Sustainable fashion without sacrificing style
Julia Zirpel x TEC
»My first experience of how clothes can change people is from my childhood in India.«
Julia, you grew up in India and Nepal as child. How did this time shape you and do you still have a special connection with these cultures/countries?
My childhood memories are very much linked to my time in India and Nepal. I was three years old when we moved to Calcutta. When I was six years old, we moved on to Kathmandu. Life there was a given for us children.
It was only when I was 10 years old and we moved back to Germany, that I became aware of any differences. In Germany, it was autumn; cold, rainy and grey. The weather, the streets, the clothes. I missed the bright colours, the warmth, the liveliness on the streets, the intense smells – and also the freedom we had enjoyed in Nepal in the early 80s.
Even though I only went back to India and Nepal years later, I have always felt connected to these two countries. Whatever happens there, politically or socially – it’s of interest to me.
You studied fashion design but started your career in journalism. How did this come about?
Fashion interested me from a very early age. My first experience of how clothes can change people is from my childhood in India: I remember our nanny buying a new sari. This didn’t happen often because she supported her large family. She unwrapped the sari from the rustling paper – bright pink and embroidered with gold. She transformed herself in front of our eyes: she felt beautiful, she appeared proud, and it even gave her dignity. That moment made a lasting impression on me.
After school I studied fashion design in Berlin. But I’ve always been interested in how we can express ourselves with and through fashion. For me fashion is a communication tool. After Berlin, I went to New York for an university exchange at F.I.T. and studied fashion photography and illustration in addition to fashion design. It was already clear to me that I wanted to go into fashion journalism. I wanted to share stories, excite, inspire – through beautiful images, but also through the stories behind the brands we were showing.
»I believe in the power of fashion …
and its beauty.«
What do you love about fashion the most?
I believe in the power of fashion. And its beauty! It’s the perfect communication tool. You can use it to lift your spirits, to stand out or to hide. You can use it to define who you want to be – and how the people around you perceive you. We should all be aware of this power and use it.
What is your favourite piece of fashion that you own?
It changes. Depending on my mood. I like colourful fashion, the special piece that I invest more in and wear for years – always styled in a different way. Right now, I’m wearing a long, wide silk dress with a bold floral print. I love it!
Was there a special moment that prompted you to create ‚the wearness‘?
Having worked in the industry for such a long time, I saw the change. As a long-time fashion journalist and fashion director at magazines like Myself, Cosmopolitan and Interview, I’ve seen how fashion moved faster and faster. At the beginning of my career, we went to fashion fairs twice a year, looked at collections that were later sold. Gradually, there were more and more collections, which were presented faster and faster. Today, customers expect new pieces every time they visit the shop. As quickly as the collections come in, they have to sell out. Fashion has increasingly become a disposable product. It means nothing to us anymore.
What is left? Mountains of discarded clothing produced far away and as cheap as possible. In Germany, more than one million tonnes of textiles are destroyed every year. Fashion has become one of the biggest polluters. I no longer wanted to support these developments.
At the same time fair or ecologically produced fashion was still bought too little. It still had a dusty eco-image. Our idea: an online shop for sustainable fashion as a shopping alternative for fashion enthusiasts. At ‚the wearness‘ you can shop fairly, transparently and with a clear conscience – without sacrificing style and quality!
How did you team up with Guya, Jennifer and later on with Karolin?
At first I teamed up with Jennifer Dixon. After years as fashion director at InStyle, she was working as editorial director at the luxury platform Stylebob. She had deep insights into online retailing in the luxury segment. Together, we spoke to various companies that were potential candidates for “the wearness”. Companies with a sustainable foundation and with a lot of style and quality.
One of those companies was “Vieri”. The founder of “Vieri”, Guya Merkle, is not only an expert in sustainable jewelery, but in sustainability in the luxury segment in general – and an entrepreneur. A perfect match for us. Later, Karolin Helou from the magazine Madame joined us. Since 2019, we have an investor on board: the Papa Oscar Group.
How do you ensure that the brands presented at the wearness actually operate sustainably?
Sustainability is the basis of our business. To guarantee this, all labels that we sell at ‘the wearness’ have to fill out a detailed questionnaire on all aspects of sustainability beforehand. What are the working conditions like, what measures are taken in terms of environmental protection, do they have certifications…? All these questions helps us decide on a cooperation.
What are the future plans for ‚the wearness‘?
First and foremost, we want to grow and increase our profile! In the women’s segment, we already have a beautiful selection of brands and products. At the moment, we are concentrating on expanding the men’s department. As part of the next step, we would like to add design objects.
We are also looking for a location in Munich that we can use as a showroom and sales space – and as a communication space. Through small events like talks about sustainability and styling workshops, we want to become even more tangible for our customers. But our most exciting project is our own collection. A new item every three months. According to the principles of the circular economy. Our first piece is a blouse. Made from recycled cotton, completely plastic-free and biodegradable. The second garment is coming soon: a dress.