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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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