Sustainable practices in design with Darja Malesic of Flowe

Just days before our much anticipated event* in Varna on sustainable practices and the role of design in reframing the narrative on the imminence of taking actions for saving the planet now, we present our special guests in consecutive interviews.

Darja Malesic is a fashion designer with a postgraduate degree from the Royal College of Art in London. She has extensive experience in the international fashion industry, where she has worked for over 20 years. She has designed for luxury fashion houses such as Dolce&Gabbana, John Richmond and others. She is currently consulting for companies and developing her own products based on the local craft and sustainable materials and collaborating directly with various Slovenian wicker artisans.

In the last ten years she has become increasingly focused on the research and implementation of Ethical Responsibility within the Fashion Industry, in particular the issues of sustainability, the circular economy, and inclusivity in fashion (especially for disabled groups). She is attracted to collaborations that could have a real impact on people, society, and the planet, with a genuine sensitivity to the challenges of the 21st century.

Flowe water bottles use traditional Slovenian crafts – ​in the form of specialist wickerworks

Her Flowe water bottle collection encourage a re-evaluation of traditional crafts – wickerwork as well as the use of local and sustainable materials such as willow, corn husk and rye straw. Flowe water bottles takes the personal reusable water bottle and makes it into wearable ethical fashion accessory.

Let’s start from the beginning. What was it that shifted your focus from the luxury fashion industry to becoming a founder of an ethically responsible and sustainable business?

DM: Working in the luxury fashion industry was interesting from a creative perspective, but I became increasingly concerned that it was extremely wasteful of resources, and often highly polluting. Also, I’ve always been interested in design and concepts outside of fashion and clothing. This and some big life events, that happened to me back in 2010, made me start looking for a new direction. I returned to my hometown of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and opened my own design studio. I made it my mission to use my creativity mainly for projects that could have a real positive impact on people, society, and the planet.

What is your definition of sustainable/circular fashion?

DM: It’s about getting a balance back. Working with nature to replenish what we take from it. Producers minimizing the damage their industry has on the environment through the choice of materials and technology and chemicals it uses, and finding ways to avoid long transportations,
and supporting the local. Reversing the habit of producing and selling more and more quantity, whilst degrading quality. Consumers avoiding fast, throw-away fashion and embracing stylish clothes that are designed and made to have a longer life-span, and that can finally be recycled or composted at the end of the cycle.

It is about the responsibility of everybody involved in the supply chain to produce new pieces with a little as possible of damaging effect and about consumers altering their way of living.


Way back in 1713, Hans Carl von Carlowitz, create the term sustained yield forestry, and encouraged “using resources in a way that extracts only so much from the environment that nature can regenerate”. In the 300 years since Carlowitz wrote this, the planet has faced drastic environmental issues from climate change, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, and massive air and water pollution. Sadly, the fact is on a global level, there is very little regeneration of nature happening, regardless all of the sustainability development goals of the last few decades.
Basically, true sustainability should be a necessary attitude towards the regeneration of the planet, that we should apply to any field or industry, including fashion. Perhaps it could be regulated on a national or even global level. Of course, we also need to participate as individuals, by practicing so-called sustainable living.

It’s not just sustainability that matters so much to you, but also ethics and local production. When choosing the artisans to work with on your own products, what factors are most important to you?

DM: When it comes to any sustainable product, my feeling is that makes sense to first search for locally-produced materials, and for local production.

When I started with my latest project, I made my first research into what local raw material supply is available, and what was produced locally. Back in the late 90’s the textile and clothing industry in Slovenia used to be quite big, and this is when I moved abroad. But by the time I returned in 2010, it was almost gone. So, I started looking in the other areas and discovered traditional wicker products.

It was not so easy at first to find artisans for cooperating. Firstly, there are not many craftspeople who still possess these rare skills, and then not everyone is interested in experimenting away from the strictly traditional.

I am currently working with 3 dedicated craftspeople specializing in wicker, and with a local social enterprise that is employing disabled people, who are also makers of Flowe products. Every artisan is dedicated to different wicker materials and techniques. We use local and sustainable materials, which are either renewable resources (willow, hazel) or 100% agricultural waste material (corn husk, and rye straw).

The use of natural, biodegradable, and locally-produced materials that come with fewer carbon emissions in their production, is fundamental in creating a non-polluting product.

Another important part of this story is the social side of sustainability, especially making fair relations within our local supply chain, fair trade works for both the producer and the consumer. I also feel that it is important, where possible, to involve underserved people and social businesses in our community.

Flowe water bottle is truly sustainable, using WILLOW casing to protect and insulate the glass

How did you come to work with willow for the water bottles from your Flowe collection?

DM: Willow is a very common tree in Slovenia. Different wicker products were traditionally made out of willow, like baskets, wine bottles, fencing, and others.

