I want an eco-hot relationship with my clothes – Interview with COSSAC

Today’s eco-warrior is less hemp, more hot.  I don’t mean to do a disservice to the durable natural fibre, but hemp clothing is still building a new rep amongst fashion seekers that have discovered sexy and sustainable can coexist – as they do in the #ecohot label COSSAC.

I met Agatka Kozak, the woman behind COSSAC in a café off Brick Lane in East London.  The day of our interview was one of the worst snow days in the city this season, yet our café was surprisingly busy with the usual mix of hipsters and high-flyers you would expect on the border of Shoreditch and the financial district.

The concept of seasons is fluid for Agatka, which is reflected in her collections with items that can be styled up or down throughout the year – or even from day to night.  This design philosophy works for the sustainable fashion-minded, along with buying less, but better, and it also works for women living in the city that want a versatile wardrobe with often very little storage space.    

I’m styled-up the day we meet – making the most of the multiple accessories the Labour Behind the Label Six Items Challenge rules allow, but both Agatka and her intern Mao look at me and shiver as I take a seat in less layers than suitable for the weather.  

Thankfully, this is the second time Agatka and I are meeting, and she’s used to seeing me half-dressed as the first time we met in a Hoxton hotel suite at her shopping and preview event. I bought an asymmetric midi dress just before I started my challenge, which is impatiently waiting in my wardrobe to be worn. My dress encapsulates the COSSAC signature of effortless sass and I can’t wait to wear it.

“People don’t like to be told off” she says as we get past niceties and down to the nitty gritty topic of ethical fashion.  “If we were only aiming at ethically minded people, we would be out of business.”   

COSSAC treads the balance with a non-preachy, yet transparent tone about the materials, manufacturing – even garment neck labels are made of recycled polyester.  “For me it’s a standard, I don’t necessarily scream loads about it but if someone asks me, I explain.”

Agatka emphasises the importance of balance, as it is that which allows her the freedom to create the newness the fashion industry demands, whilst maintaining her mission as a sustainable designer.  I clutched onto maximising usefulness in COSSAC’s manifesto, as the Six Items Challenge has made me think more about how my wardrobe  works for me.  She adds more food for thought with the fact that “apparently we wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time.”  I want to have some kind of useful fashion formula by the end of my challenge and to create a new relationship with my clothes – upping the average number of wears each garment gets.  

As well as designing,  Agatka also shops consciously, and (aside from wearing COSSAC most of the time) before making a purchase she asks herself if she will wear it at least 30 times.   

Just like sustainable shopping, sustainable designing comes with its challenges, for example when your collection orders amount to more than the quantity of deadstock fabric you have to make the pieces…Thankfully COSSAC has built great relationships with buyers, so she could utilise some beautiful deadstock fabrics that came with a warehouse one of her manufacturers recently acquired.  The fabric would have either been recycled or chucked, as nobody else wanted to deal with the difficulties of working with it.  Agatka has overcome the challenges of deadstock fabric by agreeing with the manufacturer and buyers that when it runs out, extra orders will be fulfilled using other organic fibres. 

Sourcing fabrics locally allows Agatka to keep the carbon footprint and the costs down for both the brand and her customer. There is an increasingly enticing selection of sustainable fabrics on the scene, and she is always researching new options, but also adamant about keeping her brand affordable.   

Other strings to her sustainable bow include candles and organic perfume.  I bought one of the first editions of Her – the debut COSSAC fragrance (which officially launches in August) and it  lives in my handbag as a secret mood-lifter.      

Currently partaking in many perfume courses and exploring the health benefits of essential oils, Agatka’s next mission is not only to dress, but de-stress her customer.

“The woman I design for, in my head she lives in the city, so on top of having amazing scents, it could have stress relief benefits”.  

We end on Fashion Revolution as the week that encourages us all to ask brands ‘Who made my clothes’ is fast approaching on the 23rd – 29th April 2018.  The campaign also encourages us to remember the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where over 1000 people were killed and many more were injured on 24th April 2013.

Incidentally, Mao, Agatka’s intern is starring in this year’s campaign (pictured far left).  

