An Interview with Viktoria Nasteva and Kathrine Nasteva of Lozena

LOZENA is redefining responsible fashion with designs that transcend convention. Family-owned, their Slavic heritage inspires our work and reminds us of what is important – the preservation and celebration of culture, the environment and its people.

Kathrine and Victoria

Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.

Viktoria: My sister and business partner, Kathrine and I were born and raised in Indiana, USA. Our parents are from the Balkans, Bulgaria and Macedonia, and we grew up speaking those languages, eating traditional foods and learning about what life was like as an immigrant family. Balkan families are very tight-knit – we always admired and enjoyed spending time with our grandparents. Our paternal grandfather was a teacher and revolutionary in Macedonia, our grandmother was a seasoned chef, and our maternal grandmother was a seamstress – a master of leatherwork and embroidery, and folk singer in Bulgaria.

Tell us about your story – education, prior work, and so on?

Viktoria: Creativity runs in the family, and I have chosen to express mine in the form of fashion. My grandfather was a wonderful artist. His sketches were so life-like, his calligraphy was amazing, and he and my father drew their own blueprints and built homes together.

I always thought the clothing, tablecloths and doilies both of my grandmothers made were so stunning. The intricacy fascinated me, and I loved wearing their creations because nobody else had such pieces! My mother and aunt also enjoyed designing and making clothing. They have both always been so refined and elegant that I think their love of style rubbed off on us. My cousin is also an amazing artist – when she came to the US, and I saw her drawings I wanted to be as good as she was!

That being said, I studied Journalism at Indiana University. I dreamed of writing for a fashion publication like Vogue, of course, but I later realized that I very much wanted to continue my creative inclinations and actually design clothes rather than write about them. Everything that goes along with design, like choosing fabric, styling photoshoots and working with producers all over the world was the adventure I wanted to take, so we went for starting LOZENA.

Lozena collection

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

Viktoria: Ethical and sustainable fashion is an extension of my personal values. I did not want my business to contribute to pollution and the depletion of natural resources, nor did I want to participate in the exploitation of workers.

What seems like the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

Viktoria: These companies are actively working to improve an industry that is outdated, can be ruthless and is often frivolous.

What seems like the importance of fair trade?

Viktoria: Fair trade is important because it puts people above profit, which is the reason most businesses ignore it. It is a partnership between producers, suppliers and buyers that is based on transparency and respect. Adhering to fair trade standards means ensuring safe working conditions, fair and agreed upon pay and no child labor.

What seems like the importance of a (relative to the country) living wage?

Viktoria: A country cannot prosper when citizens are neglected and used. Providing a living wage gives workers incentive to do more and to do better. It provides families with food, shelter and access to health care – basic human rights. It shows appreciation and compassion. It proves every job is valuable.

Nevena dress, handwoven from raw organic silk

What makes slow fashion better than fast fashion?

Viktoria: Much thought and effort go into designers’ creations. We work tirelessly to create original looks, to find quality, sustainable textiles, to develop exact patterns and to make high-value products only to have fast fashion brands rip off our designs and turn them into cheap throw-away clothing. Fast fashion encourages consumers to endlessly shop the newest “trends” they reproduce at lightning speed. Much of fast fashion is made from synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester and acrylic, which come from non-renewable resources like petroleum, and the sheer volume of clothing produced per year is staggering. The resources needed to make so much clothing are rapidly depleting and solid waste is soaring. These are the very reasons a fast-fashion brand, regardless of whether or not it uses organic cotton, is inherently unsustainable.

The Pythagoreans, the Neoplatonists, Aristotle, and the Stoics, William Wilberforce, Baron Erskine created the ancient thought about animal rights.  Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, discussed the suffering of non-human animals. Peter Singer argues for non-human animal rights too. The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and others work to support animals and work to enforce their rights. Some fashion manufacture processes violate animals’ rights. What is the importance of animal rights, especially in an ethical and sustainable fashion context?

Viktoria: Treating animals with respect is just like taking care of the environment. Animals are an integral part of the ecosystems and human well-being. I use animal fibers, such as wool, silk and alpaca, in my collections because I believe they are the best materials available to designers as they are renewable and clean, but I seek out producers who do not degrade animals.

Leather is a tricky subject; leather is, in fact, a byproduct of the meat industry, but commercial farming practices are, more often than not, inhumane. Agriculture, along with fashion and oil, is a top polluting industry and cattle is a major threat to the environment. The leather tanning industry is also incredibly toxic and dirty, often dumping waste into waterways, poisoning them.

Mulesing sheep and, or dipping them in pesticides are also horrible practices that must be eradicated.

