Tuesday 30 August 2016

Agata Kozak | Cossac

If you are under the impression that eco-fashion is not sexy you only have to take one look at the Cossac Autumn/Winter collection that launched last week to change your mind. We caught up with the founder and designer, Agata Kozak, to talk about her approach to fashion, life and inspiration behind the brand.

How did you get into fashion?

I always wanted to be a designer. I am polish but I studied at the universities in Turkey and Spain. After finishing a university in Barcelona, I realized that there weren’t that many options that interested me and that maybe Spain was not the place to be, so I moved to London. I spent almost 5 years gaining experience in both high street and high-end brands, but  I always knew that I wanted to do something of my own. In London, life is very different, I think people are more conscious about what is going around them. I started to appreciate the idea of sustainability much more, and I knew that when it came to creating my own brand I had to do something that was good for the society and the planet. From all these experiences Cossac was born and we launched in October 2014.

With your move to London and you becoming more eco-conscious, did it only effect your approach to fashion?

No, it’s all the areas of my life. I am a little bit obsessed with the organic lifestyle, this is the way I live, the food that I eat, the cosmetic products that I use. In a way, I think it has to be taken as a whole, otherwise it becomes a little hypocritical. I am very aware of what I put on my skin, I mostly use oils or butters. The one problem I’ve been having is finding an effective deodorant, but I saw one at the Clean Cult event which I’m hoping will do the trick.

How did you come up with the name?

It is actually very personal as it comes from my name, my surname is Kozak. One of my close friends was always writing it down as ‘Cossac’, saying that it looked more international and cooler that way.


What is the inspiration behind the line?

The main idea was to create a capsule wardrobe for each season, with some element of current and future trends as I wanted to appeal to the fashion conscious. Yet many pieces are trans-seasonal so you can wear them time and time again, season after season. I wanted my pieces to be both sustainable and affordable. I think one of the biggest problems with sustainable fashion is that the prices are really extremely, extremely high.  It puts people off, they prefer to go somewhere else and pay 1/3 of the price.

Of course our pieces are still a bit more expensive than what you will find on the high street, they range from around £40 to £120 pounds. I think this is quite good when you take into consideration all the factors.

I wanted Cossac to be cool and fresh, and not preachy. Our style is cheeky and sexy and that’s how we approach eco-fashion.

Is there a cut-off point as to how many pieces you introduce in each season?

Yes. This actually gets me into trouble, because most trade shows want you to have 50 pieces, and my collection is always under 20. I think that if you have too many it is not sustainable either. I thank if the the collection ticks all the boxes (you have jackets, bottoms, dresses etc) and make it concise, and that every piece is as good as it can be, so people want to buy the entire collection, that is what's important. This is how I see it, many people disagree, but that’s my approach.  As we are still quite small we don’t have any mid-season collections, two seasons per year works for me at the moment. I will have to start thinking about it as we grow.

Do you go for a certain look with your collections?

What I always do is that we have cream and black, and add one more colour that is on trend for a specific season.

I wanted the clothes to be universal so everyone could wear them. Depending on how you style them you can wear them on the weekend, a night out, and some of them you could even wear to work.

How would you describe the Cossac aesthetic?

What we do is we redefine basics and contemporary casual wear. All our pieces have a sassy edge to them, which I think is very important. Our motto is ‘Conscious, fresh, people’. The people part doesn’t only refer to the ethical and eco-conscious side, it is also about collaborations. I love getting involved in projects with young artists and photographers to help promote them. Every photo-shoot we do, every video we do, I carefully select who I work with and I help them along the way. This element is very important for us as a brand and me personally.

What are your favourite fabrics to work with?

Oh definitely tencel! I think this is the most sustainable fabric there is as it is a closed-loop production cycle, you recycle it and then use it again. I do work with organic cotton, but organic cotton can be problematic in termss of production. So for me it is tencel, it can come in so many forms: jersey, woven, knitted. I love this fabric, it is so versatile.


What has been the biggest challenge so far with being an eco designer?

