Ina Koelln is a fashion designer based in Portugal who combines sustainability and clean modern design. The brand’s essence is the use of innovative, natural, and sustainably-produced material alternatives to common leathers with the aim to create beautiful and long-lasting pieces as opposed to short-term fashionable trends. Each collection focuses on a different material and items are limited to 150 pieces. The collections currently on sale are WOODIES (bags and accessories made of cork) and CAPSULE (bags and accessories made of vegetable tanned salmon and goat leather).
Her newest collection PIÑAS, which will be available in the Autumn, combines Piñatex and genuine leather. Piñatex is an innovative material made out of pineapple leaf fibers that are gathered by partner farming co-operatives in the Philippines. The creation of this material produces new income methods for farmers and creates local business opportunities in pineapple-producing countries. According to Piñatex, an additional benefit of this material is that pineapple leaves are by-products of the harvest, which means that no extra water, fertilisers, or pesticides are used in the production phase. Ina Koelln is the first designer I have come across to use Piñatex in their collection, and the pieces are amazing!
I asked Ina some questions about her brand and her thoughts on sustainable fashion.
What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
“For me sustainable fashion is the logical consequence of a conscious lifestyle. We all have responsibility for our planet and the people who live on it, including ourselves. It’s all about the footprints we leave and if everybody would do the best they can in their own environment we could achieve great things.”
“We all have responsibility for our planet and the people who live on it”
From where do you draw inspiration for your designs?
“I like to discover. I guess I do get inspired by traveling to new places, meeting people, getting to know different cultures and old traditions. It’s my surrounding which inspires me. I like to create pieces which make sense and are useful in one’s daily life. I care a lot about customers opinions and experience in order to always further develop and try to improve our products.”
How do you select what alternative materials to use in your products? For example, what specifically inspired you to use Piñatex in your new collection?
“I’m always on the hunt for new, innovative, and sustainable materials. I walk around with open eyes and ears. Piñatex was a hint from my brother, who saw a short article about the Pineapple fiber over a year ago. Once he told me about it, I straight away contacted Carmen who invented the fabric. At that time Piñatex was still in a developing phase, but I just really wanted to use that material so badly that I didn’t stop contacting them. Until I finally was one of the lucky first ones to use Piñatex. We just presented our PIÑAS Autumn/Winter 2016 collection in Paris, Berlin and Munich.”
Are there any common obstacles one faces when creating products made from more sustainable or alternative materials?
“Yes, plenty of obstacles…but I like the challenge! Just to name a few: usually the more sustainable materials are also the more expensive ones, therefore it’s always a game to balance between cost and design. And then of course every material has a different character. In order to find the right finishing, it can make the production process a little more challenging.”
What do you believe is the most important thing for customers to look for in sustainable fashion?
“Transparency. I think people who actually care for sustainable fashion are very keen on knowing about the whole process. Where the materials come from, how they are produced and who made them. It’s very difficult to get this kind of information in the fast fashion industry as the production chain is often very long and kept in secret. I think as a costumer it’s important to actually know what I am buying and what the consequence are from me buying it.”
How do you think sustainable fashion can become more in demand?
“I think there are two major aspects which could make sustainable fashion grow. First of all people have to learn more about the dirty textile industry and the horrible impacts on people and environment. It’s important to draw attention to the stories behind each product and make people think twice when they buy a t-shirt for €5 or even less. Secondly, we have to get rid of the stigma that sustainable fashion means an alternative look. It might have been like this in the early days but nowadays there are many new labels doing an amazing job.”
“We have to get rid of the stigma that sustainable fashion means an alternative look”
In starting your business, what was the best advice you were given?
“Focus and believe in what you do, but keep an open mind and be ready to improvise!”
And finally: What item in your closet do you use the most?
“During these cold days that might be my “Giesswein” slippers. I had some as a kid and since then remained loyal to that brand in order to keep my feet comfy and warm!”
You can find more information and shop Ina Koelln’s fantastic pieces on her website
Photos used with permission from Ina Koelln.