The willow is an extremely fast-growing tree and is a truly sustainable and renewable resource. In the first years, it can reach up to two and a half meters a year. Young and fast-growing shoots have a greater need for nutrients and carry out photosynthesis more intensively. In doing so, they consume more carbon dioxide, which is taken from the atmosphere. By growing willows, which are very undemanding plants, for the purpose of weaving, we contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases. The whole process with willow wicker, where only young willow branches are used, is practically carbon negative.

The willows are among the oldest flowering plants on Earth, extending over 130 million years ago. In the post-Ice Age era, they proved to be pioneers of resettlement. Willows are able to withstand climate extremes and adapt quickly to all types of soil.

In a nutshell, a very impressive tree!

Flowe water bottle collection combines 3 themes: respect for water, cultural heritage and
​sustainability. 

Now everything becomes more and more global, are there really still trends in design and fashion which are regional? What does Slovenia bring to the international scene?

DM: Certain aesthetics that emerge often start from a particular place or region and this can be easily detected. Take the trend for Scandinavian furniture for example.

So-called trends have to start somewhere, or with someone, even if the roots are not so obvious. I know that cultural and aesthetic characteristics exist here in Slovenia, but being such a small country it does not always carry the same weight. However, in a world of merged global trends, I think it is refreshing when you get a new starting point, perhaps especially when that starting point is based on a true cultural reference or tradition. This can add a special quality and authenticity beyond fashion and trend.

Slovenia is geographically, culturally, and historically placed in between the Mediterranean, Alpine and Balkan regions, so a mix of this spirit can be undercurrent influence anywhere, be it design, food, or language. But then again there are many successful Slovenian designers with very strong personal design signature, that has nothing to do with their country of origin.

If you take someone who is interested in ethical design and fashion with you to Ljubljana, what places would you show them? What are the “musts” to visit (studios, shops, art spaces, galleries etc.)?

I would point you to the current design exhibition “Created in Slovenia”, by the Centre for Creativity at Cukrarna Palace, which I am taking part in with two of my products.

In Museum for Architecture and Design, MAO is also BIO 27 Super Vernaculars, the oldest and one of the leading design biennials in the world, under the curatorship of Jane Withers, that brings together forward-thinking and environmentally conscious designers, architects, thinkers, and researchers from around the globe.

There is Ljubljana Month of Design 2022, starting 6th October, where you will be able to find some circular brands like Floios – Handmade Jewelry designed by nature made from E-Waste,  Volja – Circular approach to menswear, my exhibition, and many more.

Also, the Krater Collective is very interesting, it is placed in revived construction pit, with completely local production of clay, paper, fungi, and wood products.

What should consumers look out for when shopping sustainably?

DM: That the product is making sense. I mean, sense for our common future as well as sense in their own lives. No nonsense.  Pure beauty.

* Sustainable Practices in Design and Fashion is a series of discussions and presentations in five Bulgarian cities – Ruse, Burgas, Gabrovo, Varna and Plovdiv. The project is initiated by Liszt Institute – Hungarian Cultural Institute in Sofia and is curated by Studio Komplekt, who are also leading the discussions. The event introduces the general public to a variety of practices that formulate an important change in the industry towards greener production and consumption. Combining science, design, technology and media, they offer new, closer to nature models for the use of raw materials. Each of the selected Bulgarian cities is hosting a discussion on sustainability with two guest speakers from Europe, as well as a traveling exhibition with 24 examples of sustainable fashion and design brands from the Visegrad Group.

SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES IN DESIGN WITH ALESSIA TU OF LAMPOON

Just days before our much anticipated event* in Ruse on sustainable practices and the role of design in reframing the narrative of the environmental crisis, we present our guests in a series of interviews.

Alessia Tu is the content editor of Milan based Lampoon Magazine. She is a translator and journalist specializing in the intersection between fashion, design and architecture with a focus on sustainability.

Lampoon Magazine is a fashion, art and culture magazine based in Milan and published in English focused on sustainability and human commitment looking to feature brands and companies within industries that are making a difference, with the aim to provide them with a unique platform.

Why Lampoon as the name of a magazine tackling issues of sustainability?

AT: In 2015, at a critical time for the publishing industry, came Lampoon. A new and independent fashion magazine named after the satirical American magazine from Harvard University, famous in the 1970s. Lampoon, which means ‘Ironic Newspaper’ in English, was born with the idea to propose a fashion that was accessible to everyone, through its informative pages, and interaction between images, text, form and content.

Over the years the magazine has evolved through an effort of great research and care in both editorial and visual areas. The main focus of the magazine now is sustainability, which is interpreted by delving into every asset of the circular economy in all sectors: fashion, art, design and architecture.

The main strengths of Lampoon’s journalistic narrative are the global reporting of the strongest commitments to sustainable development and the dialogues and cultural connections between industry leaders and emerging voices and talents. Ample space is devoted to craftsmanship, with the aim of preserving Italian roots and heritage.

