Natascha von Hirschhausen // Designer at Natascha von Hirschhausen and Co-Founder of AETHIC.
Interviewed by Cherie Birkner
"Ethical fashion is for everyone, not only the vegan slow-food-yoga-hippie."
You are quite active: at the moment you are in the master-class at Weissensee University Berlin, have founded your own label and are Co-Founder of the blog AETHIC. What gives you the energy for all of this?
There are a whole lot of people, working on a more sustainable and fair future and I love to be one of them. So what drives me is pure idealism and the positiv energy of this group of people, believing, that you can cause a positiv change in the world together. I love what I do and I am, to be completely honest, kind of a workaholic plus an idealist through and through. Since this is my passion, hobby and profession in one I dedicate most of my life to my work surrounding ethical fashion - through my label, the magazine and teaching - hoping to make a bit of a difference.
Your label goes by your name Natascha von Hirschhausen, why did you choose this?
That was a tough decision and I also had a whole cluster of other names, but in the end I decided, that this would be the most honest way to name my label. In Germany we have this saying: „Dafür stehe ich mit meinem Namen.“ It basically says, that I completely stand behind what I am doing. And that is, what it is. My label has my idealism literally written all over it.
Have you always been into sustainability, or how did you come to your view points about this?
Growing up sustainability and fairness were very important ideals for my parents and this values stuck all the way through the rebellious teens until my studies. Then I started to work and am constantly working on a more profound knowledge on sustainability, rather than this abstract preference. That means to read about fashion theory, economics, sustainability, politics and so on and so on. Sustainability is definitely an overused word, but if you take it seriously it is difficult to actually live up to it, but that is what I am working on every day.
Have you ever worked in the 'regular' (non-sustainable) fashion industry? If so, what differences do you find worth mentioning?
Sustainability has like a gazillion shades and of course not everybody and everything has to be as strict and radical as my label is. I believe, that every step towards sustainability is a step in the right direction. And so I did work with an amazing slow-fashion Label, that wasn’t sustainable in the sense that they used organic fibers, however they used natural fibers combined with traditional handcrafts. The other Label I worked for was an Eco-Premium Brand, that mainly used organic fibers. So they both did not have the standards, that my label has now, but still they were not regular fashion brands. In that context I see my Label as a way of showing how you can be sustainable, fair and transparent - a little nerdy "best practice" show-off, if you want to put it like this.
At the moment sustainable brands still cater to a niche market, do you see this as an advantage or disadvantage for your own label?
Both. On the one hand the consumers who are searching for transparent, well designed and ethical fashion and are more likely to stumble over my Label, because the market is not too big right now, opposed to the conventional market where you face thousands of competitors. Plus the transparency and radicality of ethical matters realized in my label is quite unique and a special asset to my costumers. Plus the costumers are more likely to come back, once they found me, heard about the concept and got to know the quality of the product. On the other hand my fabrics and production are way more expensive than for conventional brands, so I always have to invest more and need to demand a higher price. But still I wouldn’t want to work any differently and most of my costumers understand the need for a higher price.
You also give workshops on how to create zero waste draping designs, what is zero waste?
Zero Waste is a special field of design, in which one works on reducing leftover fabric to the absolute minimum. The easiest way to explain is knitwear, as most people know the basics of knitting. Knitwear can be produced on form, so you do not have leftovers at all, meaning it is zero waste. In Draping on the dress form it is similar. As long as you are draping squares, or use all the pieces you cut up, it can be done without waste. More difficult are the patterns. Normally they are more form fitted, so there must be curves and lines, that compliment the body form. Doing minimal-waste patterns means a lot of puzzling of the pieces and just a crazy lot of trial and error, until you find out, how the pattern pieces can be puzzled into one another.
Do all of your friends have a sustainable lifestyle?
"Zero Waste is a special field of design, in which one works on reducing leftover fabric to the absolute minimum."
No, not at all. And it really isn’t a big deal. Sometimes we talk about sustainability and stuff, but I will not tell anybody how they have to live their lives. I believe that everybody has to define their own choices and live with them and I respect that. Nevertheless I am happy, if someone is interested or is telling me about his first sustainable clothing choice or whatever.
Am I a bad person if I buy a t-shirt from H&M?
No, definitely not! And I really think it is stupid to blame the costumer. As a Designer I wish for costumers to read and inform themselves about their purchases in order to make an ethical choice. But I do understand, that it is difficult.
It takes quite a lot of time to research and read. Plus the sustainable brands have to be found in the internet, since not many of them can be seen in shopping malls, or somewhere near there. So it really takes a lot of effort to buy ethical and I can understand, that not everybody takes the time to stroll through the internet and all of the green-washed and green concepts, before buying something as simple as a T-Shirt. With AETHIC we make finding and defining ethical consumption choices easier. We have a platform collecting information about ethical standards and a part where we show ethical shops and brands. This way it becomes easier for the interested costumer to get informed.
Can I buy clothing from H&M and from you without contradicting myself?
Life is a contradiction in itself and nothing can be done for 100%. So of course, if you want to make a change or simply like the product just try buying ethical every now and then. You can still buy from H&M, of course. It is your choice to define the mixture. And there will not be any form of “ethical fashion police“ beating you up, if you bought ethical fashion once and go to H&M afterwards, I promise. At least you gave it a try and that is good.
"Ethical fashion is for everyone,
not only the vegan slow-food-yoga-hippie."
Will you like me (as an example of someone you know) less if I buy from H&M / ZARA?
Oh gosh. No. As I said earlier, I do not think bad of someone based on their consumption habits. I am happy to talk about slow fashion, if you are interested, but I will not look down or missionize anybody. I believe respect for other people is most important and looking eye to eye (auf einer Augenhöhe) to each other. I think it is kind of sad, that the impression of ethical fashion often is, that the people behind it look down on others. That is not the case!