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University of Westminster

@uniwestminster

Between January and March, Staiy will hold an online workshop with marketing and fashion students from the University of Westminster. Our editor José M. Sainz-Maza interviews the heads of Kmana, NAE Vegan Shoes, and AA Gold to learn about their expectations and concerns regarding the upcoming workshop.

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza

February, 14th 2021

@uniwestminster

The Meeting

It has not been easy to organize a four-way meeting across two continents and three time zones, but finally, it is possible to find a few minutes to chat with the three entrepreneurs who will take part in the new program of Staiy and the University of Westminster, our first Live Project. Along with our coordinator Marie Leistner, the meeting is joined by Paula Pérez, founder of NAE Vegan Shoes, from Portugal; Bea Sanz, co-founder and creative director of Kmana, who is based in Bali; and Arnold Gevers, founder and creative director of AA Gold, who, just like me, is in Germany at the moment. Three sustainability pioneers in their 40s, with very different professional backgrounds but united by the same passion for ethical fashion and building a better future for the planet. After a brief little talk, some big smiles, and a quick introduction to each other, I toss up some questions so Paula, Bea, and Arnold can describe how they feel about the program.

What are you bringing to the table at this event?

PP: We always try to partner with universities because we believe that it is a two-way exchange. While we provide a more realistic view of the fashion industry, they provide us with new ideas and insights into what is happening within European universities, how young people feel about new trends.

BS: I agree with Paula: these types of events can be an opportunity for both parties to benefit. The fashion industry is constantly changing, universities gather students from all over the world, and this is an unparalleled environment to develop new ideas. It is very positive for students to be exposed to different brands and to understand that you can be sustainable in various ways. At Kmana, for example, we make leather bags in small artisan workshops in Southeast Asia. Mandatory internships are often carried out in large companies that work very differently from how we do. This is a great opportunity for students to understand how to establish an independent label.

AG: I am used to interacting with students since I teach fashion design in a design school, but placing yourself in the private sector is taking on a different role. Being on the other side of the table is really exciting. Also, when you have a business, you tend to think too much in a practical way, about sales and expenses, and students come in with a completely different perspective and push you to think out of the box. I think that’s a very positive interaction.

PP: I cannot but agree with Arnold. The middle ground between the pragmatism of the entrepreneur and the desire to create new things brought by young students is fertile ground for the birth of great projects.

AA GOLD

NAE VEGAN

KMANA

How do you think the outcome of the workshop will be?

PP: We are going to work with retail and marketing students. They have their theoretical knowledge, and I am sure they will try to apply it to the best of their ability. I’m curious how this will fit in with our reality and what its conclusions will be. I like to be challenged but also to challenge them and their beliefs, to get them out of their comfort zone.

BS: Exactly! In class, they work with case studies, but now they can see what actually works and what doesn’t. The students will have the chance to experiment with real material at a practical level.

AG: As Paula and Bea have already pointed out, an experience like this is unique, and I think that the students will realize that right away. We at AA Gold work with a rigorous zero-waste policy, and adapting to work in this way is not easy, but it can be the perfect opportunity for students to do their best. 

Do you think that an activity like this works better with students who show a greater commitment to the environment and sustainability? Or is this not that relevant?

PP: It really depends. If students care more about sustainability or are particularly interested in these kinds of issues, they can become more involved in our projects and this is a perfect match. For example, when we have interns who are vegan, they are usually more motivated than others who may not know much about this topic.

BS: I think that, at the same time, it can be really interesting to open the eyes of those students who do not know much about sustainability or are not so involved in ecological issues. It can be truly enriching for them to understand what a sustainable supply chain is, what it entails, and what it is really like to run a company like this. As a brand, it is easy to explain what it is like to be sustainable to those who are already well versed in the subject, but it is more challenging to speak for those who are unaware of it. Change is very powerful sometimes. I am looking forward to working with students who ask difficult questions or have a different point of view. 

AG: I would like to go one step further. By working with the younger generations, the people who are the future of this industry, I take sustainability for granted. I prefer to refer to reality as a place where unsustainable practices have no place, as students should understand that this is the only way things can be done. Sustainability is the way to go if we want there to be a future, and we should expand this bubble of ours beyond the university.

BS: Of course, I think the three of us agree that sustainability should be the norm, mainstream, especially for the new generations in fashion.

What advice would you give the students from your personal experience?

PP: I would say to them that it is important to have prior contact with the world of work, even if it is not within the fashion industry. I worked eighteen years in different companies and learned a lot about developing products, managing processes, measuring success… This helped me immensely when building my own company. In general, experience allows you to better understand what you want to do and how to achieve it. It’s great that there are students who have their personal projects and want to found their own brand as they finish university, but previous experiences just help you get there.

BS: I think in a similar way about the importance of getting exposure to other ideas and people you can learn from before finding your own path. I too come from a professional background other than fashion (in my case, sustainability), and I didn’t really envision that creating a brand would be that hard when I started. Another point on which I would like students to reflect is whether another company is needed since in my view it is important that we produce and consume less. Are you creating something new, original, or are you going to offer something that already exists out there?

AG: Paula and Bea’s tips seem right to the point to me. Also, an idea comes to mind when I hear this question: you have to be a little crazy but also very humble to stay focused and do all the work that you have to do. Starting a company is not easy and you often have to do things that do not suit you or that you know you are not good at. Being humble comes from experience, and in my case, this experience also comes from a different field. I never wanted to create a brand, I did it when I was 40 years old, after I understood the potential and importance of working with zero-waste processes. It took me several years of work in the traditional fashion industry to notice this and make the leap.

Lifestyle of the future

The conversation has flowed smoothly throughout the short half hour of our meeting, and at this point I am somewhat envious of the Westminster students who will have the privilege of working side by side with such fashion professionals as Bea Sanz, Arnold Gevers and Paula Pérez. As the interview comes to an end, there are only a few final clarifications left and I wish the three of them the best of luck for what will be the first big event of the year for Staiy and our partner brands. This is how the lifestyle of the future is built.