Where do you find your stories? Are these signs of a positive change? And are they enough to be optimistic about the future?

AT: We are very curious. We read a lot of newspaper, magazine both printed and online, we watch documentaries, movies, listen to podcasts. Whenever we can we go to places and try to see realities in person. This way we always find ideas for new stories

All true and honest businesses that are doing something to make a positive change are always a good thing to take as examples to follow. Nothing is never enough thinking about the future ahead of us but still doing something instead of nothing is a step forward.

 

If there is one thing each one of us should start doing right now in order to save the planet, what would it be?

AT: Instead of just one I would personally say three things: stop buying things we don’t really need, sell and buy second hand, try to eat more plant based

One misconception about the term sustainability?

AT: A part from the fact that today the word sustainability has been overused, and most of the time it’s all about marketing and greenwashing, there are few misconceptions about the term sustainability. One would be that when you think about the word sustainability you could think about expensive.

For example, if you think about fashion, you might think that to be truly sustainable you would have to stop buying fast fashion and instead buy only expensive clothing that would be synonymous with quality. This is not true. That is why I said that one of the best things to do is to buy second-hand products, where you can find extraordinary quality, in good condition and at a lower price than a new product with a mark-up.

Your favourite book/movie on the subject you would recommend?

AT: I would recommend to read Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring published in 1962 (This year marks its sixtieth anniversary).

Alessia Tu is presenting her editorial work and is part of the discussion in Ruse on 28.05.2022 / Saturday, 18:00 at Canetti House. The entrance is free.

 

 

*Sustainable Practices in Design and Fashion is a series of discussions and presentations in five Bulgarian cities – Ruse, Burgas, Gabrovo, Varna and Plovdiv. The project is initiated by Liszt Institute – Hungarian Cultural Institute in Sofia and is curated by Studio Komplekt, who are also leading the discussions. The event introduces the general public to a variety of practices that formulate an important change in the industry towards greener production and consumption. Combining science, design, technology and media, they offer new, closer to nature models for the use of raw materials. Each of the selected Bulgarian cities is hosting a discussion on sustainability with two guest speakers from Europe, as well as a traveling exhibition with 24 examples of sustainable fashion and design brands from the Visegrad Group.

SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES IN DESIGN WITH KATARÍNA HUTYROVÁ OF NOSENE

Just days before our much anticipated event* in Ruse on sustainable practices and the role of design in reframing the narrative on the imminence of taking actions for saving the planet now, we present our two special guests in consecutive interviews.

Katarína Hutyrová is the founder, co-owner and manager of NOSENE. She was included in the “30 under 30” list by Forbes Slovakia (2019) and won two times the Via Bona Award with NOSENE (Good Community Partner Award in 2016, Green Company Award in 2018). She is an avid enthusiast and ambassador for sustainable fashion and lifestyle through her activities as an author and moderator of the podcast “The New Sustainable Age”

NOSENE offers a wide range of sustainable options for the consumer: worn or upcycled clothes, natural and local cosmetics, ecological handbags or sneakers, beautiful recycled jewelry, books, recycled stockings and nylons and household cleaners. “Our production is not only local, but as close to being zero waste as is achievable, and we recycle most of our waste and up-cycle where possible.”

What does NOSENE mean and what was your concept when labelling your brand with it?

Katarína Hutyrová: NOSENE means “worn” in English. It is the new generation of second hand, it’s “shop that makes you feel good and sells clothes that smell wonderful”. The decision to buy an already used piece of clothing is a step towards supporting fashion sustainability. Fast fashion causes the clothing industry to produce waste, which often ends up on a junkyard, where it takes decades to decompose. In most cases, those are clothes that were worn only a couple of times, sometimes not even once.

In what way is your second hand brand different from the rest? What is unique about it and how do you nurture it?

KH: We change the way you feel in the second hand and how it looks. We select right pieces, have own upcyled collection RENEWALS BY NOSENE and bring choices how you can change your behaviour in sustainable livestyle

Why is secondhand consumption better as a lifestyle choice? What needs to be done in order to keep it in the loop of contemporary fashion developments?

KH: Every day millions of people buy clothes without any thought or remorse for the consequences of those purchases. Shopping is becoming “Americans’ favourite pastime.” Because it is one of the biggest environmental problems. More specific – second or third dirtiest industry in the world.

 

If there is one thing each one of us should start doing right now in order to save the planet, what would it be?

KH: Stop buying new clothes. Instead choose an already used piece or a local brand, take your own bottle, your own cup, buy less food or take a walk instead of traveling by car.

One misconception about the term sustainability?

KH: That I cannot change anything as an individual.

Your favourite book/movie on the subject you would recommend?

KH: David Attenborough – A life on our planet.

