Meet Ada Zanditon, the designer making couture for warrior goddesses
Woman, designer, environmental and human rights advocate. The different sides of Ada Zanditon mix and layer. The misconception that still links sustainability with hippie clothes has made her work more difficult, but also more admirable.
Did 2016 make you freak out?
I feel like I’ve been freaking out about the world since 2004. Maybe longer. For me, thinking about environmentalism started as a kid. We did some projects for Friends of the Earth at school. I think I was seven or eight and I told my mum we had to recycle because the world was going to end. My school was quite progressive. They showed us a video that was an imagined news and weather forecast for the year 2010 and now we see so many of those changes in climate happening.
When you started your fashion education, did you have those concerns?
Yes and I have always been interested in sustainability – using Fair Trade materials, for example, but I realised quite quickly that these issues need to beaddressed by the medium to large size companies because that’s what will make the difference. Although there are many great, small, independent brands creating fashion that is eco or sustainable, it contributes but it doesn’t change the world at the scale of measurable change. It takes attention away from the fact that it is the big brands we need to push to create change. If you’re a small company and you make 200 dresses in a year and they’re organic that’s wonderful, but only 200 people are going to buy them.
What you’re saying makes a lot of sense and I would say that a lot of people use that argument to not do anything positive.
I don’t think that’s an argument for doing nothing. It’s important, even if you are doing something positive, to remember that it’s got to come back to lobbying – looking beyond your own circles.. It’s like social media – we broadcast and receive within a circle of opinion and end up in bubbles. The same thing can happen in the fashion industry. People are in little bubbles where they are doing everything right but unless more of us stop acting carelessly nothing will change. If we don’t all continue lobbying the giants in the game, then the giants can carry on not addressing environmental concerns. It’s not just about the behaviour of a few people who make ethical choices. We need the industry to be ethical.
You come from London College of Fashion (LCF), a fashion school that strongly pushes for sustainability. Everything that I read about you says that you’ve done an amazing job championing fair trade and getting attention for environmental issues
When I was a student, in 2004, I started talking about environmental issues, going to events, searching for other people who thought as I did. Then, when I graduated, I continued to talk about it, I did my Ready-To-Wear (RTW) brand, butat some point, I felt like I could say these things repeatedly and barely anyone was listening.
The thing that was most frustrating was that people would look at the work, andthey’d hear what I was saying about the environment or sustainability, and they would say that my work didn’t look sustainable because it looked cool. In the late Noughties, early 2010s, people couldn’t understand that something cool could also be sustainable. It’s 20 years since Katharine Hamnett started showing us the way and some people still talk like that! It’s ridiculous! When H&M did their first Conscious Collection, it was all about white, floaty dresses.
It felt like it was hard to talk about both your work and what you believe in. If you tried talking about the two things at the same time, people couldn’t understand it. People expect that if you are interested in sustainability, you will be producing hippie clothes. They don’t understand that you can do high end, even couture, fashion and still work in a principled way.
It got to the point with RTW that I thought that I wasn’t making the kind of impact I hoped to. So I decided to focus on couture and from September 2014 I did only my couture pieces and last year I started to make couture accessories like hats and cuffs as well.
Have you felt like these values have been damaging to your career?
I feel I’ve had to compartmentalise. There’s nothing about the values I believe in on my website, but, if you go on my Twitter account (@adazanditon) there’s me raging about everything I believe in. I think thatthe website should be about my brand and the products, and then I can usea platform like Twitter tosay things about my beliefs.
It almost got to the point where I was reluctant to talk about the sustainable side of my work because I felt like the minute you talk about that, that’s all people hear. Automatically they stop seeing the work and put it in the “floaty white dress box”.
I finally feel like people might be ready to accept that something might be interesting to look at as well as having a message behind it.
I’m currently working on my leather couture pieces. I call them the Reborn Leather dresses. All the leather comes from a local factory. It’s the leather scrap pieces after they’ve made everything and that otherwise would end up in the bin. It’s completely impossible to make two that are the same. I also love them because they don’t look friendly or nice in any way. They look like dresses for warrior women.
It makes me think of Xena, the warrior princess.
Oh, definitely! She’s played by Lucy Lawless, who is an incredible environmentalist from New Zealand. Lucy’s a climate ambassador for Greenpeace and has boarded an oil drilling ship and stayed on it for 76 hours to stop it from leaving for the Artic to take part in oil exploration. She’s so kick-ass! Zena warrior princess is actually a real-life hero.
What can we take from 2016 that is positive?
Suddenly, after everything that happened this year, I’m quite happy to see so many people whom I’d never seen express anything political on their Facebook feeds suddenly being concerned about the world. And I’m like “YES!”. Brexit was awful for a lot of people, yes Trump is disastrous but Oh My God, you’ve finally posted something other than a selfie of you at the gym, congratulations! They suddenly feel like they need to do something. That is the positive outcome that we must focus on. Many lovely people that we know now feel a sense of urgency and engagement once more.