Let’s start at the beginning, with 032c, the contemporary culture publication founded by Berliner creative director and editor-in-chief Joerg Koch. The biannual publication devotes itself to exploring the intersections of fashion, art, and culture, while always trying to challenge and surprise its readers. Maria Koch, Joerg Koch’s partner, is an equally important part of the 032c company, as the founder and creative director of 032c Apparel. On top of an impressive career working for the likes of Jil Sander and Marios Schwab, Koch also serves as a special consultant to celebrities.
Screen Shot met with Koch in London’s smallest pub at Browns East, on the night of the global launch of the exclusive capsule of the COSMIC WORKSHOP womenswear, 032c Apparel’s first ready-to-wear womenswear collection, as well as its collaboration with Buffalo. We spoke about sustainability in fashion, our society’s dire need for balance, and what’s next for 032c.
COSMIC WORKSHOP, just like anything that 032c creates, is both rough and soft at the same time; both underground and elegant—a trait that most Berliners seem to always exude. Koch mentioned before that the collection was inspired by Berlin’s ‘hardcore’ rave kids. And it shows. Only it has an added elegant side to it. The installation at Browns East reflected that inspiration, with flashing lights and hanging plastic reminiscent of the same aesthetic my favourite clubs can sometimes have. Koch explained that the name “COSMIC WORKSHOP comes from two words. We named our office ‘032c workshop’, which is the space where we work. And for ‘cosmic’, when I was a rave kid, there was this super kitsch musician called Cosmic Baby who used whale sounds and other sounds, and I was always very attracted to this word ‘cosmic’ even though I’m not that spiritual. I was attracted to the idea of what it could be, and this is what this collection is about.” On its website, 032c describes itself as a “manual for freedom, research and creativity,” and this collection, just like anything else that the 032c team creates, aims to do just that—educate people on fashion, Berlin’s rave scene, and sustainability.
Recently, talks surrounding sustainability have taken centre stage in the fashion industry. Just before London Fashion Week, Extinction Rebellion’s asked people to boycott LFW. It didn’t work, and only divided the fashion industry instead of changing anything, but the message was clear—something needs to change. We asked Koch about her opinion on the matter and if 032c Apparel is sustainable. “I think sustainability in the fashion industry is a need when you take the world we live in somewhat seriously. I’m not saying everyone should become this ‘typical’ organic person, but everyone should act smart and be conscious.”
COSMIC WORKSHOP is sustainable, at least as sustainable as it can be, Koch explains, “I used to teach a design strategy master’s program in sustainability within fashion and what I’ve learned while teaching it is that there are so many different ways to achieve it, so actually it’s not that you can do it completely right but you can definitely do a lot of steps to make sustainability possible in your own little world.” Koch’s approach to sustainability is honest and realistic, as she wants to educate buyers on what needs to be done instead of using big words to delude them. COSMIC WORKSHOP represents the same idea condensed into a collection, the idea that no one needs a 120-piece collection four times a year. Instead, she wants to give buyers classic, strong, and lasting items.
The attitude 032c has with its brand, its magazine, and its events is one that encourages people to slow down. While Koch understands and admires the world we live in, “I’m completely into the idea of this tempo that we live in, this ‘asap-ness’ and how attractive it has become,” she also knows that we will need to delay that rhythm. On social media platforms, such as Instagram, we feel the need to post daily pictures of new clothes. Everyone seems to be celebrating that ‘hustle culture’ we’re forced to give into. The fashion industry itself struggles with keeping pace. Everything is going too fast, and a balance is urgently needed. Koch explained that “We’re also living in this antithesis of going to the countryside, of calming down, but maybe in the future, it will all balance itself out, because right now it’s just too hardcore. You can’t do that, be non-stop full-on, and then just have a break alone. This is too radical, no?”
According to Koch, that same balance that we need in our lives should be applied to the fashion industry. Recently, sustainability has been presented to us under the model of rental fashion. Rental fashion companies allow customers to rent an item for a limited period of time (depending on the company) and for a cheaper price than the retail one, with many of them offering monthly subscriptions for three to four items.
Many people seem to think that rental fashion could be the radical idea we needed to change the industry, and that soon ownership will be old news and we’ll live in a sharing economy. While this idea seems promising, Koch argues that “clothes are so intimate; how they smell, how they’ve been washed and with what kind of soap. I have a very sensitive nose, so I wouldn’t be happy with another soap or another smell. I understand the idea of second-hand clothing, because in that case, you make something more ‘your own’.” To her, rental fashion is not personal enough to represent the future of fashion.
So what does the future of fashion consist of for Maria Koch? Digital clothing seems to be the one. She revealed to Screen Shot that 032c is currently working on a new project. “We’re looking at the idea of this need on Instagram to always have a new outfit. Would it be possible to replace these outfits that people only wear once with outfits that people buy online and would then appear on one of their Instagram pictures? That means that when you go back to creating clothes, these clothes should be much more sustainable, as they would represent something that you would wear for much longer since people probably won’t need those ‘special pieces’ anymore.”
Koch’s plan is as well thought through as 032c magazine’s curated content. It all correlates; her COSMIC WORKSHOP collection, the need for sustainability, digital clothing, and the future of fashion.
Amidst an environmental crisis, environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion is calling for the cancellation of London Fashion Week. But what would cancelling London Fashion Week really achieve, and how would it affect independent designers not participating in mass production?
The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters impacting our planet right now, and it is not looking good. There is an endless cycle of clothes ending up in landfills annually (over a million tonnes of which are from the U.K. alone), the industry produces around 10 percent of the global greenhouse emissions, and chemical dyes polluting water produce about 20 percent of water waste yearly. This industry is predicted to grow by 63 percent by 2030, and the textile industry is expected to produce 25 percent of all carbon emissions by 2050.
The Swedish Fashion Council cancelled the upcoming Stockholm Fashion Week, and Extinction Rebellion demands the British Fashion Council do the same. By planning creative disruptive actions throughout the event, with a funeral commemorating the loss of life due to climate change, the organisation hopes to bring our awareness to just how harmful the fashion industry is. A number of companies within the industry are also taking a stand to boycott LFW in various ways—London-based fashion magazine Bricks, as an example, decided not to cover LFW this year.
Here is the thing, though, London Fashion Week is a platform that showcases a number of independent and emerging talent, many of whom don’t even have the means to mass-produce if they wanted to (then we would be having an entirely different conversation). Many designers each year advocate awareness for sustainability and choose to use recycled fabrics and environmentally friendly textiles. That is not to say that LFW only supports independent designers, with big companies like Burberry participating who are far from being sustainable, but the real evil is the fast fashion industry.
It is, of course, important to note that without high end fashion, fast fashion would never exist in the first place. Emerging in the 90s, fast fashion promotes rapid and mass production of cheap clothing to meet the most recent fashion trends. These fashion trends are inspired by high end fashion designers and most independent designers, and it is understandable why people choose to purchase fast fashion. In the real world, who can actually afford to splash out hundreds or thousands of pounds per clothing item? It is so unrealistic and exclusive. Plus, in the age of Instagram culture, where everybody feels they have to show off how stylish they are to their followers, overconsumption is inevitable.
By all means, this needs to change. We do engage in constant, mindless consumption, and so many of us already have more clothing than we need. But fast fashion brands don’t showcase their work during LFW—independent designers do. So is it fair to punish them by taking away their platform? Fashion is a form of art, and LFW is equivalent to Frieze Art Fair or the Venice Biennale of fashion. Many designers showcasing at LFW have worked incredibly hard to get where they are, and we simply cannot take this away from them.
Don’t get me wrong, the fashion industry does need to be regulated, ASAP. In an interview with Screen Shot, Fashion Revolution’s founder and creative director Orsola de Castro claims she is “against” canceling fashion week, saying that we need to “redesign them rather than shutting them down.” De Castro believes that, “As far as being disruptive, we need to be constructive at the same time.”
Taking into consideration how much power and energy are invested in the production of these shows: the number of flights needed to transport models, editors, influencers, buyers, and garments, greener alternatives must be found. Designers showcasing twice a year is certainly excessive, and it would be better have all fashion weeks take place once a year maximum. Recycling previous collections into their new season should also be a must—yes, many independent designers already use recycled materials, but this can be elevated.
Fashion Open Studio is also a great alternative to this, which is a week of presentations, talks, openings, and workshops shining a light on emerging designers. “We need to use Fashion Week as a place to discuss conspicuous consumption, to discuss innovation, to discuss new parameters,” says de Castro—and rightfully so. Re-showcasing work from previous seasons would also be incredibly beneficial. The second hand fashion market is set to grow bigger than the high end and luxury ones by 2022, which is great news and could help support emerging talent instead of forcing them to keep up with the pressures of creating new work and being relevant.
Let’s all start investing into second hand and thrift shopping as our go-to option. Let’s push Instagram Influencers and celebrities to promote second hand clothing over brand partnerships with fast fashion brands. We could even go as far as demanding a new law that would prohibit the promotion of fast fashion brands or brands who use unethical resources when creating clothing. We need to reconsider how we, as consumers, view fashion once and for all, and start appreciating high end fashion as an art form rather than try and replicate it. But, please, let’s not punish emerging talented artists who have worked through blood and sweat to be able to express themselves through fashion.