Upcycling and reconstruction are techniques adapted by EcoChic Design Award 2017 designer and prize winner, Lia Kassif.
Her award winning collection combines military uniforms and wedding gown waste, creating a juxtaposition between the strong meanings these two garment types hold for young Israelis. We chatted to her to find out more …
You were inspired by Orsola de Castro early on in your design career. Now you’ve won a mentorship with her! How does it feel? What’s it like working with Orsola de Castro and what’s your role?
The lecture with Orsola de Castro as part of a sustainable fashion course in Shankar last year, was a turning point in my view of the world. She was so convincing about other and better ways to work in the fashion world to make this place better and to stop harming our world, and it influenced a change in both my personal and professional life. Winning the mentorship with Orsola has been a huge honour and I’m so happy that I have the chance to know her personally and to learn from her more about sustainable fashion. Working with Orsola is quite intense, but very interesting and challenging. She is teaching me how to build a sustainable business, guiding me through professional challenges, and inspiring me with her personality and experience.
As founder of From Somewhere and known as Queen of upcycling, has Castro’s ethos impacted your own design ethos?
The reason I decided to take part in the EcoChic Design Award competition, and one of the driving reasons as to why I have become a sustainable fashion designer today was after I heard Orsola’s lecture. She has inspired me a lot – I work today with used materials, with end rolls fabric. I produce my garments in a workshop that employs people with disabilities, I use the zero–waste design system and now I am much more aware of choosing my fabrics, taking into consideration how and where they were made.
Where about in Israel did you grow up and where did you study? Did your home country play a big part in your award collection and if so, which elements?
I grew up in Yavne which is a small town near Tel Aviv. I studied my B.A fashion design in Shankar college. Now I live in Tel Aviv which is the biggest metropolitan in the country and the center of culture and business.
There is no doubt that my designs are influenced by the fact that I grew up in Israel. In Israel all the young boys and girls must serve the army for at least 2 years and during that time they must wear military uniforms. That’s why I chose old, used military uniforms as a key material for my winning collection in the EcoChic Design Award. The second element for this collection was leftover bridal fabric, since it’s one of the biggest fashion industries in Israel. The roughness of one against the softness of the other reflects me as an Israeli, and us as a nation.
What drew you towards combining military waste with wedding gown waste?
My inspiration for the EcoChic Design Award collection was the famous phrase from the bible Isaiah 2:4 “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” It means that mankind, in the apocalypse, will transform their weapons into working tools. In other words, the nations will no longer fight against each other and there will be peace in the world. This is why I chose to transform military uniforms into to casual garments for my collection, emphasising the transformation by using lace and delicate materials as a total contradiction to the army uniform.
What was it like being part of the EcoChic Design Award? Being a sustainable fashion competition, was the process different to that of a normal design brief and show?
Being a part of the EcoChic Design Award didn’t change my design process as I had already started to think this way. I was already sure that sustainable fashion is the right way for me! However, the week we spent in Hong Kong as part of the final was full with experiences that emphasized ecological problems for me, such as the scale of textile waste, understanding the real meaning of “Fast Fashion” and the enormous waste of water and energy.
Shankar College, the school I studied fashion design at, is a very competitive college that prepares students for the real competition in the fashion business, therefore I felt ready for the EcoChic Design Award. But being a part of the EcoChic Design Award grand final show in Hong Kong was a great experience. To meet and get to know the team at Redress – the organisers of the competition – was very exciting and heartwarming. I was very honoured to be one of the talented finalists, and a real highlight was to see my collection on the EcoChic Design Award’s runway.
You are designing a show-stopping outfit for Ellen Loo, how is that going?
I have designed Ellen Loo an outfit based on one she chose from my collection with a few personal tweaks and we are in the final stages of deciding the perfect time and place for her to wear it. It was a great experience designing it and it will definitely be a special event for me to see her wearing it!
As a designer, what do you like about working within sustainable, circular design?
As a sustainable fashion designer, I am fascinated by old, used and damaged garments, with their own history that have finished their life span. I love giving them a new purpose and bringing them back to life.
The hardest part of designing old and used garments are the damages, faded colours and limited sizes. I do enjoy working with these limitations as I love the challenge of pattern cutting designing and creating a new concept. Furthermore, knowing that I take part of the global effort of sustainability and helping reduce the amount of garbage in the world gives me a great satisfaction.
Now the award is over, what’s next? What are you looking forward to?
Since the EcoChic Design Award and after my graduation from Shankar, I have started working on my new sustainable brand ready to wear collection which builds on my collection shown in Hong Kong at the competition finale. Along with this, I have a chef’s wear line which is called ” Chefooni “. I started Chefooni last year and in the last month I change the production into a sustainable way of working. There is a lot of work, a lot of waste to save and a lot of satisfaction.
All quotes by Lia Kassif, EcoChic Design Award 2017 second prize winner