Could you share a bit of your background with us?
I was born and raised in Switzerland. After a BA in International Relations at the University of Geneva I turned to fashion because I wanted to learn how to make clothes. During my second year in the BA Fashion Design at HEAD I interned for Eckhaus Latta in New York for about 4 months and fell in love with the city and the fashion scene. After I graduated in 2015, I wanted to go back to New York. I had discovered The Row a few months ago and really wanted to work for them. In the end, I was hired for an internship and worked for them as a freelance assistant designer for about one year. After my year at the Row, while coming back to my hometown in 2017, I co-created two collective projects, HI BYE and Quality Time; think-tanks around sustainable fashion design. This phase of sharing, reflecting, and experimenting made me want to build my own brand in Switzerland. I decided to undertake a Master’s degree in Fashion and accessories design at HEAD to get the time and space to do research and find a way to work in fashion according to my values of simplicity, sustainability, comfort, and care.
“If people working in fashion cannot sustain themselves financially or emotionally, if they are not being paid, if they are exploited, if they go through mental disorders and burnouts due to the highly pressured and competitive working environments, then it means that the system is, by definition, unsustainable.” – Sophie Fellay
What was your final project about?
My MA thesis research (theoretical part) was called Fashion as Bread and Butter: building alternatives to precarious work in the fashion industry. I found inspiration in the Ethics of Care to imagine alternative ways of working in fashion. Starting this research, I wanted to measure the extent of precarious work in the fashion industry, show its faces and understand where it all comes from. For me, precarity means unsustainability. If people working in fashion cannot sustain themselves financially or emotionally, if they are not being paid, if they are exploited, if they go through mental disorders and burnouts due to the highly pressured and competitive working environments, then it means that the system is, by definition, unsustainable.
Fashion belongs to the neoliberalism capitalism economic context that has its own mythology and promotes values like individualism, the cult of the winner, absolute flexibility, competition, differentiation, merit, autonomy to name a few. In this neoliberal utopia participates people are sacrificed in the name of work and creativity- star values of this system. By atomizing individuals and breaking their collective structures (collectives, associations, families, unions, cooperatives) it is breaking the ability of resistance and is taking away people’s control over their own consumption and over their lifestyle choices. How and what can help us connect as humans? How can we connect our design practices with the reality around us? How can we reconnect our practices to nature? Including care into practices of design could bring a change of perspective and repair what is broken.
How did the creation of the website come along?
It was important for me to focus on positive solutions. On top of the theoretical framework, I thought it was important to research through existing innovative design practices in fashion, like collectives, researchers, and educational systems that are working towards more care. I started conducting interviews to discuss their motivations and ways of operating. I loved the format and decided to do more. I feel like so many interesting initiatives are sprouting recently. I decided to create a website to share those discussions.
“The vision behind the practices of care helps to slow down, find a better balance and give value to the products we make.” – Sophie Fellay
What does “Practices of Care” mean exactly?
It is the practices that favor healing and nurturing, maintaining a more careful approach to fashion over a purely growth-centric one. Think of local, smaller scale, human size, reasoned production, using what is around. Designers adopting this approach are more inclined to care about their work relationships and their connection to nature, acknowledge their needs, and be conscious about the impact their practices might have on the environment. This vision helps to slow down, find a better balance and give value to the products we make.
“I believe in localism. I think we, as young designers, need to stop thinking that we have to move to Paris, Milan, New York, London and sacrifice the lifestyle we want to make it happen. ” – Sophie Fellay
Could you explain what you mean by “careful”?
I think there are many ways to be careful in our fashion practices. We can take humans and the environment into account to start with. We can try to align our choices to our values and be rigorous in choosing the least harmful option every time we have to make a decision. I believe in localism. I think we, as young designers, need to stop thinking that we have to move to Paris, Milan, New York, London and sacrifice the lifestyle we want to make it happen. It isn’t the only road to whatever success is. In my opinion, building and working in a local network, with local suppliers (if there are any), local industries, local resources, is a more sustainable option.
“In order to stand against the elitist, exploitative, unfair geography in which this industry takes place, fashion has to be brought back to a diversity of places, cultures, and people, to an actual geographical context, a physical reality.” – Sophie Fellay
The more locally you work, with resources that are the closest to you, the more you sustain your ecosystem (the economic ecosystem too). The more you work with people around you, the more you participate in building a community.
In order to stand against the elitist, exploitative, unfair geography in which this industry takes place, fashion has to be brought back to a diversity of places, cultures, and people, to an actual geographical context, a physical reality.
Secondly, by being more inclusive, by adopting a curious and interdisciplinary attitude about different kinds of knowledge and mixing them together. There are many forms knowledge can take, all are equally valid and can be shared in various ways. Not necessarily in academies or schools. In many cultures, knowledge is transmitted through communities, families, over generations. I also really believe in the power of language. Words enter brains, create imagery, and generate emotions. The term consumption, for example, is linked to the act of wasting, of destroying after use. Instead, words such as growing, nurturing, caring, maintaining, and healing imply very different relationships with an object or with fashion.
For any aspiring researcher; could you explain what action research is?
Action research comes from the areas of health and education. It is a well-established field. It means that research is done with, rather than on people and uses a combination of theory, practice, experience, and processes of articulation to gather knowledge. Based on the principles of interdependence and reciprocity, it favors co-learning instead of the classical binary roles of the learner and the learned.
“The best way to research and learn is with people, collectively, actively, and horizontally, meeting people and connecting knowledge and practices as much as we can.” – Sophie Fellay
Why do you think action research is essential in fashion?
In my opinion, combining theory and practice in research enables one to have a better and wider understanding of the field. Fashion is at a turning point today: a lot is changing in terms of sustainability, rhythms, fashion weeks, shows, schools, etc. In such an unstable and new moment, it is a good thing to gather and combine every possible kind of knowledge to try to understand where we are going and how. The best way to research and learn is with people, collectively, actively, and horizontally, meeting people and connecting knowledge and practices as much as we can.
Reading your website, in the contact part, there are 5 key concepts, what are they about? Would you like to explain them further?
The 5 key concepts represent the ethics of work, a guide of practice as a reminder for myself to care for and consider my immediate surroundings when designing: environment, people, local infrastructures.
How do you choose the brand /designers you interview? What characteristics should they have to make it into the selection?
They are people that I admire because they are so engaged in their practices, in trying to make it better in the industry, to make fashion a better place. I
To conclude, how do you plan to continue your work with the website? What will be your future steps in this path?
I plan on traveling and meeting people in their studios or workspace, conducting one interview per month, and keep on putting more content and diversity as well. I would love to include conversations with suppliers, producers, farmers, specialists alongside young designers.