COSSAC offers a refreshingly realistic perspective for an ethical brand with the realisation that women often buy fashion first, but that sustainability is also an increasingly expected added value.  COSSAC caters to modern women who want to feel feminine, empowered and beautiful inside and out.

“I just want everyone working on my brand to be happy. There’s a very humane element, like I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I knew that someone was miserable.  I want to go to bed every night with a clear conscience.”

The new COSSAC collection Transeasonal Diaries is available to shop now.   

COSSAC counts global stockists.  Check out the full list here.

And if like me, you’re obsessing over the jewellery worn with COSSAC clothes throughout, check out jewellery designer Naida C. Castel.

@Photographs courtesy of COSSAC

 

 

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 10

Wearing a choker made of surplus sofa fabric on my sofa upholstered in surplus bus seat fabric, contemplating second life in my deadstock Persol specs from the 1980s.

Choker from beautiful inside and out PETA-approved Vegan brand Noumenon

Persol spectacles from Spex in the City

Reloved raincoat dress from Gap – one of my six items

1960s surplus bus fabric from LASSCO

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©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 7 and 8

I saw the Queen yesterday (the day I wore jeans).  More on that later as I didn’t have the energy to write last night.

This morning my friend made me chuckle with a link to an Inc. article – Why Successful People Wear the Same Thing Every Day

You see by wearing the same thing, or roughly the same thing, they increase productivity by reducing their daily decisions.  Take the likes of Dr. Dre (only wears Nike Air Force 1) Obama (only wears grey or blue suits) and Steve Jobs, who became known for his black turtleneck, jeans, and New Balance combo.  The entrepreneur/author of the article, Craig Bloem rarely strays from Levi’s 513 and Lululemon jackets himself.  I am, by total coincidence doing my American techie look in Patagonia and pre-loved Levis.

Here’s how Craig Bloem’s advice stacks-up for successful women and what I’ve learnt from the Six Items Challenge so far.  Intertwined with looks from the Richard Quinn show that the Queen (and I) attended. 

“You’ll waste less time.

I hate wasting time. Having a regular uniform makes it quick and easy to get dressed. Rather than deliberating for five or even ten minutes, I can grab my outfit, throw it on, and get started on the more important things on my to-do list.

A go-to outfit also saves loads of time shopping. You know what you’re looking for and can get right to your favorite store. Or better yet, if you know your size, style, and color, you can order everything online — without the annoyance of sending back returns.”

…Or the environmental impact of all those online shopping shipments.  Okay, I’m with him there and I’ve definitely saved time which is great on early mornings during a crazy-busy work schedule.  I don’t miss it yet, but the deliberating can also bring delight when you’re enjoying a try-on session for five, ten, or even 30 minutes.

“2. You’ll save brainpower.

As Obama said in an interview with Vanity Fair, “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

When you wear the same thing, you’re one step closer to avoiding the distraction of trivia. It takes no thought to get dressed in the morning. You can channel all that decision-making power directly into growing your business.”

It definitely depends what your business is.  I am sure Queen Elizabeth examined her skirt suit before the surprise stop at London Fashion Week.  However, it is true that many fashion icons have go-to shapes, styles and colours that they return to again and again – just like American Vogue Editor, Anna Wintour who was wearing her signature colourful prints, neutral boots – most likely Manolo and big sunglasses whilst sat next to the Queen at Richard Quinn’s show.

“3. You’ll always feel good in what you’re wearing.

If you choose your clothes for comfort, they’ll always feel good. If you choose them for style, you’ll always think they look good on you (even if others disagree). Either way, you’ll feel good about what you’re wearing. It’s an automatic confidence boost.

I constantly get made fun of by my friends and family for wearing the same thing, but it works. See if it could work for you.”

I don’t normally document my outfits, but I have to say it’s quite useful to see if an outfit is working the way you thought it was in the mirror.  If it’s true that on average we make 35,000 decisions a day then saving brain power with less sartorial decisions might be worth a try.

I don’t think you have to wear the same thing every day, but knowing your wardrobe, knowing go-to combinations and actually wearing everything in your wardrobe could arguably be the uniform for success.

Lady in lavender – the back of Fashion icon Erin O’Connor MBE

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

 

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 5

I met a fashion journalist from Spain the other day and we joked that even if it means crossing the road, stopping to soak up every moment of sunshine is essential to make it through the grey months in London.