I think money (laughs), we are growing organically so it can be tough. Another problem is fabrics. I source fabrics in Turkey, and of course textiles from there are supplied to big companies who order huge amounts and it is not something that I can offer. Fabric minimums are a massive problem.

How do you approach people you work with when it comes to sourcing?

I am very lucky to work with an amazing factory in Turkey and they help me out a lot. We are growing together as a business. I do go to trade shows there, and luckily for me there are more and more sustainable fabrics every time I go. So I speak to the producers directly, it is not so difficult to get in touch with them, but it is difficult to meet the minimums. I have to compromise a lot on colours, but as we are growing I do have a little more freedom now.

Are you limited in the choices that you have, are there some fabrics that you would love to work with but aren't able to?

Oh yeah, in s/s 17 I am introducing cupro, it is more sustainable than other fabrics like for example viscose, but cupro is very expensive so I can’t really use it and still keep my prices. There are other fabrics that I would like to work with, but the price of the pieces would just skyrocket. It is something that I have to be very conscious about and it does limit me.

Have you ever seen the darker side of the supply chain and working conditions?

Not really, I do some freelance work for other companies from time to time, and I visit China a lot. The factory that I go to in China, and the offices that they have, are nicer than what I have in London. They also have obligatory yoga classes. I know there are horrible working conditions and factories especially in Pakistan, Cambodia and Bangladesh, but I haven’t been to those places and to be honest I don’t want to.

I personally would only work with factories that are certified, and I actually go to the factory and hang out with the workers. For me good conditions is a standard, and I go to the factory we work with in Turkey every few months to make sure the conditions are good. People in this particular factory only work Monday to Friday, and they work 8 hours a day. One thing that I have discovered is that in Turkey fashion is such a privileged job that some people who work in fashion earn more than engineers. I would never lower the standards there, you need to take care of the workers and they will take care of the product.


What are your future plans?

I need to see what happens after this latest show in Berlin, by I think growing in Asia would be great. I have an agent in Japan and Tokyo is my happy place. I would like us to be in more independent boutiques and small shops, places that really care about eco fashion. I would love to see us in more countries.

How do the countries that you have lived and worked in compare in terms of their eco-scenes?

There are countries that are quite eco-conscious and others that don’t care as much. In Spain eco-fashion wasn’t even a thing. Currently we have been approached by one shop in Spain. In contrast, Germany is very eco-conscious, so are Netherlands, Sweden, far east Asia, Australia and Canada. Those places have so many shops that are eco. UK is pretty good. We are currently in a shop in boxpark called Utter Couture (we are also launching in a couple of other stores soon). It was really exciting to get feedback from the boxpark shop, telling us that every single person interested in buying our pieces  asked where our clothes are made, it feels like the change is already happening!

selesty fash rev

Tell us about the show in Berlin?

I was showing at the ethical fashion show, it was perfect because every single buyer was looking for the type of fashion we offer. It is so much more targeted, and the great thing is that people from eco stores in London were actually there too. What was great is that I had a grant from the government to show there, it was a win win situation. We will definitely do it next season.

Where would you like to see the future of eco-fashion?

I would like it to be more mainstream, I want people to understand why shopping eco is better. I think once the bigger players follow the eco-route (which I know they will), that’s when things will change. Brands like H&M, Adidas, those are the ones who can actually afford to push these massive changes through. The problem with these brands is that they have the stigma of 'fast fashion' which is hard to get rid off, but they are the ones who make the huge orders.

Of course we will try hard to facilitate the change, eco-fashion has only just started to properly kick-off and it is always tough at the beginning.

*Images courtesy of Cossac.

Thursday 4 August 2016

The Model Zone facial + Giveaway

Coming from a family were both my mom and my grandma are amazing with a sewing machine, house full of Burda Moden magazines and my mom's contagious love of quality fabrics, my interest in fashion is not a surprise. For a long time I was completely mesmerised by the glitz and the glamour, patiently waiting for my monthly glossies. Like a lot of girls, at one point or other, I daydreamed about being a model (I've always had a wild imagination). Of course the stories in the media about the darker side of fashion open up your eyes to the harsh reality of the kind of pressures models face and how few actually make it big in the business.

