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Fashion

‘Exciting, glamorous, girlie’ and made from Hong Kong trash – sustainable fashion brand Germanier

Lady Gaga and Björk are among the fans of Germanier, label born from its founder’s eureka moment when he saw a man pouring imperfect fashion beads into a hole on a Hong Kong street

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2018, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 4:44pm

In what is the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry, fashion labels big and small have come to the realisation that sustainability is a key requirement – especially with more consumers demanding better practices from the brands in which they invest their money.

But while it can be advantageous being known as a “sustainable brand”, it can easily backfire from an aesthetic point of view. Much so-called “ethical fashion” looks bland and uninspiring. From limited colour palettes and materials to a predilection for simple, often baggy silhouettes, the limitations inherent in making clothes from restricted resources – be it water, energy or materials – are all too often evident.

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Some brands, however, are out to change that stereotype, aiming to show that being sustainable does not come at the expense of glamour.

One of the most exciting discoveries at Paris Fashion Week last month was Germanier, a label based in the city led by Swiss designer Kévin Germanier, who presented his spring-summer 2019 collection.

With only two small ranges under his belt, the designer has already built a signature: colourful and fun beaded separates and dresses that are fun to wear and represent a modern take on evening dress. His dresses have already been spotted being worn by fashion-forward celebrities such as Björk and Lady Gaga.

“For me even sustainability can be exciting, glamorous and girlie. It doesn’t just have to be about hugging the trees,” he said when I met him in Paris. “At the beginning people were saying of me, ‘He’s naive, so positive and optimistic,’ but I want to start a discussion about something that’s important and I don’t want to be aggressive and call out people and greenwash.”

Germanier built his brand and developed his signature use of beads thanks to a eureka moment he had while shopping in Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po neighbourhood, a former garment production district known for its soon-to-close fabric market.

As a student at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins college, Germanier had won the Redress Design Award (formerly the EcoChic Design Award), which led to a six-month job placement at Hong Kong brand Shanghai Tang.

While running an errand in Sham Shui Po, Germanier saw a local merchant digging a hole in the ground and filling it with thousands of colourful glass beads. Unable to communicate with the man in Cantonese as he was trying to stop him, Germanier called a local friend, who pleaded with the man on Germanier’s behalf to let him use the beads.

“He explained that he was throwing them away because his warehouse couldn’t handle all those beads any more,” Germanier said. “Since then, he gives me all the beads that he doesn’t need or use because they’re imperfect.”

He is still grateful to the man who triggered the start of his label. “I personally had the best time in Hong Kong because what happened with this man was the key to starting my brand. It made me realise that we had reached a point that’s just ridiculous and I want to be part of a new generation of designers who do something not by being aggressive, but by making beautiful things.”

Germanier still works with the same supplier in Hong Kong, but as he expanded his business, his beads now also come from nearby Shenzhen.

While glamorous evening wear has become his trademark, he also makes simple T-shirts and denim separates, which are often embellished with those imperfect beads that to him are more than just discarded decorations.

For his spring-summer 2019 collection – which, like his debut range, will be available exclusively on matchesfashion.com – Germanier also collaborated with Christian Louboutin for a series of shoes, and with Swarovski for a range of dresses, using upcycled leather and crystals.

Natalie Kingman, buying director at matchesfashion.com, said that many pieces from his first range have quickly sold out, with customers commenting that they look like “little works of art”.

“I thought that his story was incredible,” Kingham said. “He’s a forceful, clever young mind and his tagline is ‘I make the most glamorous clothes out of trash.’ You have to work very closely with him because sometimes he makes a jacket with yellow beads but then he runs out so he has to make one with red beads, so you have to be very sympathetic.”

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With his ambition and talent, Germanier looks poised to revamp the often staid image of eco-friendly fashion, one broken and imperfect bead at a time.