Fashion week might be all about autumn winter collections, but at this moment my mind was on summer hols to Seville.

I probably wouldn’t have worn a scarf in my hair if I hadn’t been doing the Six Items Challenge, which is definitely demanding I think outside of the box with accessories, and this morning sent me deeper into my shoe box of silk scarves.

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©Photograph Reclaimed Woman

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 1


©IWM (D 14826)

Lent hasn’t fallen on Valentine’s Day since 1945.  Today shiny heart shaped gifts and ash crosses collide, as I start my Six Items Challenge.

I pledged to only wear six items of clothing for the next six weeks in support of Labour Behind the Label, a not-for-profit workers’ cooperative that supports garment workers around the world.  Somewhat ironic me thinks, as in 1945 Britain was facing clothes rationing to reduce consumption and save raw materials for the war effort.

Although dubbed a fashion fast to fight fast fashion, this is no war. I am not about boycotting brands, but I do want to buy less and buy better.

Here’s some tips I’m taking from the Imperial War Museum archive to see me through the fashion ration.


© IWM (Art.IWM PST 8564)

Plan Ahead.  Sadly I’m past the age of growth spurts (which just shy of 5 ft 7 kills me) but I do need to plan ahead, and allow for spilling something down the front of my white Frederica dress from Reformation – one of my six items.


©IWM (Art.IWM PST 8293)

Which can you do without?  The challenge may have started, but I’m not 100% certain about all of my six pieces.  I have a few days yet to choose my 6th item, so will it be the emerald green 50s dress I just got in Brussels from Gabriele Vintage  or my Gap check waterproof raincoat that doubles as a dress?

I’ll keep you posted.

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©Photographs Reclaimed Woman & courtesy of Imperial War Museum

 

 

My fashion fast to fight fast fashion

I have pledged to only wear six items of clothing for six weeks – starting just before London Fashion Week

 

If it takes a collective to make a fashion, it takes collective action to end fashion abuse.

The Six Items Challenge is a campaign created by Labour Behind the Label to raise money for a not-for-profit workers’ cooperative that supports garment workers to improve their working conditions.   

 

Labour Behind the Label do not advocate boycotting brands as this can have a negative impact on workers, but they do want fashion consumption to slow down to ease the constant pressure to produce more.  The Six Items Challenge is designed to highlight the speed of fashion, where it is common for brands to change their stock every four to six weeks.  The event takes place from 14th February till 29th March 2018 – covering Valentines Day, London Fashion Week, and Lent. Ethics are an increasingly fashionable issue, but no matter what fashion means to you, these dates resonate for many of us and encourage reflection on a consumer society.

We often know nothing about a garment’s origin, however a garment has many stories sewn into it throughout an often complex chain of activities.  From secret labels protesting unpaid labour stitched into clothing by workers at the Bravo Tekstil factory in Istanbul to less visible stories of people fuelling the fashion industry earning poverty wages, each item has its own story.  A small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of my Six Items Challenge and will no doubt help me appreciate the abundance in my life.  
 

It is easier than you think, as the Six Items Challenge allows for an unlimited number of shoes and accessories, socks, underwear and pyjamas.  Good news for shoe people, aka me, but bad news for those looking for an excuse to let the new year gym membership lapse, aka me, as the challenge even allows performance clothes to maintain a fitness regime.  The rules also permit me to pick one coat as an extra item because it is winter.  Those that are good with a sewing machine, aka not me, can make the most of even more choices through customisation.  I personally welcome the freedom from too many choices and that common feeling of a wardrobe full of clothes, yet nothing to wear.

So, which six items will substitute for an entire wardrobe?  My diary events during the 6 weeks and advice from capsule wardrobe advocators are running through my mind. Even Caroline Rector behind the blog Unfancy allowed herself 37 items during a 3 month capsule experiment to curb her shopping habit.  Sadly strategising ways to maximise my outfit options, I realise that if I choose a suit (which counts for 2 items) I will not, shock horror have enough combinations to avoid repeating an outfit during the five days of London Fashion Week.  That is, unless I go shirtless under my suit and stick to dresses and jumpsuits for my remaining 4 items. 

