As part of our founder interview series we talk to Emily Evans from Zola Amour about her choice to leave her old fashion job, and design her own sustainable label.
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. How do you interpret ‘ethical fashion’ and how to you try and bring this into Zola Amour?
For Zola Amour being ‘ethical’ is ensuring that the farmers, spinners, weavers and stitchers are paid a fair and living wage. By using organic certified materials and buying from a trustworthy and reliable source, we make sure that our clothing has been fair to the people that have touched it at every stage of its life.
What were you doing before you launched Zola Amour? How did this shape the way you wanted to create your brand?
My career history was absolutely integral to me founding Zola Amour.
I spent 5 years working as an international footwear designer for Overland footwear (now called: Merchant 1948), Mimco and Jimmy Choo. Working as a footwear designer meant that I had to travel to factories in the far east on a regular basis to check on production. This gave me great insight into the pollution caused by mass production. I remember landing in Hong Kong for the first time and thinking to myself ', wow, what a misty morning, I wonder when it will clear?!' after travelling into China I quickly realised that it simply wasn’t going to clear and that it was in fact pollution.
Travelling through China enabled me to see the scars of quick development for mass-production. We would drive through amazing Chinese gates that would’ve once led to old villages, now surrounded by towering tiled buildings. Passing rivers of floating rubbish, plastic, materials, crisp packets, paper, you name it, it was in there! When approaching factories we’d be met with huge piles of offcuts, including rubber, PU, foam, expanded polystyrene, leather, polyester, insole board, outsole board and much, much more. All of which I am sure, ended up contributing to the 12 million tonnes of textile waste that ends up in landfills each year.
I have been fortunate enough to experience the industry at all levels, from high street to high end. My experience taught me that all designs are created to become 'redundant', to date and be disposed of. Something which began to gnaw away internally and caused a contradiction between my personal morals and the morals within my career. Following my brief stint at Jimmy Choo the concept of Zola Amour was conceived in 2016.
Where do you find your design inspiration? How would you describe the style of Zola Amour?
I start by brainstorming items that I consider ‘integral’ to a wardrobe. I also consider items suggested by my existing customers. I am lucky enough to spend every weekend in my little Zola Amour shop in the rinse showrooms on Brick Lane in London. This gives me a fantastic opportunity to hear what people want. What are the essentials? What do they really need ?
Once I have a list of items that I’d like to add I start on pinterest, usually looking at style icons such as David Bowie, Jean Shimpton and photographs by artists such as David Bailey etc.
As an alumni of LCF I am lucky enough to be able to use their extensive archives for research. So next I hit the library and look through old magazines, taking pictures and producing quick sketches of ideas.
I then go through my fabric swatches and create a mood board. From that I develop the sketches until I am happy with the designs (sometimes that can be following 100’s of development sketches to get it ‘just right’). After that I can start to cut patterns, make toiles and really start to visualise the final product. It’s not a quick process, but it’s essential to me that we perfect each item.
The Zola Amour style is simple, classic and timelessly stylish. A blank canvas able to be dressed up or dressed down depending on the need of the user.
How does designing clothes with sustainability in mind alter the design process?
In ‘regular’ fashion houses, designers think of the latest trend, what is the ‘new must-have item’. What colours are ‘in vogue’?
I turn that upside down and think about longevity instead of trend led thinking. I consider the materials, colour, trims, style, in terms of quality. Think, are they environmentally friendly, and will they be bio-degradable and leave no trace at the end of their use.
What responsibility do you think consumers have in creating a more sustainable and fair fashion industry?
Consumers have the biggest responsibility of all. It is up to the consumer to be the change maker, to make conscious decisions, to think about the impact of each purchase and to generally ‘do good’, to be ‘the inspiration’. Without the consumers, we (as sustainable fashion designers) would have no chance of making the difference that we intend.
Who are your fashion icons and why?
I am inspired by inspirational women, that presently include Emma Watson, she is an idol to young women – she’s our age, she really cares and pushes to raise awareness of issues surrounding the fashion industry and gender equality. Lily Cole is also an inspiration for much of the same reasons. I am also a huge fan of Patti Smith because of her time-fluid New York ‘cool’ style.
What is your go to everyday outfit?
My ‘go to’ outfit this Winter has been my bamboo/ organic cotton t-shirt as a base layer, then my trusty polo-neck sweater (all of which are either inherited from my Mum or charity shop buys – we are developing a Zola Amour polo neck to be introduced to the collection later on this year). I wear my GOTS organic cotton Zola Amour jumpsuit over the top of that and my GOTS organic cotton fleece poncho over top of that - The jumpsuit is so amazingly comfortable and literally feels as though you are wearing pjamas, but is still chic enough to be publicly acceptable.
You are based in Brighton, which is filled with students. If you were to teach a university course, what would it be called and what would it cover?
‘It’s YOUR choice’.
It would cover the fundamentals of the choices we are faced with in the World we live in today and would cover a range of topics. Encourage them to be brave and to go for the dream job, without having to be pushed around in low positions or degrading internships, as well as to discuss the agriculture/ meat industry, the fashion industry, politics and other issues. It would be a fact only based university course and it’s aim would be to empower young people to make decisions and good lifestyle choices.
Zola Amour is a fairly new label- what has been your proudest moment since starting?
Gosh, that’s a hard question. Everyday is my proudest moment, everyday the business grows in some way, it is an absolute rollercoaster and I have loved every second of it.
Seeing people wear and love your clothes is such a thrill that just can’t be beaten and creating something out of nothing and watching is grow and be recognised is incredible. I often have to pinch myself to realise that this is my ‘real’ life and I am achieving everything I had dreamed for Zola Amour, which is achieving it’s goal of getting the message out there and offering a clothing choice that allows consumers to make ‘conscious’ style decisions.
What is the inspiration behind the name Zola Amour? We can figure out Amour is love, but what does the Zola represent?
Zola Amour literally translates as ‘Earth Love’; ‘Zola’ deriving from the Latin for ‘earth’ (the literal ground, not the planet), and ‘Amour’ being the French word for love.
When deciding on a name, I wanted to enthuse a sense of sustainability without being too ‘hippy’, because we think sustainable fashion should still be stylish.