Last month, two garment factories burned to the ground in Bangladesh and China, claiming the lives of at least 12 workers. The latest in a long line of tragedies, these fires are the result of poor working conditions in often structurally unsound, overcrowded factories – factories where workers earning as little as £25 per month toil relentlessly to churn out trend-driven clothing and accessories which, all too often, end up in landfill just months after they’re unwrapped.
Fashion’s colossal impact both on the environment and human lives is why some designers are choosing to turn the tide. Spurred on by the harrowing effects of the fast-fashion model, a growing number of brands are making changes to their process to slow the fashion cycle.
There are, however, misconceptions; that sustainable brands’ wares are made from (and look like) recycled bin bags or lack the unbridled creativity of less socially and environmentally conscious brands. But, as designers like Ada + Nik are proving, that’s far from the truth.
Founded in 2013, the London label fuses a Goth sensibility with Greco-Roman influences, which roughly translates as slick, punky all-black looks. Far from the hemp-led aesthetic that’s often unfairly attributed to sustainable brands, their modernist collections are made locally from by-product materials and are testament to the fact that it’s possible to create clothing that doesn’t sacrifice style for sustainability.
We caught up with Ada + Nik co-founder, Ada Zanditon, to talk clothes-swapping, eco-friendly tech and why designers should ditch the ‘all or nothing’ approach.
Ada Zanditon Interview
FashionBeans: When designing for Ada + Nik, how do you think about your brand’s sustainability?
Ada Zanditon: For us, designing always begins with the concept. I think people get confused and think that the final look of your product and [its sustainability] are linked, whereas in reality they aren’t.
When we’re designing, we come up with a concept about who our intended man is. So there’ll be a punk influence; there’ll be a rebel influence; there’ll be the influence of warriors and gladiators. It’s about exploring our ideas. We [talk] about the form and the silhouette, and we’ll base designs around words like ‘tension’ or ‘architecture’.
The sustainable part is in the nuts and bolts of everything. That element comes from the production process, the fabric-sourcing. So you can have an incredible-looking jacket that’s sustainable, but it has nothing to do with the way it looks.
A common misconception is that making things in a conscious way is more difficult, but the process of sourcing materials and transporting them is always challenging. If you think about it, using local manufacturing may cost a bit more, but it means it’s all designed and made in the same postcode. I think that’s a really important part of [Ada + Nik’s] story.
Do you think the definition of ‘sustainable fashion’ is too narrow?
The definition can be too narrow, not in terms of what is available but in terms of awareness around sustainable fashion and how sustainable fashion is portrayed.
I do think though, that this is beginning to change. I don’t think we should be communicating about sustainability as if it is a trend – it is instead how the industry should operate going forward and the negative stereotype around the aesthetics of sustainable fashion need to be shaken off.
Can you tell us a bit about your ‘narrative jacket’?
It [a leather jacket with a built-in Narrative Clip camera] was an Ekocycle collaboration that was sold in Harrods.
To create it, we used a material that was made from recycled plastic bottles, then combined that with our leather. It transpired that this recycled textile was showerproof and wind-resistant. It also featured this fine herringbone pattern, so it was a cool technical fabric that just happened to be made using post-consumer waste.
Then, there was the camera clipped onto it, so it was our first piece of wearable tech. For us, it ticked all the boxes of what we were about and the results were positive – the jacket sold out.
It’s been said that there’s a lack of, for want of a better word, sex in sustainability. Why do you think that is?
In actual fact, there are some really cool designers using sustainable materials and local manufacturing, but because there’s so many ‘sustainable’ brands that match a certain aesthetic, designers don’t want to label themselves as such.
We’ve never said Ada + Nik’s tagline is its sustainable approach; as a design duo we celebrate our ideas, because that’s what we should be talking about. Nik and I have always said that it’s the year 2016 so, naturally, we should be doing this sustainably just like anyone in any other field should be trying to operate sustainably.
When you look at the state of the environment, how could you think anything different? I think Nik and I have proved through our intelligent designs that sustainably-made menswear can be highly desirable.
Do you think men are starting to shop more consciously?
I’ve found that men still look at the designer and want to know the story behind the product, but there’s an undeniable link to functionality in menswear. No matter how avant-garde a design is, there has to be an ergonomic element, and that’s why the influence of sportswear is so prominent in contemporary fashion, because the emphasis is on technical details.
Finally, what advice would you give to those that claim their shopping budget prices them out of sustainable fashion?
It’s like Vivienne Westwood always says – “buy less, buy better”. I like the way she puts it, not only because she’s an icon but because it’s so matter of fact.
When I was younger, we would swap clothing or customise it if we got bored. Nowadays, people don’t dispose of things because they’re falling apart, they dispose of something because they want the next trend. All these things eventually end up landfill, just like a normal plastic bag – the difference is that these garments don’t biodegrade.
We only have one Earth to live on, and we need to remember that.