By Sophie Weissensteiner
‘I think we are at a turning point in the fashion industry’, says Sabinna Rachimova. Sustainability is a vague term that has been occupied by fast fashion companies involved in greenwashing in recent years. This development is dangerous for small labels focusing on ethical and sustainable production, and a backlash is very much needed. Rachimova is well aware of what needs to change to reverse conventional mechanisms in the industry.
SABINNA’s signature style is an abstract floral fabric in the colours rose, lilac, red and dark blue, which is used in various designs, one of them being the ‘Adrienne blouse’ – a classic with a loose bow detail.
Sabinna’s Journey To Ethical Fashion
The Central Saint Martins graduate started her brand in 2015 after working for renowned fashion brands like Christian Dior and Mary Katrantzou.
For Rachimova, it was important to gain experience and learn as much as she could for her own purpose without repeating the mistakes she’d noticed in the fashion industry:
“After university, I knew that sustainability is important to me, I wanted to put the emphasis on the maker, on the manufacturing process, and on the behind the scenes.”
Her first introduction to fashion came through her grandmother, who taught her how to knit, crochet, and sew from a very early age. The designer’s memories of her are reflected in SABINNA’s floral patterns, which are a reference to their visits to Russian markets to buy flowers together.
It took her years to realise that the world of fashion was actually an industry. “My sustainable approach just comes from the fact that I didn’t see fashion as a business and that I didn’t see it as an opportunity to make money. For me, fashion has always been handcraft.” No one in her family worked in the creative sector before and so she started to gain work experience as a teenager. In retrospect, she says that she didn’t know if she could make it because of the lack of network.
Sustainability And Innovation Go Hand In Hand
Rachimova’s ambition paid off. In 2017 her label won the Fashion Futures Award by Decoded Fashion and the British Fashion Council for a project she did with Fashion Innovative Agency (FIA) and Reactive Reality. The honour was conferred for the innovative and creative use of technology to “engage, promote and connect”, as stated on SABINNA’s website, fashion beyond the runway.
The designer puts emphasis on combining traditional handcraft with technology. She explains that is not a contradiction.
“You can cherish the maker – the person who is behind the garment – while at the same time really explore technologies out there and not ignore the fact that life is moving forward.”
Innovation itself is one of the core elements of Rachimova’s business.
At the live event, the audience was able to interact in real time in 3D via VR headsets and could experience a virtual fashion show in an entirely new and unconventional way.
Backlash Against Greenwashing Brands
The philosophy of SABINNA is all about connecting ethics with aesthetics, exploring sustainability also beyond the product, and implementing innovative ideas and technologies. This complies strongly with the current shift of consumers towards more conscious decisions. Yet this evolution is still in its early stages. The social and environmental impact of the fast fashion industry is fatal despite the increasing efforts to establish more sustainable standards.
So what needs to change?
Sabinna’s Mission To Claim Back The Vocabulary
Rachimova acknowledges: “The definition of sustainability is so vague and allows so much greenwashing.” She tries to do her part by hosting events, workshops, and even a podcast to educate people on the term and “claim back the vocabulary” for independent businesses. It doesn’t matter which of the terms – sustainable, ethical, slow, or conscious fashion – are used, important is a collective meaning.
If something is made sustainable, at least “the product needs to be done ethically, using materials that are not harming the planet”, Rachimova says. Though for her, sustainability is more than that.
“How do you treat your team? How do you ship your garments? How do you pack them? What factories do you support and work with? What is your overall agenda? Are you supporting any causes? Do you have political views as a brand? There are so many things you could and should incorporate in order to be a sustainable business.”
SABINNA’s very own strategy is to create meaning by highlighting the story behind the garment, which connects the customer emotionally with the product and might lead to more durability for it. For example, by implementing floral patterns in various designs, Rachimova tells her and her grandmother’s story. “By being a modern storyteller, as we call it, we’re giving a garment a story and pass it on to the person who purchases it and creates their own memories with it.”