Fashion

“We only have one planet, we must take responsibility to be more sustainable, now more than ever”

Welcome to The Sustainable Shopper. Each week, Stylist will talk to the people focused on creating a more conscious shopping space for all. This week, founder of womenswear label Yasmina Q – designer Yasmina Qanzal – explains to fashion editor Harriet Davey what it’s like to start a small brand during a pandemic, the thought process behind every item made and how the industry is shifting its mindset to be more eco-conscious. 

In an ever-changing world, the fashion industry is having to adapt to a new consumer group who want to shop smaller, buy less and buy better. Sustainable brands are now at the forefront of a lot of people’s shopping choices. This is why Stylist is proud to create a space dedicated solely to the individuals who are making this shift a reality.

This week, we talk to Yasmina Qanzal, the Saudi Arabian designer and founder of new womenswear label, Yasmina Q. Launching in August this year, the predominantly dress-focused brand uses sustainably sourced or deadstock materials, works with small communities of dressmakers and uses a pre-order system to ensure items are not overproduced. This, along with attention-to-detail designs, has led to the brand being quick to gain support from a strong following of stylish women who want to know where their clothes have come from and invest in special love-forever pieces. 

Yasmina Qanzal Yasmina Q founder
Yasmina Qanzal founder of Yasmina Q

Yasmina: Sustainable fashion can be greatly misconceived. When I approach each step in my design process for Yasmina Q, I always try to work out ways product can be more sustainable. It is very challenging – I try to ensure each piece I design is responsibly manufactured and has limited the impact on the environment, or supported community training programmes for example. These are my goals.

Sustainability to me is about a circular process whereby we can consider environmental impacts. Utilising ‘deadstock’ materials (fabrics that have already been manufactured), using new processes that are kinder, managing the carbon footprint journey of each style and most importantly how we can consciously consider the most responsible ways to produce. For me, knowing I can create styles that could help a community socially, to support workers who need training, or to be paid fair wages are what really drives my efforts.

I watched Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets program and I was in shock learning how unsold new garments are destroyed – it really stuck with me. There was a huge sadness for the skilled workers who would have worked tirelessly to produce something on a low wage, only for it to be put into landfill and destroyed. Truly heart-breaking and so unnecessary. We only have one planet, we must take responsibility to be more sustainable, now more than ever.

Yasmina Q Willow dress
Yasmina Q Willow dress

The biggest challenge of creating my label was being a small start-up wanting to do great things, wanting to help drive conscious sourcing and manufacturing. It was a challenge trying to convince manufacturers that small production runs are so important to us. We do not want to over produce or sit on stock, that is wasteful. The supply chain is the hardest part but the recognition we have received in such a short time makes up for the mountains.

Our process at Yasmina Q is to try to involve different communities, small production facilities and to be transparent. To do this, each piece we sell is tagged with a secondary swing tag (made from FSC paper stock) outlining the initiatives of that piece. We have a lot of lovely messages from customers who take the effort to touch base with us. For them, having an understanding of the origins or the benefits of their investment is really valuable to them.

Consumers have a right to know the journey of each style they buy. If you can’t learn about the origin of the clothes or who they help and how they reduce waste then it says a lot about the brand. 

Yasmina Q Stella dress
Yasmina Q Stella dress

Yasmina Q’s launch was delayed due to the pandemic. In the downtime we decided to make a charity T-shirt to support various organisations in the UK and back in Saudi Arabi. Our ‘Forever Love’ T-shirt was a limited run and designed in a moment of chaos but not forgetting the message of love and how important it is. 

Off the back of this initiative, we’re collaborating with a charity on a special project where we can help to train craftswomen and design a special piece for Yasmina Q through their organisation. 

This is what sustainability means to me – the circular process of how product can evolve and stimulate new opportunities for those who are more disadvantaged and playing a part in encouraging others, spotlighting organisations, respecting workers and sourcing materials that are less wasteful and impactful.

In the next five or so years I would love to see a change in the supply chains. The quicker supply chains can offer more sustainable solutions the quicker most companies can support this shift. These ways of working and sourcing will result in product being more expensive, the customer has to be on board with this.

It would be great to see supply chains being supported by governments and regulatory bodies in manufacturing more responsibly. For this to happen the big retailers need to step up and adhere to taking responsibility to set sustainable goals (with this shift means likely a change in profit margins) and some of the big retailers won’t want that. This is the only way these manufacturers can shift their focus with the support of the high-volume retailers to help them realign.

A couple of brands I believe are at the top of their game with sustainability are Mara Hoffman, Ninety Percent and Bethany Williams. Although what I would say is it’s so encouraging to see the speed brands are now wanting to work more responsibly, be more transparent and experiment with alternative processes is remarkable. 

Behind the scenes of the shoot for the first Yasmina Q collection

For me, though, the word sustainability is often misunderstood. Many people tend to think it means that it’s organic or about a natural process to do with fabric and recycling. It’s not only that. It’s about conscious consideration of each process. 

When I create an item I ask myself: How can I make this kinder? How can I recycle something? How can I support a community? How can I do my part to ensure I am doing the best I can as a designer? How I can make this a circular process?  I can try to do better, to encourage alternative ways of working with shipping, sourcing etc.

I’m always aiming to make Yasmina Q even more eco-conscious and we have a lot of work to do. Bringing sustainability to Saudi Arabia is something I would like to progress with and lead in. It would also be amazing to operate with zero waste.

Knowing when you make a purchase there is a conscious effort and process behind it that is kind brings a greater sense of respect to the investment. It means more. It also makes you proud that you have been a part of consuming in a consciously better way. 

In order to live more sustainably there are some changes that can be made. Reduce your meat intake, avoid palm oil, reduce the number of online deliveries, travel less or in a more environmental way, buy less, buy better, recycle more, consider the proximity of goods and support local producers. Also don’t be afraid to research. Small tweaks to your lifestyle can have a huge benefit to the planet.

The Sustainable Shopper edit: Yasmina Q’s first collection

All images: Yasmina Q

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