The Model Zone is the British Fashion Council's project, created to look after the wellbeing of models during the London Fashion Week. As you can imagine, things get pretty intense, and a lot of the girls are young and far from their homes which adds to the pressure. Weleda UK have been supporting this project for several seasons, providing their products to use on the first occasion, and then getting more deeply involved with a team of beauty therapists and homoeopaths. The place is like a little oasis or a mini retreat: a space to relax, get a massage or a facial, stock up on healthy food and recharge your batteries. The location is confidential each season for obvious reasons, but to give us a taste of what it would look like this September (and to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Skin Food) Weleda recreated the Model zone experience a few months ago.

                                                         Photos courtesy of Weleda

The setting was a swanky apartment suite at Ham Yard in Soho, I was assured by Natalie Lewis (my therapist) that it was pretty much the same set up as at the The Model Zone, just a different location. Treatments on offer consisted of hand and foot massages, and of course the signature Skin Food facial that was specifically created for the occasion. Walking through the doors it already felt like a place of calm, of course I have no idea what the atmosphere is like on the day, but it was definitely all set up with relaxation in mind. 

I got to experience the signature facial. I have to admit that I was completely baffled by what Natalie was doing, first I could smell the undeniable sent of rosemary (which turned out to be a hot flannel soaked in Rosemary bath), then my nose told me that something from the almond range was being used (that was the almond cleanser). Luckily, Natalie was very obliging, she not only answered all my questions but also assured me that I would have the step by step instructions of how to recreate this ritual at home in the goodie bag. That was the point when I started to relax a bit, letting my annoyingly busy brain fall into rest mode.

The cleansing was followed by a massage with almond soothing facial oil. The massage extended to neck and shoulders, which in my case are super tense (every time I get a massage, therapists comment on it), so it was really nice to get some of that tension out.

                                                                Photo courtesy of Weleda

Moving on to the piece de resistance, a generous layer of skin food was left on the skin for 5 minutes to do its magic. I have to say this was my first interaction with skin food, the few samples that I had were snapped up by other members of the family so I never got to try it for myself. I actually quite like the scent, it is sort of sweet and herby. One of the ingredients in this product is Lanolin, which means it is not suitable for vegans. Here is what Weleda have to say about their lanolin and it really comes down to whether or not you trust the brand. From all my experiences with Weleda so far, I trust them (of course it is up to you to make up your own mind).

With a flannel soaked in hot water and a little lavender bath the mask is taken off, and the last step is a light application of Almond soothing lotion. The whole process was about 30 minutes, but it left me feeling incredible. Getting ready to come to the event I was definitely a little worse for wear, completely run down and super stressed. Half an hour with a Weleda therapist and I was ready to take on the world. I would have never thought of using Skin Food as a treatment mask, but if your skin is feeling dry it really does the trick. For those of us with oily complexion, the recommendation is to skip the T-zone and only use it on dryer areas, to avoid overloading the skin.

                                                                Photo courtesy of Weleda

I have teamed up with Weleda UK to gift one of my readers with the whole shebang of  the products used in their signature facial, unfortunately a therapist is not included, but they are throwing in some organic teabags and a muslin cloth. The giveaway is open to UK residents only and it closes on 15th of August 2016  (don't worry, there will be something else happening for my international readers shortly after).

The prise:

 Rosemary Invigorating Bath Milk 200ml
Almond Soothing Cleansing Lotion 75ml
Almond Soothing Facial Oil 50ml
Skin Food 30ml
Lavender Relaxing Bath Milk 200ml
Almond Soothing Facial Lotion 30ml
Organic cotton muslin
Organic cotton wool pads
Organic chamomile unbleached tea bags
Weleda Skin Food facial booklet

Good Luck!

