Interview With Samata - Queen Of Conscious Fashion
Ghanaian-born London-based designer Samata began her venture in responsible fashion in 2012 when she won the Red Carpet Green Dress competition, an initiative that uses the prestige of the red carpet to raise awareness of sustainability issues surrounding fashion.
I first met Samata back in 2013 when she was working on a sustainable dress for the Oscars and was desperate to get her hands on anything gold! Fast forward three years and she's now been appointed as director of the very competition she won, RCGD, founded an online community, The Tribe, authored the Fashion Designer's Resource Book and is about to launch her own sustainable fashion collection. Her instagram bio describes her as 'A Conscious Fashion Melting Pot', so I was thrilled when this busy lady took some time out of her schedule to chat ethical fashion and how it's developed over the years.
So Samata, each year Red Carpet Green Dress addresses a different issue within the fashion and garment industry. Could you talk us through each one briefly?
I always feel it’s helpful for designers to remember the different challenges of sustainable fashion design, yet not forget the fun they can have in addressing those issues.
There are definitely a number of challenges that designers face when trying to create sustainable garments, but the contestants of RCGD have overcome them tremendously throughout the years. Our designers have faced every challenge from limiting waste that comes from producing a garment, to using recycled or natural materials. A vast majority of our contestants have used peace silk, hand dyed fabrics, and even recycled materials. From our first year, designer Jillian Grantz not only made a beautiful gown for Suzy Amis Cameron, but she did so by using a zero-waste pattern, which is absolutely brilliant. Our designers face challenges beyond creating a garment that is made from 100% natural materials, or limits waste, but they also learn how to accessorise sustainably. From outfitting our celebrities in vintage jewellery, or vegan shoes, and even natural makeup! Facing each of these challenges can be tough, but we always manage to have fun throughout the journey at RCGD.
What do you think is the main barrier for brands in transitioning to ethical fabrics, particularly high-end brands such as the ones we see on the red carpet? When luxury fashion is expensive anyway, is the price of ethical fabrics really the problem?
Though times are changing, brands these days are still as keen as ever to minimise costs and maximise returns. When you are looking at a cost-benefit analysis - driven primarily by the bottom line - conscious fashion does not really factor in much, and that includes commissioning or choosing fabrics. If an ethical fabric is a tiny bit more expensive than a conventional one, it gets disregarded, despite often being made of natural fibres that are stronger and resist wear and tear better.
Luxury fashion is expensive to make, period. So it follows that every part of the production is rightfully scrutinised when justifying costs. For us, the more interesting space revolves around business models that are able to show how sustainability can help instead of hinder. I have heard a range of reasons, from the notion that manufacturers aren't telling the brands they work with about ethical fabric options, to the story that ethical fabrics 'are boring'.
Perhaps the capacity and incentive for change lies in learning more about the ethical options - so far we know that we have GOTS certified Peace Silk and Tencel but it is possible that an element of boredom has kicked in too. Personally, I think that that is one of the reasons everyone got so excited about rPEt - it's fresh and new.
Have you found that high street brands and consumers are more, or less, supportive of the conscious fashion movement than the luxury designers and celebrities?
I think that high-end designers simply have different motivations - the high street does care what the consumer is saying and what the consumer is asking to an extent, but the high street is also buying in such high volumes of clothing, that it's almost too tiny of a conversation still. Like many others, when it comes to the high street brands, I also don't always feel that so many of the eco initiatives are coming from an honest place. People are still flooding to high street mass-manufacturers regardless of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, so it's not hard to see why so many people feel there has not been enough movement. The consumers who do care are not a big enough crowd just yet.
With high-end, smaller businesses - it follows that there might be much more to lose if customers demand transparency and come back empty-handed. Celebrities are getting behind the designers who are doing things ethically - that can clearly be demonstrated by the movement seen on the red carpet at the Oscars with Suzy Amis Cameron's project Red Carpet Green Dress across to Emma Watson in Calvin Klein at the MET Gala. From both ends of the spectrum I keep seeing that there is movement towards a more sustainable business model, but there is still a long way to go and I don't think we should be looking at who is more or less, we should be looking at how we get more people on board, across the board.
Your own conscious fashion womenswear collection is about to launch. What challenges did you face in the sourcing of fabrics and production, and did you find anything pleasantly easy to accomplish?
I didn't face many challenges at all. I have been working in this field for a while so I knew where to look and was prepared to pay that little bit extra to manufacture what I wanted and how. I am manufacturing my line in London, which is more expensive, but well worth it.
Could you just wax lyrical for a moment on where a change in the fashion and style industry will come from, and how… what do you think about whether the change is a top-down or bottom-up process?
I truly believe that at this point, change will have to come not only from the designers, but also from the consumers. Designers are only half of the story. A more informed consumer and a more socially conscious consumer has a voice and a platform (social media has definitely changed the game in this space). These days as consumers we must learn to put our money where our mouths are.
What advice would you give to a fashion designer or brand that holds a strong ethical ethos, but is also aiming to appeal to a mainstream audience?
Focus on design first, quality product and let sustainability be the backdrop - don't ram it down people's throats. Let your designs and work speak for itself. Finally, design to last, not for the throwaway culture of today.
What is next for you and also for Red Carpet Green Dress?
Can't say - stay tuned!
Keep in check with Samata's Style to learn about the latest sustainable brands she chooses to wear - her personal style is to die for.
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