The interview with Yorgos Voulgaris, 2nd place winner of the MEDASSET sustainable fashion contest
The recent sustainable fashion contest in Greece by MEDASSET, in collaboration with AKTO, the College of Art and Design of Athens, and DoitEco Project gave us an opportunity to see some fresh fashion ideas made with ECONYL® regenerated yarn. It’s great to see how the ECONYL® story of discarded nylon in the form of abandoned fishing nets, discarded carpets and other waste sources that is regenerated into a new nylon in a never-ending cycle inspires a new generation of fashion designers. We’ve met with one of them, Yorgos Voulgaris, during his visit to the ECONYL® facilities and tried to find out how important sustainability is for his work.
The idea of the fashion competition was there when MEDASSET, Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles, entered Healthy Seas Initiative one year ago and a great collaboration to recover marine waste started. The fashion contest was a part of MEDASSET’s awareness-raising work and gave 10 Greek students and recent graduates an opportunity to present new work to the public.
Participants used fabric made by Carvico, containing ECONYL® yarn in their design — so it’s partly made with regenerated fishing nets. We are always excited to see what fresh ideas talented designers can come up with and welcome the interesting final projects, which showed us different visions of the ECONYL® story. Well done, all!
Yorgos Voulgaris, a designer with a background in biology, which helps him understand the importance of environmental sustainability, was one of the top three who won the most votes from the jury and internet audience with the project he named Floating Tightly. He studied fashion design and marketing at Middlesex University and worked as an assistant designer at the Greek fashion brand Parthenis.
The prize for the second-place winner was a visit to the ECONYL® facilities in Slovenia. We took the opportunity to meet Yorgos in Ljubljana — what a great coincidence — the Green Capital of Europe 2016, and talk to him.
When did you decide to pursue a career in fashion design?
I had a bachelor degree in biology and continued my studies in nutrition before starting my degree in fashion design. It came out of nowhere really. I have always had an affinity for art and have been drawing for many years. At the age of 25, I realized I wasn’t completely satisfied working in health sciences although it was interesting. I decided that I wanted to pursuit something creative that also resulted in a tangible end product related to the body. So fashion came through, and I’m really glad I decided to do it.
What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
Because of my biology studies, I started thinking about sustainability, ecology and the environment very early. I also had thoughts about consumerism and ecology and how in the modern way of living our human society is causing irreversible damage to the environment. With that in mind, there was always a question when sustainability would play a major role in the future of production. In my opinion, sustainability in fashion is the key part. At some point it should be for all and not just for some in this market.
What is the role of fashion designers in helping to transform the fashion industry to become more sustainable?
I think that the design approach has changed throughout the years, especially in the 21st century. New materials and new methods have started to shake things up a bit. Design is not just about taking a pen and drafting or sketching something. It’s more like thinking back and forth between the material and the methods. So designers came to be more involved into the actual 3D item and the product than they had been in the past. This also helps sustainability and the environment because the design process links the technology with fashion thus enabling designers to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly end product.
How important was sustainability in your university? Did you address the sustainability issues during studies?
We did have some reference to sustainability and sustainable fashion at the Fashion Department of AKTO Design College, but I believe that more than any other external influence it’s up to you as an individual designer to explore sustainability in more depth. Learning in universities and schools is OK, but if you don’t really go further on your own, you won’t find enough to be really good in the field. For me, it was a combination of biology from my past, books I’ve read and new methods found in research that can be applied to manufacturing.
It’s more of a personal thing …
It’s more of a personal thing, yes. To be honest, I think sustainability has a long, difficult road to become completely integrated into the large scale production chain of the fashion industry.
Why did you decide to enter the contest?
I found the focus of the contest to be valuable and so I took the opportunity to enter. I also thought that the project is a nice way to connect my past with my current profession.
You won the second prize at the contest with the project you named Floating Tightly. What was your inspiration?
My concept is based on the “garbage patches” which are pieces of waste floating in the ocean. We had to create an art piece and a wearable item. The art piece follows this abstraction of the garbage patches in the ocean. The wearable piece is influenced by this abstraction but is based more on the identity of the mainly used fabric — denim from trousers — which were upcycled. I used this denim in an unconventional way in order to create a new design; therefore, I repurposed the denim and combined it with upcycled nylon. It was the combination of garment repurposing and upcycling which really intrigued me.
Yorgos allowed us to take a brief look into his book to get inside his creative process.
I started with many sketches of the abstractions of different forms of floating patches in order to find my direction. Then I played with the denim pieces and stripes. I played back-and-forth between the mannequin and the actual sketches to come to the end result.
How important is the material in your design?
I believe that the design process is a dialog between ideas and materials. So you see the material and you get the expression you want to follow. You get the solution, an answer to a question, in a material. Or you do the reverse: you start with ideas and sketches and go to the materials. It’s a dialog; you go from one to the other. Sometimes materials lead. For example, we talked with the first prize winner. She wanted to do a bathing suit because the fabric that was supplied, made with ECONYL® yarn was a perfect material for a bathing suit. In other cases, forms, art and aspiration have a priority and then you search for the material. Material plays a complementary role in this case: it fits into your idea.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for fashion designers who want to pursue sustainable fashion?
I think there is a momentum right now in this sector. I’m not sure they all understand the opportunity to play in this new field of sustainable materials. I believe that the designers regardless of how much they think and include sustainability in their designs and final products, they always have to be relevant (aka to speak for the modern consumer) to the feelings and the needs of the contemporary society.
But sustainability is important for you?
Yes, it is. But whatever the designer thinks, if the market doesn’t agree to follow the sustainable way, it’s not enough. It has to be broader than us.
Do you have a role model in design?
Rather than any individual designer I am more inspired by big brands like Adidas or G Star Raw or others which incorporate sustainable design in their collections for some years. All of them have a unique and really interesting approach. I think if more of these big brands could be role models for the market, there would be a better future for the market of sustainable fashion.
You can check the exhibition of MEDASSET sustainable fashion contest on Crete till September. Later the exhibition will move to the Netherlands and other locations. Follow us to learn more.