An Interview with Daniela Degrassi of Annaborgia

To lay some groundwork, tell us about your background such as family – how your context came about, upbringing – how you came to be, education – where you gained expertise, and professional experiences – where and how you built a reputation.

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I could write a book about my life, but I’ll give you the quick version!  I come from a non-wealthy family living in a sea side village in Northern Italy.  When I was growing up, my mom couldn’t work full time as she had to take care of my sister with special needs.  My mom was very giving, but also quite submissive.  As a result, growing up I developed a strong sense of independence that made me want to seek building a life away from my small-town reality.  I was fascinated by big cities that to me rhymed with independence.  In my twenties, I moved to Milan and felt at home right away.  That’s where I met my ex-husband and together we moved to the United States after he received a dream job opportunity.  We embarked on a great adventure in the country that is known to make dreams come true.  Soon after, my sister followed me to the United States after both my parents died way too young.  While playing mom to my sister, I explored my growing need to express my creativity and I stumbled into photography, which quickly unfolded like the perfect fit for my character and personal responsibilities.  I briefly went to college to study the media and started my own freelance business focusing on lifestyle, portrait, and wedding photography.  Fifteen magical years followed, filled with indelible memories and building strong friendships and relationships with many of my clients.  In fact, one of my past clients is now my business partner at Annaborgia!

Due to my sister’s health, we moved back to Italy in 2011, and with more time on my hands, I was hit by another creative strike.  I fell in love with fashion to the point that I started researching how to start a fashion label.  That takes us to the current days, where I divide my time flying back and forth between Italy and California to make yet another dream a fulfilling reality.  In California, I have connected with San Francisco Sustainable Fashion Designers and together we are raising the awareness on Ethical Fashion locally and beyond.

You are the Founder and Creative Director for Annaborgia. What was the inspiration for Annaborgia? What tasks and responsibilities come with the position of creative director?

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Working as a wedding photographer for over a decade had a clear impact on why I created Annaborgia and its particular market.  Designing clothes is an amazing way to express my creativity, but I also want the whole project to be more meaningful, to be socially helpful.  The Annaborgia line is ceremony friendly and gives brides and bridesmaids the great convenience to repurpose their looks after the wedding.  The line is designed for women that are conscious about the impact of fast fashion on the environment.  When I married, in 1994, there was not much talks about sustainability, but even then, I wasn’t interested in purchasing a dress that I’d never wear again, so I opted for a cocktail dress that I was able to wear many times again.  It was actually special to re-wear a dress that had so much meaning to me.  I strongly feel the wedding fashion is in need of a big transformation if we want to make weddings more sustainable going into the future.

During the development stages and a year into our launch, Annaborgia was relying entirely on my decisions, from the designs (while listening carefully to the expert feedback of our sample and product development team) to business operations.  I am so thrilled to have welcomed Karen Canaan as my business partner this summer.  She is an experienced lawyer and a true fashion expert and it’s been way easier to share the fun and burdens of a start-up with her company.

Annaborgia is vegan couture. What is vegan couture?

Our textiles are all vegan, meaning that no animal product or sub-product is used to create our designs. Remaining truthful to my vegan lifestyle, I opted to work with synthetic fibers, which I sourced carefully so that I could still offer the quality and feel of high-end textiles like silk.  Our designs are hand or partially hand sewn to give them a couture touch. We’re very proud of our signature Japanese satin poly that is used in most of our designs; it’s a high-performance, non-wrinkle textile processed without toxic dyes.

What makes Annaborgia unique?

Annaborgia is unique in its simplicity.  Our minimalist lines and classic palette transition easily from day to evening, spring to fall, wedding day to resort.

Annaborgia is an ethical luxury brand – with an emphasis on cruelty-free and toxic-dyes-free fashion – for conscious fashionistas. What defines ethical luxury brands and conscious fashionistas?

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For a business, use of the term “Ethical Fashion” includes many different ethical standards, including those affecting the environment, labor rights, and the avoidance of animal sufferings.  At Annaborgia, we make our best efforts to follow all these ethical standards, while creating a long-standing luxury garment.  The “Conscious Fashionista” is our ideal buyer; someone who loves style, but with the same intensity cares for the environment, respects animals, and is concerned about labor rights and therefore, considers all these aspects when shopping.

One part of ethical fashion comes from luxe minimalist designs for each season. You have all women on staff. How does this inform the minimalist styles for each season?

We’re actually trying to veer away from the seasonal concept of fashion collections.  Our concept is to build a capsule wardrobe collection (and keep adding to it) of essentials that will never go out of style, making Annaborgia the go-to brand for women that are not interested in following short lived trends.  This is also a way to empower women to focus on more important issues within the fashion industry.  Women are naturally nurturing and sensible, and so far they have been the main force of the “Slow Fashion” movement.

You have hopes to influence the wedding fashion industry as well – to make it sustainable. How might this extended plan of action work out in the next few years?

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It’s hard to break rules in the wedding industry.  It’s a well-oiled machine and the mainstream bride dreams of a princess like wedding day.  It’s only natural.  We’re here to support a small (but growing) portion of the public that wants to integrate sustainability into their important day, and all the unconventional brides that are not in tune with the “classic wedding attire” concept.  I think we need valuable alternatives for this minority, and by offering styles that can be easy to transition into everyday life, we’re actually adding more value to their investment.  In a few years, I want to look back and see Annaborgia among the pioneers of the Wedding Fashion Revolution.

The creativity begins in Italy with you. It is developed in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why Italy and San Francisco? What are the operational steps in this developmental process?

When I am in Italy caring for my sister, I find some time to design, and with the help of a pattern maker I study with, I make the first prototypes.  Then I let my skilled Californian team develop the final patterns and samples.  Our in-house team is equipped for small production runs and we rely on local manufacturers for larger orders.  We love to support local businesses!  Being close to our manufacturers also allows us to have better control on quality standards.

What meaning or personal fulfillment does this creative work bring for you?

Besides the excitement of seeing my ideas brought to life, I think the ethical aspect of offering a cruelty-free product is a major drive.  As a Vegan, I have a way to show the world we can dress with style without having to harm animals for our own frivolous needs.

With regard to companies like Annaborgia, what is its personal and professional importance to you?

Vegan companies do not just offer cruelty-free clothes; they tend to promote an outlook on a cruelty-free lifestyle.  It’s like we have a moral responsibility that goes beyond simply selling clothes.

Annaborgia has a blog, too. What is the content and purpose of the blog?

I write about Annaborgia’s designs and milestones, I share personal thoughts on ethical fashion related issues, and I feature interviews with wedding experts or vegan lifestyle influencers.  At Annaborgia, we share with our readers why we are so passionate about a cruelty-free lifestyle and if we can inspire and influence them to incorporate cruelty-free choices into their lives, it’ll be a small contribution to make us feel like we’re going into the right direction. It’s important to me to make a difference in this world, especially in these troubled times where humanity seems to have lost their way.  With our Ethical Fashion we are simply saying “do no harm.”

Thank you for your time, Daniela.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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