*Sustainable Practices in Design and Fashion is a series of discussions and presentations in five Bulgarian cities – Ruse, Burgas, Gabrovo, Varna and Plovdiv. The project is initiated by Liszt Institute – Hungarian Cultural Institute in Sofia and is curated by Studio Komplekt, who are also leading the discussions. The event introduces the general public to a variety of practices that formulate an important change in the industry towards greener production and consumption. Combining science, design, technology and media, they offer new, closer to nature models for the use of raw materials. Each of the selected Bulgarian cities is hosting a discussion on sustainability with two guest speakers from Europe, as well as a traveling exhibition with 24 examples of sustainable fashion and design brands from the Visegrad Group.

 

IVANKA GEORGIEVA

Ivanka Georgieva is among the most successful Bulgarian designers of textile and fashion. She teaches at the Academy of Arts, San Francisco, and is a textile designer with 15 years of experience in Diane von Furstenberg, St. John, Zac Posen, Elisa Palomino and others.
She graduated Textile Design at the Academy in San Francisco, which can integrate into fashion, interior design, or any other industry where superficial details are observed. She chooses to specialize ot, because she already has a basic qualification and experience from Bulgaria. The other reason is that Textile actually exist as an independent industry.

After graduating from the Academy in San Francisco, she began an internship at Diane von Furstenberg, and a few months later she was offered a permanent position in the company. The DVF experience for her was a great start for development in this business. There she has learned a lot about the textile and fashion industry and now has valuable contacts. She says her work at the DVF was like a second academy because there she understood the huge difference between school and the real world of business.

She works for various fashion companies, including Zac Posen. There she developed a small capsule collection of scarves and neckties for Delta, and also she worked with a colleague from St. John-knits.

For Ivanka, textiles are the most important part of creating a collection. It is about the matter. When we are in a shop and try or touch the fabric of a cloath, we actually feel the textile. The fabric may be a print, or a knit, or a wool, and only those three words carry so much information.

The determining and important thing in the process of work, as in any art, is talent and creativity. Ivanka teaches Textile Level One, which is the only level available to learn online. It teaches students various techniques in practice and creative thinking. Its main purpose is to motivate them to think as designers and creators.

What makes her unique in the American industry is the fact that she has European base, draws very well, and at the same time she0 had the opportunity to study the technical part in America. She works with love and diligence on all collections and has achieved what she wants, namely working with companies that are one of the most successful in the fashion and textile industry. The beauty in this variety of fashion companies is in the different styles and different aesthetics, and she had the luck to have worked and created for all of them. The latest business step she’s been undertaken is her newly-opened print studio.

A Practical Creative Design Course will be held in January with the participation of Ivanka, who will share with us her personal experience of working with some of the most successful fashion houses in the world.

STEFAN KARCHEV – FASHION MASTER

By the way, the video about the performance of the graduating master’s class of 2018 of nine students in Royal Academy Of Fine Arts Antwerp – the undoubtedly strongest and most brave experiments in the fashion industry, opens with Karchev’s work.

Karchev embodies a peculiar approach and a genuine original look at the image of the Eastern Orthodox religion common for the lands he comes from. He manages to acquire a healthy critical dose of inspiration from the often controversial, low-quality and inexpensive world of the peripheral life in Bulgaria. That is why the name of his master’s collection – AMBIVALENCE – explores the complex case of the existence of diametrically in their message cultural conditions in the Bulgarian national identity and self-expression. Karchev mixes an impressive amount of references as a way to convey his view – always unusual and borderline weird. Some of these being: characteristic clergy attire elements, church atmosphere and its rituals and services, the act of trusting one’s faith in the power of prophecy to which the people resort as a way of hoping for something better, souvenirs shop interior, restaurant menus, sportswear and more.

“I use the Bulgarian orthodox worship as an inspiration for the forms and as a general influence, but I mix it with sportswear and many other concepts that I find aesthetically pleasing, the things that provoke my creativity are rarely rooted in fashion and draw the hidden spaces behind the facade shops and ads near the churches People in Eastern Europe still hope to bring them a better future If you visit Bulgaria, you will encounter advertisements of diviners or religious services and their visual shapes are quite entertaining because of the lower resolution and the brightly colored typography, and I’m playing in the collection with them, some of which are inspired by the worn advertising banners, the atmosphere and the visual language on the streets and motorcycle covers.The ultimate result is a combination of all this and more. I do not create a piece-by-piece collection, but rather everything goes through a blending process in one.”

You can find a previously conducted interview with Stefan Karchev by us on the occasion of his Bachelor’s collection here.

The Fashion department of the revered Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp has launched some of the leading fashion designers such as Martin Margiela, Dries Van Notten and Peter Pilot. Stefan Karchev was among the prize-winning nine senior masters and his collection was part of a two-day event at Park Spoor Noord between 1 and 2 June 2018.