The thrill of discovering a new fashion brand is only made better when you find out that that fashion brand is sustainable. Net-a-Porter’s ‘Net Sustain’ initiative has been integral in carving a new lane for emerging designers to break into retail with chic, ethically sourced, and sustainably manufactured collections, and has been our go-to in a year where we’ve been striving to live, shop, and dress more conscientiously overall.
One of our favorite finds of 2020 was a budding Melbourne, Australian-based brand called aaizél, helmed by the talented designer Minnie Jo. Her clothes are the stuff of dream wardrobes: soft, elegantly cut, easy to wear, ideal for mixing-and-matching, and beautifully finished. They are instant classics, with a twist. Chic tops come with asymmetrical lengths that transform them from everyday basics into “where did you get that” showstoppers, soft sweaters are outfitted with oversized sleeves that keep their rounded shape, while soft separates are the kind of no-fuss loungewear you’ll live in year ‘round.
Supported by a dreamy editorial shoot by Abdulla Elmaz that captures the beauty of aaizél’s newest ‘Net Sustain’ capsule collection for Net-a-Porter, our exclusive interview with the designer behind the brand gives an illuminating look into her design ethos.
What is your background? How did you enter the world of fashion design?
I’ve always been attracted to all aspects of creativity; I find design or any form of art the most liberating way of expressing myself. There were so many areas in design I wanted to explore in school, so I took art history, graphics, painting, and fashion design as electives first to get a taste of each to see which suited me best. I ended up studying fashion design because I felt like there were so many technical areas that were challenging, which intrigued me. From pattern-making to grading, sourcing to production planning, learning about sustainability and slow fashion, every process involved in putting together a collection is fulfilling and motivating for me not only because of the end result but because there’s always something new I learn each season.
How has your design ethos changed over time? What is your current design focus?
Keeping all four seasons in mind for both hemispheres when designing is something that comes naturally from my own experience. My current design focus is creating pieces that can be worn across all seasons timelessly, that can easily go with your existing wardrobe, and carefully sourcing fabrics that will last.
Your pieces are very wearable, comfortable, and timeless. I was impressed with how well made they are. Where is your brand manufactured and produced?
All manufacturing is done in Melbourne, Australia by an ethically accredited business. They’re a small family-run business, and I connect with them so well because it’s a very transparent and welcoming environment. We communicate almost every day. To me, they’re more than just manufacturers.
I think one of the most crucial parts in running a slow fashion brand is understanding how your makers operate, valuing their skills, knowledge and having a trusting relationship. The goal is to make every piece long-lasting, and we work on this together from sampling and production to quality control.
How did your Net Sustain capsule collection for Net-a-Porter come about?
I’ve always been a visual person and treated Instagram as my own design aesthetic diary rather than a selling platform. Being a one-woman show with little to no budget for marketing or PR, I feel like I have spent so much time on Instagram naturally, creating a brand story through a series of inspirations and details of work I’ve done in the past with friends.
I am beyond grateful for my dream retailer to have found aaizél via social media and giving me the opportunity to launch, because this partnership has supported the brand in so many ways. Also the sales team at The Known Agency have been giving me the right guidance and support and I wouldn’t have been able to have done it without everyone’s support. It’s so satisfying to work with companies that also have similar values, and who want to embrace and promote sustainability.
What challenges did you face as a designer in 2020? How did you overcome them?
In the beginning, I was anxious, because everything I had planned had been put on hold or cancelled. Production had to pause as Melbourne went into lockdown, photoshoots had to be done virtually, and organizing in general was a challenge because everywhere was closed. I gave myself a couple of days to feel dull before I had this sudden urge to use the indefinite free time to take some online courses in modern art and history to keep me inspired.
Is sustainability an important focus for your business?
Yes, the idea of being able to self-learn and move towards change for a better future is something I’m committed to, as I’ve always had a strong appreciation for quality and longevity over quantity, as well as the process of how designs are created.
I’m still researching and learning. It’s important to be conscious and informed about labor conditions, wastage, and water footprints in the industry you’re in, while raising customer awareness of where all products come from, how they’re made, and the social and environmental impact of sourcing and production.
Things that play major parts in production – such as fabrications to packaging – should be thoughtfully chosen. I’ve been working closely with a textile agency where their fabrics are sourced predominantly from finely edited dead stock, which not only reduces fabric waste but conserves energy, minimizing the potential carbon footprint from the production of new textiles. Recently, I’ve started connecting with textile companies that recycle fibers, and I feel like every season there’s a new way to work towards this.
Although aaizél is a micro business, if we can all get into the habit of practicing sustainability and raising awareness amongst customers about buying smart and supporting ethical brands, this can really make an impact in the long run.
Photographer Abdulla Elmaz Model Chantal Brocca