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Written by Abigail Doan - Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Given the current global economic crisis and the daily scrutiny of consumer buying trends and glossy marketing strategies, EFW's March magazine turns its focus to the role of 'trends' in the eco fashion world as a means to better understand how designers are redefining and adapting to the changing climate. On one hand, trends can often be a vehicle for examining better ways of doing things via textile innovation and sustainable technologies, and on the flip side, the term carries with it pejorative connotations with its to season-to-season fickleness and 'make it new' agenda.

In order to get a better understanding of how one eco fashion house is creatively addressing the trend phenomena, we turned to New York-based SANS and their timeless interpretation of environmentally sound fashion. SANS duo Lika Volkova and Alessandro Do Vito definitely have a things or two to say about how to thrive and survive as artists and designers. As former Ecco Domani Award recipients, they have cleverly demonstrated that smart trends begin with the pure transfer of ideas and collaborative thinking without the noise that often comes with the territory.

EFW: To begin with, Alessandro, do you believe that it is an outdated notion to discuss ‘trends’ when it comes to eco fashion, or today’s fashion in general?

ALESSANDRO DEVITO of SANS: Trends in fashion are created to basically sell people more "stuff". An entire industry has been created around this with different players reaping benefits along the way. In terms of sustainability, trends typically contribute to a rather antiquated and wasteful system. Similarly, today's terms 'eco', 'eco friendly' and 'sustainable' are completely meaningless if they’re adopted as mere labels.


For example, the use of bamboo fabrics has in some cases been is a big 'trend' in eco fashion. We actually used bamboo in our first collection, but ultimately found it impossible to determine under which conditions Chinese bamboo is actually processed. I traveled to China myself and also had one of our local co-workers try to visit our bamboo fabric suppliers, but we were repeatedly denied entrance. On the other hand, we were able locate, through a local contact, some gorgeous, locally sourced wild Chinese wools and silks that are not normally sold on the global market. We were also able to visit and see for firsthand how these fabrics are made.

EFW: How does SANS view trans-seasonal dressing or design that moves beyond the creation and marketing of seasonal collections and the waste generated?

SANS: Seasons should not be so strictly defined as spring, summer, pre-fall, etc. Most people simply adopt and dress in layers year round. We really do not follow a fashion calendar, and basically create new collections when we feel inspired to. For example, SANS created an upcoming winter collection that consists of faux-fur jackets and coats; we also create 'mini collections' when we have a special idea that we want to explore.

We are also currently working on the idea of opening a retail store in Manhattan where we would invite our customers in to do sittings. We would then have the requested items made-to-order in as little as 48 hours (for more basic items) by creating meaningful partnerships with local sewers/crafters who currently have more time given that so much work has been outsourced globally. We feel that large, season-to-season collections are not sustainable by definition, given that you often end up with big warehouses full of designs, shipped from halfway around the world, that may or may not not sell.


EFW: SANS pieces are stunning and sculpturally bold without the use of harmful pesticides and toxic chemicals found in the fabrics of many contemporary fashion collections. What else does SANS stand for when it comes to design, construction, and art concepts that push the boundaries of fashion as we know it?

SANS: At it's core, SANS is about the total absence of ambient noise. It’s about the feeling of relief in a world that is over-complicated - no pesticides, no embroideries, no sequins, and no trendy fashion shows. We approach the entire process with this philosophy of pure intention, from the choice of our fabrics, to the designs we thoughtfully generate, to our relationship with the customer.

We really take our time to research and source special fabrics from carefully chosen producers. For example, for our most recent collection we sourced organic merino wool from a company in Vermont. This unique material gave us the inspiration to design truly luxurious, faux-fur coats. Aside from the tuffed wool, we have tried very hard to find 'fake fur' made out of recycled materials (like PET), but this is not available yet. Instead we were fortunate to find some beautifully-made fake fur from China.


We also make our coat designs adaptable by customizing their linings for the specific climate that they will be worn in. With made-to-order, we are creating something that is very limited and special. We are making a point that artificial fur is just as valuable as real fur- it’s luxurious, and it’s pure fun.

We have also never paid for the production of a fashion show. We did create a show when we won the Ecco Domani Award but aside from that, we just take pictures of our collections. The less we have to compromise, the best the results will be, and who says that you have to demonstrate growth in your business if you don’t want to?

EFW: How do you research ideas for new collections, or what sort of inspiration do you seek out when designing new pieces? Do you follow other fashion designers or design ideas?

SANS: We follow our own rationale of what is necessary and what is lacking.

EFW: To what degree are you influenced by eco design or sustainability 'trends’?

SANS: Trends in eco and sustainable design are often trends in how people package and market their 'stuff'. At the end of the day you have to look at the entire life cycle of a product, as design can yield really good and bad ideas. New technologies that make things longer lasting and less disposable are, for us, trend-defying.


An example of a really good idea promoting longevity in fashion would be the Japanese organic cotton jeans we created a few seasons ago. They were covered in a silk mesh (that used very little dye and material) that you could simply pull over the pant legs to create the effect of different colored denim. This high quality fabric also lasted longer and did not need to be washed as often. A really bad idea, perhaps, is the present obsession with cashmere. In theory it’s a sustainable material, but with retailers now offering inexpensive cashmere to the masses, farmers in northern China are breeding more and more cashmere goats who in turn eat field plants (including the roots) resulting in regional desertification. With only four ounces of cashmere coming from each goat, it takes a lot of goats to make a cheap cashmere sweater. This is a typical example of something that should remain a luxury product. A less 'trendy' but equally soft wool comes from Alpacas. These are well-cared for family pets in Peru, and their light grazing pattern makes them naturally sustainable animals.


EFW: Tell us a bit about the Home Made t-shirts and jackets that you have in your web store?

SANS: Since we typically focus on made-to-order items, we wanted to have more affordable design offerings with global access. for our customers We also wanted people to realize how much hard work is involved in making our clothes, i.e. the “sweat hours”. We feel that if sweat hours are better understood, perhaps we will all better care for our clothes better.

EFW: How does the term ‘avant-garde’ sit with you as a label for your made-to-order work?

SANS: Again, we do not pay attention to labels or categories. We have never really wanted to seen as ' eco fashion designers' per se, as we feel that eco fashion should not be set apart from fashion in general or used as a marketing angle. For SANS, the evolution of the design process is not part of the marketing message.

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