundred per cent cotton material, which we can later take to recycling centres. We can recycle all genuine and not mixed materials; otherwise, we can still transform them.
-You talk about the technical side of designing clothes more often than you mention actual design work. What is the reasoning behind that?
-Despite having a university diploma in fashion technologies and business, design is a more personal activity. I studied design independently as I spent most of my time in Riga in a library reading books and taking courses about it.
When I design clothes, most importantly, I try to meet consumers' needs and think about producing costs, materials, sewing technologies, longevity and durability, versatility and comfort, ways of reusing clothes, etc. Versatility and the ability to transform one piece of clothing into another, I think, are some of the most important properties for which I look in clothes.
However, from every service that we offer in our studio, design and concept creation are my favourite tasks. During the meeting with clients, I try to get to know them and their viewpoints as best as possible – their style, aesthetics, target price, etc. Many clients allow me to have complete artistic freedom, but what is beautiful and pleasing to me will not necessarily be liked by them. My thorough questionnaire may seem a little annoying to some clients– does she have no idea that she is trying to get everything from us? No, I have many ideas, but it would be naive to think that different people's views will always coincide. There are, of course, times when I do lack the inspiration to design. Still, after cultural and branding research, I come back knowing what message the brand tries to communicate for its customers and make that message more persuasive and influential.
-You previously mentioned that while designing the original clothing, you already think about how it will look after transforming it into another item. Is such a trait personal and authentic, or is it becoming a rule that all designers and companies follow?
-Yes, this has already become necessary in the fashion industry. As for me, transforming clothes and giving them a second life is quite essential – my grandma was a tailor herself, and we together re-sewed many second-handed men's jackets into women's coats. Such a hobby began a long time ago, but at that time, we did not think about sustainability – we looked for ways to be more pretty cheaper.
In a broader sense, sustainable clothing is much more than only using recycled, certified materials or transforming a piece of clothing into a different, more useful item. Many companies boast about their sustainability, but maybe only one per cent of all their activities are sustainable. However, it is still better than nothing. We can also understand sustainability from a logistical point of view – if a brand sells their items only in their native country, they are sustainable as they avoid additional transportation costs and eliminate the effect that transport has on the environment. The product packaging can also be recycled; thus, sustainable – same with multifunctional items, quality materials, capsule collections, 3D clothing design software, etc.
When planning their next collection, designers always need to think about the future of created garments – if we want to be sustainable, how can we achieve this goal? There are many sustainable innovations already adopted by fashion designers and various brands, so sustainability is no longer just second-hand clothing or cut-and-sewn shirts. Only recently, sustainability became a cool thing or a trend.
-Why do you think we are still struggling to convert the fast-fashion industry into a sustainable market fully? Is this at all possible?
-In my opinion, fast-fashion will never entirely disappear – we can only limit its severe impact on the environment. Fast-fashion symbolises cheap and economic practice that is accessible to everyone, and to be honest, not everyone can allow themselves to buy sustainable clothing items as their production is more expensive than fast-fashion items. For example, in fast-fashion fabrics, five hundred tailors can work on a different part of the garment and finish sewing thousands of t-shirts in one day. Suppose we follow the made-to-order model in sustainable business. In that case, there will only be as many items as needed, and one tailor will cut and sew each clothing item individually.
What we can do in this case, albeit in a small part, and try to reduce the harmful clothing industry’s effects. We can see those fast fashion companies adopt various aspects of sustainable fashion, but their work is still a different practice.
-You briefly mentioned the hobby that you and your grandma shared. Do you still own some of those transformed items?
-Ironically, I hated transformed coats for a very long time as everyone around me wore trendy jackets from various shops, and I wore coats. Now I cannot imagine my life without coats – I do not even know how many coats I own! The majority of them are transformed – my grandma re-sewed many of them, many I did myself.
-Second-handed and transformed clothing make up a significant part of your life. Maybe you remember when the last time you shopped fast-fashion brands online or in the store was?
-I need to think about when it was. (laughs) It might be last summer in Riga, but regarding fast-fashion, I only shop there for plain white t-shirts. Everything else I buy in a second-hand shop called Humana, find on Vinted or design and sew myself. I even regret spending money in fast-fashion shops. Besides, I prefer to organise my closet and dress following capsule collection’s principles, so fast-fashion shops are too trendy for me.
-What was the most valuable clothing item you managed to find and buy at a second-hand shop? Is it possible to find some hidden gems there, or is it happens only in the movies?
-I usually do not visit second-hand shops on the day when they have new items delivered – I'm not too fond of crowds in there, and besides, I am not a big fan of great designer names. However, once I went there on such a day and saw clothing items from high-fashion stores, they tend to sell quickly. I also nearly witnessed a fight between a few ladies for a designer bag – I do not know whether it was worth something, but it was fun. (laughs) Sometimes second-hand shops even sell new and never-worn items, so it is worth checking them.
-Maybe you have some advice you can share with our readers to help them have a more sustainable relationship with their wardrobes, shopping habits, clothing style?
-My first advice is to clean your closet, sell or give away clothing that does not fit you, or you just do not want to wear anymore. It might look like after that you will have nothing to wear but will see, there are even easier to mix and match between and come up with a fresh look. Next thing, shop responsibly, meaning buy only when you know at least five other outfits that could go together with your new item. Lastly, look for local fashion designers, visit pop-ups, and, of course, second-hand shops.
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