Red carpet moment, follow the rainbow dress!…Except we’re not on the red carpet…and the world’s divas haven’t yet discovered Leila Hafzi’s show-stopping gowns. However, judging from the audience’s reaction at the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris, and the awards that keep pilling up, we know it’s only a matter of time.
EFW: How did you get started doing eco fashion?
Leila Hafzi: It all started in 1997 when I went to Nepal, fresh out of business school, with the idea that I wanted to be a designer but no idea how to do it. I wanted to create a fair, ethical and ecological fashion line, so I started from the ground up, learning with local tailors how to build a garment.
EFW: What kind of challenges did you encounter?
LH: Well, mine was a path of trial and error. First in terms of production, I started working with 20 different factories! I soon realized that, as a tiny label, that wasn’t viable, so I let the market choose and I’m now down to four solid partners with some outsourcing. Then, in terms of having an environmentally friendly production cycle, it’s still a work in progress. In my last collection I used draped silk chiffon crepe, silk satin, Eco Tex certified 100% pashmina yarns, hand loomed silk organza, certified buffalo leather and hand carved buffalo horn. As a small designer, in a country like Nepal, you have to work with the local reality and take things one step at a time.
EFW: So let’s talk about your two latest collections Alpha Vert and this season’s O3. What were your inspirations?
LH: First of all, I’ve always loved color. My love for design comes from the princess stories of my childhood where the fairy godmothers would magically create a dress for a Snow White or Cinderella, I imagined princess dresses made from recycled saris. I started thinking about Alpha Vert when I was by the sea, looking at the way the sky and the water melt together in the horizon, creating shades that range from delicate blues to a deep blue-green to a toxic acid-green where water is polluted and even fiery reds at sunset. For O3, I wanted to develop the theme but bring it into winter by offsetting the colors with black. I was inspired by NASA pictures of black holes and distant galaxies, and it made me think of our own fragile ozone layer and the ozone molecule O3. In terms of general design inspirations, I really admire the work of John Galliano and realized, after the fact, that my work has a likeness to Halston.
EFW: How did you create the rich gradations that adorn the dresses?
LH: We used different techniques, everything is hand made. First, to get the vibrant colors, we premiered AZO Free dyes in Nepal. These are the legal standard dyes in Europe, but most Asian countries don’t have that regulation and work with dyes that are extremely harmful to the workers’ health. Then, for the paler colors, we are experimenting with herbal Ayurvedic dyes to preserve the purity of the organic materials.
EFW: Who would you like to see in your dresses?
LH: Last week we met Kristen Scott Thomas in Paris, a true lady. She sincerely expressed that she loved the dresses. My heart almost went out of beat. I would also love to dress Cate Blanchett in a modern Goddess dress or Uma Thurman who’s always simultaneously playful and elegant.
EFW: And for the future?
LH: I want to reach my goal of being fully ecological while working in developing countries and have a long-term market position. In the shorter term, I’m working on a collaboration with French catalog La Redoute and we would like to start expanding into more daytime clothes…stay tuned!