Okay, enough about my trivial dilemma, when this challenge supports the belief that no-one should live in poverty for the price of a cheap t-shirt.  

Founded in 2001, Labour Behind the Label is the only UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry.  Researching and lobbying in support of workers, it campaigns for people across the world that face the daily grind without basic human rights – ranging from the lack of a living wage to working in fear for their life. Labour Behind the Label is instrumental in pushing UK retailers to sign agreements such as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which ensures Rana Plaza victims receive long-term compensation. Beyond the fatalities that make headlines, it campaigns against the systemic exploitation in fashion. 

It is not too late to join the fashion fast, and whether you are taking part or supporting, Labour Behind the Label encourages all of us to think about the story we want our clothes to tell.  How we consume shapes our connection with clothes and with faster, cheaper fashion it is unsurprising that garments have lost their value.   Disposable fashion not only puts pressure on manufacturing and the planet, but also on the consumer to constantly change their look.

Before the emergence of trendy teen shops in the sixties and seventies, people often made their own clothes. My mum still describes the genuine pleasure she got from, one – her going out top, two – her jeans, three – her maxi dress, four – the cheesecloth shirt she found at Kensington market, five – her brown velvet jacket, and six – the silk blouse hand-me-down from her mother.

This is of course a new time, and six items is very different in the age of Instagram, but if garment workers had as many eyes on their stories, it would surely bring about a lasting change in fashion.

 

Sign up for your own Six Items Challenge  before 14th February 2018

© Photographs Reclaimed Woman and courtesy of Labour Behind the Labour

Conscious Christmas Gifts

Fashion Revolution fanzine #001:Money Fashion Power  pages of poetry, illustration, photography, graphic design and editorials that explore the hidden stories behind our clothes

green rose earrings by Gung Ho from Ethical Collection

nothing more, nothing less t-shirt by Prabal Gurung from YOOXYGEN

lip crayon in shade Keen by Axiology from Content Beauty

sample vial of Edition Perfume She Came to Stay inspired by the novel written by Simone de Beauvoir in 1943.  A unique stocking filler or just an excuse to top-up the shopping basket and enjoy the holiday discounts on Content Beauty when you spend £30+ (ends 29th Nov 2017)

candy skull leggings by Yoga Democracy from Rêve En Vert

antique jewellery box LASSCO

face care kit Natural Spa Supplies featuring British Hemp Oil Soft Soap,  Rhassoul Clay, fragrant Organic Rose water and Virgin Cold Pressed Organic Argan Oil

 

Ethical Collection x Reclaimed Woman

Part free spirit, part dedicated fan of fashion, 10 years in the industry has ingrained particular months (before fashion weeks) when I feel the clothes in my wardrobe aren’t cutting it.  Coupled with 10 consecutive grey London days and counting, I know I am not alone with wardrobe woes in this transitional weather.

A lack of inspiration can lead to impulse buys for fast fashion pick-me-ups.  The disappointment is that they rarely satisfy our need for long, as research by McKinsey proved with the stat “nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made.”

A woman “ain’t what she wears but, what she knows.” Do you know that know that India Arie lyric? Well, this woman has been educating herself.  I just took a free online course by Future Learn with Fashion Revolution and Exeter University called Who Made My Clothes? Fashion Revolution is a global movement for transparency catalysed by the fatal Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.  The course lifted the lid on issues facing the global fashion industry and made me even more conscious about materials and the things I consume.

To solve transitional weather dressing with sustainable choices, I collaborated with neighbouring business, Ethical Collection, an eco-luxury boutique.  Ethical Collection is a force for positive change, founded to enrich the lives of the women that shop with them as well as the lives of the people that make their products.

I fashioned a Mara Hoffman summer slip dress with this grey trench by Kowtow and they felt amazing.  Arms free, slips are so comfy and perfect for layering as the season changes, whilst the relaxed-fit trench felt like soft denim, which can be both cool and cosy.  I wore them with the knowledge that the dress was made of Birla Viscose – made from the pulp of sustainably harvested trees, and the trench was made with Fair Trade organic cotton, so you could say my test-wear was biased. Once you know, you can’t un-know and what is fashion, if not for making us feel good?

Shop Ethical Collection

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman