Rattled by the wincingly pounding late fall winds, I had a revelation: Anything and everything good in life starts with “D”. Diana (Vreeland, a personal favorite), Denim (a Vreeland raving-favorite), Design (a Me ranting-favorite), Daring (a designing-favorite); all three in one way or another inspire, coordinate and cross paths in new Beijing-born clothing brand ZODIAC. Avoiding the pitfalls of “double denim”, just go ton-sur-ton with this one, we do a double take and ask… How does one design a cool cowboy vibe?
The ZODIAC denim brand: Useful, comfortable, good-looking and innovative. With a universal brand name purposely chosen to reflect the belief that this one brand works for all.
Every self-respecting fashion aficionada should own a pair of cowboy boots – trust me on this one. Nevertheless, when it comes to cowboys, kisses, denim and design, store shelves have been exploding with this fabric’s “must-haves” for years now; each piece “designed and approved” by one little known fashion influencer after another. Far be it from me to be opinionated, but the craft that is Design nowadays more often than not has become a rather trivial one – unfortunately so. Fashionistas, influencers, reality people and former IT girls all seem to be clinging onto their (at times long gone) momentum and stand in line to strike up “collaborations”, and I use the term very loosely, with big fast fashion brands. Seize your moment (Amen to that!), but for the love of the Project Runway talent galore just refrain from the racks packing more unbearable plasticky tricks than red velvety treats. I myself will admit to the occasional cutting up and stitching together of second-hand items or asking the seamstress around the corner to work her magic on my “vision” (insert gag reflex) for these used gems, but that’s about as far as my “designing” – and the will to do so – goes. My point is… Aside from a deep-rooted passion for fashion, a true eye for style and an impeccable Fingerspitzengefuehl, aka the Holy Trinity, the art of designing requires one more minor detail: Education. Talent needs training; there’s nothing trivial about that. Out with the tricks and in with a treat…
From design to denim and back: ZODIAC.
Enough with the design rant and on with the denim goodies, then! Stepping down from my belligerent and belittling soapbox, the woman basking in today’s spotlight far from links to the collaboration batch and encapsulates a mixture of fashionable talent, training and entrepreneurship. Daring to design and pursuing her fashionable dream like Diana, The Huntress, Temper presents Stephanie Lawson and her ZODIAC brand. A denim brand composed of minimal designs that let the wearer do the walking and talking; creating vehicles for the daringly bold non-conformist character. A denim brand providing a canvas for all things Lawson desires ZODIAC to be: Useful, comfortable, good-looking and innovative. With a universal brand name purposely chosen to reflect the belief that this one brand works for (and on) all.
Denim, no one other fabric has in the history of fashion managed to carve out such an impressive career for itself. Lauded by Vreeland in the Sixties (especially in the shape of basic blue jeans), banned to the attic since mom wore her jeans all wrong in the 80s, burnt in a collectively organized Vogue bonfire after the 90s grunge era, yet still always cleverly hiding out on the racks of many a fashion brand. Like a little Simba princeling, denim was taken out of the stockroom and raised high up into the spotlights time and time again, all the while adapting to the fit of the age. Flared jeans, baggy jeans, bootcut jeans, trucker jeans jacket, skinny jeans, denim blouse; the shopping list presses on. Nonetheless, something felt off… Something raveled, one might say.
Denim, aside from its pernicious ecological payback, carries within a few rather ethically irresponsible consequences.
In this fine year of 2016, everyone from fashionista to Greenpeace subscriber often takes into consideration their wardrobe’s backstory and with that, the ecological footprint some pieces may leave on our planet. Fur has already been an evil fashion force (i.e. one huge no-no) for decades, but materials such as denim at this point are in fact starting to stir up a little controversy of their own. Produced from cotton — not exactly the “globe-friendliest” source to use due to the huge amount of pesticides and insectides, and water, used for its cultivation — denim, aside from its pernicious ecological payback, carries within a few rather ethically irresponsible consequences.
From denim to exploitation: Your wardrobe, the silent killer.
The majority of denim garments neatly displayed in a store near you was actually produced either in Central and Eastern Europe or Northern Africa under, shall we euphemistally say, labor conditions which are not exactly conducive to… anything or anyone. In other words, using a production chain as transparent as the processed fabric itself. I shouldn’t have to add, but still will, that many brands weren’t too excited to see the mysteries of their denim production unraveled.
There has been, for some seven years, some uplifting news on the denim-front, i.e. sustainable Fairtrade brand and organic jeans garments. Whatever cut, style or shape floats your romantic rowing boat (I’ve never understood that whole thing, seems more swamping than swell), you can get your damsel-in-no-distress hooks into those in a wide range of both ecologically as well as socially sustainable varieties. Think Beijing-based Eco-Design Award winner Wang Di and her use of “waste” — hey, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure – or NEEMIC’s exquisite other-than-denim collections and Chictopia’s “rebel with a cause” designs. Or ZODIAC. And on that note, we conclude the theoretical part of this post and move onto the practical exam. Expand those sustainable wings and let them flare as wide as those bell-bottoms: Lawson, take us there!
“I tend to look at practicalities of today and tomorrow for my inspiration; future over past. Society today is what I study intently.” ZODIAC Founder Stephanie Lawson.
Temper: Who is Stephanie Lawson and what’s her deal with denim?
Lawson: “I am Stephanie, a Sino/Asian nomad who used to be a great deal more English! My hometown is a small village in the countryside not too far from Oxford.
The idea for starting a brand came about over the dining room table of my apartment. My roommate spent much of her time watching me hunched over this table, slaving away on fashion designs for corporate. She’s quite the provocateur and basically tempted me away from 9 to 5 life [often 9am – 4am in reality] toward entrepreneurship. It was through regular morning and late night OMG’s and random ideas that Zodiac came into being. She is a great example of a power girl boss and her business partner being the man-version, he was the one who came up with the name. It stuck! It also quite neatly encapsulates the brand: Universal, a little celestial, embodying both dynamism and stillness. That universal name encapsulates what I believe the most; that this brand should be truly work for everybody. It is composed of minimal designs that let the wearer do the walking and talking; vehicles for character and perhaps those who are a little non-conformist. Denim? It is a canvas for all the things I want the brand to be: useful, comfortable, good-looking, innovative.”
Temper: Denim. As mentioned earlier, this is one tried, proven and twisted fabric! How do you go from fabric to fashion?
Lawson: “After coming to understand more about conventional cotton, I came to know about the shockingly large contribution to environmental and social injustices. The main issue is that we shouldn’t really be using cotton at all, since it is shockingly in-efficiency as a crop. There is no black ‘n white; unfortunately it is all grey. Until there are better alternatives to cotton, many designers and fashion houses, such as myself, are attempting to convert the cotton used to make their denim, to either organic or BCI. There are also consequences here; BCI allows for the use of GMO seeds, something that is a contentious issue. All in all, there are no big solutions to ‘fashion’ as it were but firstly we can focus on innovation; the economical use of materials can bring about incremental changes. Secondly producers and consumers can take much more responsibility for their buying behaviour. We all have a choice where to put our pounds.
I do think in the future there is going to be an increasing level of attention focusing on designers and possibly entailing restrictions on their design decisions. If we decide to ship a couple of hundred yards of cotton, we had better know about it and bear full responsibility for this decision.
The other day, a friend actually asked me: ‘Why do you think creating yet another brand helps?’ I have to say I never wanted to start a brand, since I was kind of tired to see so many new and often similar brands around us every day. I obviously feel that I do actually have something better to offer. If I find that is not the case, I will leave it all behind today.
In terms of inspiration, I don’t think I have anything too specific. My initial inspiration has always come rather abstractly, from the human form or clothing set against (or as part of) both natural and urban settings. Examples would be trail-running, climbing, photography of dance or movement in urban landscapes and architecture. You could say music and sound act strongly as a part of that. My second inspiration is very much practical: Fabrics and functions. My friends help out a lot with the ‘functions’ part and I hope that our customers will too!”
Temper: Do you have a preference for particular fabric combinations across the different seasons?
Lawson: “I really like combinations of natural and synthetic fabrics; wool, hemp and linen are some of my favourites. There are so many possibilities in terms of new fibres; such as the synthetic spider silk yarn used by North Face, Modern Meadow have created a leather using biotech, so there are all kinds of possibilities! Even though my brand is only just getting started, I foresee that I will need to work more closely with textile and yarn producers in future. Silhouettes are dictated purely by what I see as economical, easy to wear, flattering for the most body shapes, nothing more than that. Boring I know! But what do most of us wear for years and years? It’s certainly not the cropped flare! I do like designing for seasons, but mainly because I am sad that they seem to somehow be disappearing…”
Temper: What’s your position on sustainability within the China Design Scene?
Lawson: “I don’t really have too much to say on this topic, except that I am very optimistic about China and its sustainability trends. There is the fact that in my opinion Communism often allows for fast changes and I therefore don’t think it’s too ‘out there’ to imagine that China may one day very well be one of the greenest countries in the world — IF the political and social intention were in place mind you! The same goes for fashion, I really think many people underestimate the Chinese in terms of understanding the concept of sustainability; it’s been an inherent part of society for years and not such an alien concept as many may think. I do think there are some misaligned foreign perceptions and ‘passions’ for sustainability within China. That is understandable as well.”
Temper: How would you describe the evolution of China’s street style scenery and that of ZODIAC within this realm?
Lawson: “It’s just gone BIG in 2016. I wasn’t overly enamoured with China fashion three years ago when arriving, but it just blew up this year (or so I feel). My first acknowledgement of change was when I started seeing lots of feminine ‘Grazia’ girls going for the bowl and boy haircuts. Then I thought ‘YES’, something is finally evolving beyond the obvious. Nowadays, there is so much exciting stuff happening. I really liked the FIxxedd collection using indigo (obviously) and because the woven blue waistcoat is funnily reminiscent of my hippie childhood, this caters to my penchant ‘ethnic’ in a super cool modern way! I don’t see what I am doing as something that is Chinese in any way, but I was inspired to start this (and it was possible to do this) in China. I don’t like to plan too much; I’d rather stay open to all the possibilities of working in China.
It’s all getting pretty exciting right now, so who knows where it’s going? It’s no secret that I am very ambitious for this brand and now our future involves ‘people’. I want to communicate what I do to more and more people, see how they react and then in turn respond. The future is out there!”
Fashion is and always has been about people daring to create. Like Lawson, look at the practicalities of today and tomorrow for inspiration and sprinkle these with a zest of the past if you want. Put on a denim shirt and pair it with a chunky knitted cardigan like Hollywood Dare Devil King Steve McQueen. Channel original 1970s street style star Francoise Hardy through a long denim dress. Wear your leather jacket over your ole faithful Levi’s one and throw on a blanket-like scarf for some wintery Gluehwein warmness with a touch of cowboy cool. Done — another fabulous word that starts with “D”.
Images: ZODIAC Active Ltd.
Shop ZODIAC online right here!
Follow ZODIAC on Instagram: @zodiacactivecompany