ZAZI VINTAGE IS THE ETHICAL BRAND SETTING NEW STANDARDS
Fair fashion brand ZAZI Vintage wants to remind us we should always strive for the best when picking out clothes. Each piece should have a soul of its own. With the meteoric rise of fast fashion, and the consumerist culture, it can be easy to forget to question the origins of our clothes. But Zazi Vintage is made with the utmost care as to its origin, its source, fair trade, and ethical working conditions – while also producing beautiful, one of a kind pieces. Here we talk to founder Jeanne de Kroon about the story behind her unique label.
You began your journey into the fashion world while modelling – was there a particular instance that made you want to make a difference to the ethics of clothing with ZAZI Vintage, or was it a gradual realisation?
It was definitely a gradual realisation after hearing and experiencing the many stories behind the idea of fashion. I grew up with a fashion mama who turned into an art history professor. She would tell me these fabulous stories about Diana Vreeland and the golden days of Norman Parkinson. So when I was asked to be a model in NY, I was hoping for exotic trips to the east in couture but I ended up in polyester for web shops. I realised at the time that the most powerful thing about clothing is the connection that you have with it and the memory that it creates. I never found this in the modelling that I did. When I moved to Germany, I was still doing some modelling but I decided that I could take these trips to the east myself and wear local embroidery instead of couture that I found in little back alley shops.
The ethics came in when I started learning more about sustainable development and practical philosophy at university. I guess it was a combination of my travels full of glitter tops and connections with local ladies and the theories that I learned at uni, that made me create the first concept of ZAZI. I wanted to translate these ideals into something that was tangible.
When and how was ZAZI Vintage founded?
I started ZAZI last year after I came back from another journey to India. The more I learned about collecting vintage, I simultaneously also learned more about the way India plays a major role in the global fashion industry. Although I had been focused on finding these glitter tops and had some experiences with rural sustainable development, I really found my mission when I met this girl on a hot Rajasthani morning over chai. She opened my eyes to the other side of Indian fashion. She worked at a local women’s rights legislation organisation and told me about GMO cotton, conditions in factories, and how globalisation and the way the fashion industry functions violates basic human rights in India, meanwhile not being so nice to our planet.
Being an idealist, I thought it would be the best idea to combine my passion for vintage and my knowledge of sustainable development by creating ZAZI. I found these ‘70s Afghan dresses at the border of Pakistan and would raise funds for a Dutch NGO working against child prostitution in Mumbai while creating micro credits for local women in India. I got my model friends and creative director together and we shot 10 dresses at Liepnitzsee. Not long after I launched, I fine-tuned my format but the ideals or this fundament never really changed.
Are there a lot of people involved in the project?
Yes! So many! I have about seven local families from countries like Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and India on my WhatsApp that are supplying the vintage materials and we are currently working with 2 NGOs in India that both have over 25 women working for ZAZI. It’s like a super WhatsApp coordination of figuring out how we can use the funds that we raise and the wages that we pay in the most sufficient and sustainable way. With ZAZI we are not just creating jobs but are trying to also build a local economy by using micro credits, raising funds for projects like girls’ education and creating awareness of female health and organic gardening. In Berlin there are about five people constantly involved with ZAZI and my creative director is based in Paris.
The creative process obviously has some extra steps due to ethical measures – what is the process and how do you decide where and who to source from?
Yes absolutely. If you look at ZAZI from an economic and efficient way initially, it wouldn’t make any sense. It takes a very long time to source the vintage materials (this is the WhatsApp coordination challenge) and working with rural NGOs like IPHD India is amazing but also comes with its challenges. The NGO isn’t a production unit in a classical way. It is a small blue house with three sewing machines and two goats. The women from the NGO take the vintage materials and make the dresses in the comfort of their own homes. It is the way that I believe fashion should be but not easy at all! I cannot come to my partners and say I want X amount of this fabric and have the products done by this date as there are so many other factors that play a role in the process.
Are there other projects or designers that inspired you to take these steps to be an ethical brand?
Absolutely. I love everything Livia Firth does and the way she created a global platform for ethical fashion with EcoAge. Besides Livia and Emma Watson, I am also very impressed by Aurora James who just joined the UN Ethical Fashion Initiative and created her collections in collaboration with artisans in Ethiopia.
How did you go about sourcing the places you would involve when setting up ZAZI Vintage? It must have been a lot of work!
So much work! But in the end it almost felt like the places and the vintage crossed my path in a rather organic way. My passion and fascination for vintage fabrics first led me to my personal closet suppliers who in the end became my vintage fabric suppliers and the NGOs came through my personal network or the social media world! I met my Indian superhero Madhu Vaishnav, who owns the rural women empowering NGO through Instagram. We turned out to be in the same city and we bonded over feminism and Jodhpur sweets.
Does every collection travel through the same origins, or do you consider using different places that support women throughout the world who maybe are not being treated fairly?
This is the ZAZI plan for 2018 (laughs).
Did you visit these places personally? This must have been a life changing journey if so…
Yes, always. The journey to a place is 90% of creating a collection. For me the collections that I design now for ZAZI are always linked to the place and the experience that I had there, the women I met and inspired me and the textiles that move me. For me, the connection with women in other countries always broke down the walls of social conditioning and opened a door to understanding their culture, their imagination. I believe that you should aim as much as you can in life for these experiences, where you shift out of your bubble and identify with “the other”. The more I understood this concept, the more I wanted to create this identification bridge with my company. For my customers to understand which woman in which place made their garments and how a purchase can almost be a political statement.
Is it important to you that people know the message behind your clothes or are you happy with them just to buy them?
Of course, this identification process is fundamental for me and I feel like ZAZI has come mostly out of these ideals but I also work in the framework of fashion and can’t expect that all of my customers will understand the message immediately. We as consumers are socially conditioned to expect a certain thing from fashion now and it takes some time to break open this framework. In the end it doesn’t really matter if customers understand it now or if they will understand it later. What is most important is that customers feel fabulous in their ZAZI outfits and that the purchase supports the woman who made it on the other side of the world.
Photography by Stefan Dotter