Paris-based designer Kévin Germanier is known for redefining sustainable fashion by using only upcycled materials. We speak to him about how sustainability has shaped his creative process
The fashion industry gets a bad rap for wasting materials by the tonne, a pressing issue that 27-year-old Kévin Germanier is tackling head on. The Swiss-born, Paris-based designer creates high-octane, unapologetically glamorous dresses and separates—all of which are made entirely from materials that otherwise would have been discarded.
Germanier’s pieces are worn by celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Björk and K-pop sensation Sunmi—helping to push his particular brand of luxe sustainability into the spotlight and proving there’s far more to eco-friendly fashion than organic linen.
How did you get into fashion?
Kévin Germanier I grew up in Switzerland in a rather traditional family. It was a very controlled environment where everything looked perfect. I started my schooling in fashion at Geneva School of Art and Design and, unbeknown to my parents, I applied to Central Saint Martins when I was 20.
It was after seven rounds of interviews that I was finally accepted. I looked up to a lot of designers that came from the school, such as John Galliano, Riccardo Tisci, Stella McCartney and Mary Katrantzou, so I was ecstatic. My parents were upset at first when I told them, but they let me go under the condition I would finance my studies there.
How did Central Saint Martins influence you?
KG It was a rigorous programme and I remember making my first samples of garments with duvet covers, sheets and leftover fabrics or recycled fabrics from my flatmate’s previous projects. That was really how I started looking at upcycling. The process was very organic; I was broke and looked around to see what materials I could repurpose.
How does restricting yourself to upcycling materials affect the design process?
KG I like being given restrictions because I love rising to the challenge and solving them. When I didn’t have money to buy new fabrics or materials, I would seek out discarded materials, and working within these limitations became the starting point for my creative process.
That said, there are also a lot of difficulties I encounter when it comes to production; it was very hard to find resources and to make sure we had enough fabrics. But I’m a very optimistic person, I don’t like making excuses, and there’s always a way to make it work.
After winning the Hong Kong-based EcoChic Design Award in 2015 (now known as the Redressed Award), you spent six months in Hong Kong for a work placement. Did the city inspire you?
KG I spent six months working at Shanghai Tang creating a collection with their leftover fabrics. My experience in the city and at Shanghai Tang was memorable, to say the least. It was an unfamiliar place, but I had the best time of my life. I gained so much valuable experience in production and marketing.
I truly believe that when it comes to fashion, there’s no one country or city that’s at the centre of it all; it’s a global business, and you have to know what’s happening in all parts of the world—not just Europe or the United States—so spending time in Asia was a very eye-opening experience for me.
I want to show people that sustainable fashion isn’t just about organic linen, but it can also be a beautiful beaded dress.
— Kévin Germanier
Did this experience encourage you to establish your own label?
KG It was actually in Hong Kong that I got to see first-hand the amount of waste that went into clothing production. In a studio, you would see maybe a few metres of fabric get thrown away, but I saw warehouses filled with tonnes of fabric waste.
Sham Shui Po was also an area that I frequented regularly and on one visit I saw a shopkeeper digging a hole in the ground to throw away glass beads. Glass beads are very difficult to dispose of; they have to be organised by colour, then melted down to be reused. It’s a very timeconsuming and expensive process, and he was taking the lazy way out and just throwing them away.
The glass beads reminded me of materials Galliano would have used in his Dior collections, and it was such a sad scene for me. I eventually convinced him to let me take the beads, and they became an important material in my first collection.
Where are your collections produced?
KG I work closely with a factory in Shanghai that produces my collections. I travel to the city twice a year to oversee the creation of my designs and am in constant communication with the factory through WeChat.
I thought it was really important to show that “Made in China” in 2019 is not the same “Made in China” from my parents’ generation. There was a stigma that anything made in China was poor quality, and that’s simply not the case any more.
Your debut collection was picked up by Matches Fashion. How has that partnership helped you?
KG As a new designer, it’s very important to work hand in hand with buyers, as they know their customers very well. I was very fortunate that Natalie Kingham, the buying director of Matches Fashion, picked up my first collection exclusively.
Their team really understood the brand and never made me compromise on my creativity or my direction, and they have been incredibly supportive.
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Do you use the fact that your label is sustainable as a marketing tool?
KG It’s important to make clothes that stand out and, for me, the fact the designs are sustainable is secondary. I want to show people that sustainable fashion isn’t just about organic linen, but it can also be a beautiful beaded dress. I don’t use the sustainable tag as a marketing message because, at the end of the day, consumers are coming across my brand on digital platforms, they’re swiping so fast that they might not even see the caption (and the mention of upcycled fabrics).
The product needs to be strong to capture a consumer’s attention. A garment can be made from the most luxurious fabric, but if it’s not designed well, it’s not going to look good. I’m a designer—at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where my materials come from; what matters is what I make with it.
(Related: Ralph Lauren Has Stepped Up On Their Sustainability Efforts)
Tell us about your fall/winter collection.
KG I created my FW19 collection after being named as a finalist for the LVMH Prize, and there was a part of me that really wanted to show that I could use waste materials in a creative way—and that my label wasn’t just about the beads, which is what I used in my first collection.
We sourced discarded fabrics like jacquard from Paris, silks, glitters and more beads from Switzerland and Hong Kong too. I’ve become more comfortable as a designer, and I want the Germanier woman to feel unapologetically glamorous.
(Related: By 2021, Prada’s Iconic Nylon Bags Will Be Made Only With Recycled Plastic)