An interview with Green Embassy Australia founder and head designer Zuhal Kuvan-Mills
photo credit: Benhamin Sommabere
In Australia, just outside of Perth, lives a Turkish-born visual and textile artist who creates glorious ‘slow fashion’ to the delight of international audiences in Vancouver, London, Seattle, Beijing, Paris and New Zealand.
Being the first GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certified fashion designer in the world, Zuhal Kuvan-Mills feels the pressure of maintaining her company’s elite status and traveling the world to share her couture collections with the world. Not only does her farm have to operate under strict organic guidelines, all Green Embassy seamstresses must be paid a living wage and in Australia this is $30+ per hour to sew and all studio water used in dying and wool processing must also be recycled.
Being organic is so much more difficult than our perception that it reflects lack of pesticides on produce. Organic status also applies to farming and animal production. Even the land she raises her herd of alpaca on must have an allotment put aside for displaced wildlife to live on with appropriate shelter provided and maintained.
In the studio all items used in garment production must also be certified organic. Every button, zipper, lining and complimentary fabrics (cotton, wool, silk) must be sourced from companies that have the GOTS certification. If there is not a supplier in Australia, these items must be imported from other countries at great expense. A last minute run to a dollar store to grab a zipper would be enough to cause the loss of the GOTS certification.
Green Embassy operates with the required 100% zero waste status which really means all ‘waste’ must be reused including threads, fabric ends, snipped off copper wire, everything! The ever resourceful Zuhal has developed a jewellery line fashioned from all the little bits leftover each day and these pieces accompany her designs on the runway.
The Green Embassy website is lush with information about the company, the organic process, the designer Zuhal Kuvan-Mills and their social justice causes including a burgeoning relationship with Sea Shepherd Australia.
I managed to squeeze in a quick interview with Zuhal after the Green Embassy showing at World Fashion Week in Paris and before she traveled back to Perth to prepare for a textiles exhibition in Europe in January 2015.
Green Embassy has shown at Vancouver Fashion twice now – F/W 2014 and S/S 2015 – how do you feel the collection was received?
There is nothing more thrilling than hearing the clapping of the audience and media as my models come down the runway! Model after model, the clapping continues. It makes my heart swell with happiness and I am very grateful that Canada has such a great understanding of fashion that is compassionate. The love I felt afterwards by everyone who participated in VFW from the founder to the models, the volunteers, fashion media and others in the fashion industry was overwhelming. It was an amazing night!
After the elation of the evening I am sure you mind turned to business. What interest did you receive from buyers and distributors in attendance?
Each of my designs is one of a kind so obtaining retail buyers for my Green Embassy line is not feasible. I look to individuals who are interested in custom designs and there were many in attendance at the show. Working with them will be the next step. My textile company, Atelier Zuhal, which creates beautiful alpaca and wool pieces, such as blankets, pillows and wall hangings will have a Canadian agent in 2015 with Helen Siwak of Kitsilano Kitty’s Closet.
You are the ambassador representing Australia at the World Fashion Week expo. How does showing at an international event differ from a more localized fashion week such as Vancouver and Seattle?
WFW is very professional, very businesslike at all time. There is great pressure on designers and buyers so sometimes the fun is missing. This is to be expected at an event that is based so much on the label in the dress. I prefer the closeness of the local fashion weeks but WFW is also important. I was able to speak on a larger scale to buyers from countries from all over the world and found that there is much interest from representatives in northern European countries such as Germany, Holland and Denmark. These countries place higher value on organic eco-fashion and are willing to support designers that make these fashions. This is important to me because no matter how amazing and great the design of a piece is if it is produced harming the environment and is not ethical it is not worth anything.
photo credit: Green Embassy (left & centre), Vogue UK (top right), Dominic Manea Photography (bottom right)
You have chosen two women - Skye Natasha Lintott and Amanda Oiom - as the faces of your collection. Skye is a Vancouver based television personality most recently seen on the Real Housewives of Vancouver and Amanda is a rising young model and single mother. Opposite ends of the model spectrum yet both them walked for you in Vancouver and Amanda joined you in Paris for WFW. What draws you to them?
I adore working with Amanda. She is special, beautiful, elegant and extremely profession for such a young age. She impresses me on the runway and in editorials. Even more she is a great friend and so much like a daughter to me. After seeing all the shows in Paris I believe she was the best model. I am so pleased to have met her in Vancouver.
My darling Skye is a warm loving friend. She represents to me women over thirty years old and this is important especially the whole fashion world is youth obsessed. I was so happy when Skye agreed to walk the runway in Vancouver for Green Embassy. She is breath taking and walked beautifully and represents all the dreams of every woman in the audience!
With all the worldwide attention and whirlwind traveling over the past year related to the Green Embassy fashion line, how do you plan to enjoy yourself before you board the next plane?
My pleasures are simple! I want to have a fresh coffee outside on the terrace so I can watch my alpacas, dogs and chickens. To see Rooster Kevin strut about with his hens, listen to the cockatoos and when done I will go to the beach. That is the best morning!
Helen Siwak is all about food, fashion and furry friends. She is the president and co-founder of eco-friendly local luxury fashion re-seller KitsilanoKittysCloset.com (offering shoppers classic designers like Armani, Versace, Dior to modern trendsetters such as Jeremy Scott, Kate Spade and Stella McCartney) and a plant-based healthy food advocate with VitVitVegan.com food service. She and her partner Vlassis have three rescue pets, interns, a fridge full of veggies and a shiny motorcycle. Life is good. Twitter: @kitsilanokittys / Instagram: @kitsilanokittyscloset / FB: KitsilanoKittysClosetSiwak