Weleda Skin Food Facial Bundle

Tuesday 2 August 2016

From plants to skin with Paul Richards | Herbfarmacy

How often do we pick up a jar of cream without considering what it really takes for it to reach us? We might be aware of the fact that calendula is soothing, chamomile has calming properties and lavender is extremely relaxing, but very few of us are able to grow, harvest and make them into skincare. Herbfarmacy is a bit of a precious jewel amongst skincare brands, not only is it certified organic, but herbs and plants are grown, and processed before being made into skincare on the tranquil Herfordshire farm. The balms are what Herbfarmcy is known for, mallow beauty balm is probably the most talked about product from the range (with good reason, you can't help but fall in love with its scent, texture and the way it leaves your skin beautifully soft and hydrated). However, instead of giving you the lowdown on the incredible products, this time we decided to get right to the heart of what makes them so special. We got together with Paul Richards (the man behind the magic) to talk about herbs, plants and processes used to make them into skincare.

What herbs and plants do you grow that are used in your skincare range?

We grow about 12 herbs for the skincare products: Buckwheat, Burdock, Calendula, Chickweed, Comfrey, Cornflower, Dandelion, Echinacea, Hypericum (St. John’s Wort), Marshmallow, Meadowsweet and Mullein. We also use Ginkgo and Horse Chestnut (conkers) which are from trees at nearby Kinnersley Castle (they have one of the oldest and largest Ginkgo trees in the UK – our own small tree is only 2 metres high so far!)

One of the star plants in your range is marshmallow. How long does it take for it to become part of a balm: from the seeds being planted until the extract is ready to be used in a beauty product? Talk us through the stages and processes involved?

In autumn, we save the seeds from the current crop that’s about to be harvested and these are stored, ready to be sown in trays in the greenhouse in Feb/March. The seedlings are planted out in May and we nurture them and keep them as free of weeds as possible for 2 summer seasons following which the roots are lifted during the winter and washed, chopped and dried ready for extracting in oil. Extraction is in high-oleic sunflower oil at around 95°C. The oil is then filtered and is ready for use in a balm. It's a long process but one we love to work on!

What different methods do you use to get herbal extracts? How do they differ depending on the plant?

We extract in oil and water. Some herbs are extracted in hot oil (as with Marshmallow root), whilst others are extracted at around 20-25°C such as Calendula and Mullein flowers. We extract in water by decoction – the herb is boiled in water for 10 minutes, and this process is used for both roots and above-ground parts (leaves/flowers). The extract is then filtered and cooled to be used immediately in a cream.

 paul mullein

Are there any herbs/flowers that require extra attention during the whole farm to skin process?

The flowers are the most delicate and need to be handled carefully and dried rapidly to preserve their colour. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum) flowers have to be extracted fresh in oil to produce the peculiar blood-red oil that’s so good for muscles and for mild pain relief.

What is your favourite plant to work with and why?

This is a very difficult question for me as I love them all! I guess it’s between Marshmallow which we use so much and Mullein which is so impressive – growing up to 13 ft or 4 metres in height. Marshmallow root has wonderful gentle mucilages for soothing the skin (and the digestive system when used internally). Break open a fresh root and you can feel the silky nature of these substances.

Why is it important to you to run an organic farm?

I studied as a botanist with a particular interest in plant communities and natural sustainable ecosystems, before going on to research in plant physiology. I wanted to grow in a way that respects the natural cycles and for me organic was the only way that made sense. We are certified by the Soil Association and the name says it all – the aim is to create and maintain a healthy soil which gives the environment for raising healthy plants for maximum benefits as food for eating – or as food for the skin!

What is the most challenging part, growing plants or formulating skincare?

Both are a challenge – the seasons can throw all sorts at you with the growing. What we have managed over the years is to develop systems that work for most of our main herbs most of the time. Formulation involves lots of experimentation and creative use of the wonderful properties the herbs give us. It is probably more challenging in some ways and developing fragrances to match the herbal benefits and be appealing is a further challenge in itself. Fragrance is a very much a personal thing, so it’s quite hard to please everyone but we try!