As for silk, although cocoons are boiled whole, it is one of the strongest, most low-impact (if processed and finished thoughtfully), renewable fibers in the world so I do use it. The worms have been domesticated to a point that they hardly exist in the wild and only live a few days if they emerge from the cocoon.

We are certainly opposed to the use of exotic skins.

Lily top made from 47.5% soy; 47.5% certified organic cotton; 5% spandex jersey

What is Lozena?

Kathrine: LOZENA is a family-owned fashion house with a mission to produce high-end, designer womenswear in an ecological and socially responsible manner. We started LOZENA three years ago with our mother because we noticed a lack of sustainable clothing in the upscale, mainstream marketplace. Our ethical philosophy stems from our Bulgarian and Macedonian heritage, and our Slavic roots are reflected in the design aesthetic.

What inspired the title of the organization?

Kathrine: Lozen is the name of the Bulgarian village near Sofia where our mother was born and raised. As we are three women, we opted for the feminine version, LOZENA. It is an homage to the strong women in our family; the traditions, and artisanal craft of the Balkan region.

What are some of its feature products?

Kathrine: Womenswear, including tops, pants, skirts, dresses, and outerwear. We create mini collections that transition from season to season without following the trends demanded from the fashion calendar.

Sasha Blazer handwoven from raw organic silk

What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?

Viktoria: We use mostly natural fibers. When we use synthetics, it is recycled polyester or upcycled garments and fabric. One of our favorite materials is alpaca wool because alpaca are very earth-friendly animals. They have soft feet that do not dig into the soil, and they do not uproot plants as they eat. Alpaca wool is also known to be four times warmer than sheep’s wool. We also love silk because it is one of the strongest, most low-impact and most beautiful fibers in the world.

Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Lozena?

Viktoria: I [Viktoria] design each LOZENA garment myself. Thus far, I have used fabric from women’s cooperatives in Cambodia, India and Bolivia and from ethical producers in the Netherlands and Italy. We have also used designer deadstock, which is remnant fabric leftover from other fashion houses. We work closely with our producers in Bulgaria to make each LOZENA piece.

Water use in production is an issue. What is the importance of reducing excess water use in the production of fashion?

Viktoria: Water is life. I cannot emphasise the importance of reducing its use and keeping it clean enough.

Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?

Viktoria: Yes, garments made from natural fibers do biodegrade. Synthetic materials, which we use in the form of deadstock or recycled fibers, do not. However, our intent is to make unique, timeless clothing that people will want to keep for generations. If they do dispose of their garments, we encourage consumers to gift them, to recycle or return them to us, or to donate them to credible organizations that do not flood foreign markets.

What is the customer base – the demographics?

Kathrine: Sustainable fashion is still a niche market in the industry. LOZENA’s customers care about, and are conscious of issues such as climate change, water pollution, sweatshop labor, etc.; they are willing to purchase from companies that are having a positive impact on local communities (despite the price premium); and they are fashion risk-takers and trendsetters who want to showcase their personal style with one-of-a-kind, unique pieces from emerging brands.

What topics most interest you?

Viktoria: The entire garment lifecycle. While I work, I constantly refer to an infographic from The Sustainable Angle that depicts every issue, from health risks to CO2 emissions to solid waste at each step of the lifecycle, and I try to find the cleanest material, to make the greenest garment and the fairest product possible. I am also passionate about cultural craft. I love everything that is handmade, and I want to make sure traditions stay alive.

Did someone mentor you?

Viktoria: Many people have influenced me, but a woman I met in Bulgaria a few years ago stands out. She is an environmental champion and a special soul. Since we met, she has encouraged me to continue working toward my goal, one way or another. She is a community builder, and she has inspired and brought together so many like-minded people to grow and advance the cause.

Have you mentored others?

Kathrine: As an organization that cares deeply about women’s empowerment, we make every effort to serve as mentors and examples for other women and girls in our communities. We welcome inquiries for internships and other mentoring opportunities from individuals interested in this field.

What seems like the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional and personal development?

Kathrine: In fashion, as in other industries, the relative scarcity of women in leadership positions is in part due to the lack of women mentors in these roles – to help others secure top positions, and for career development and as a channel for professional growth. Mentors are especially important to women who are starting their careers, as the presence of women performing in executive and upper management positions inspires, influences decision-making, and increases confidence that corporate advancement is attainable.

How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations, women and children, in many countries of the world have better quality of life?

Viktoria: Consumers speak with their purchases. They have to research what they are buying, but it’s our job to make sure we are not exploiting workers across the supply chain and to make that information available to consumers.

Also, more men than women appear at the highest ends of the business ladder in fashion. Why?

Kathrine: The number of women leading companies in the Fortune 500 is small to begin with – 5% or 25 female CEOs in 2015. None of the apparel companies and conglomerates on the list had women at the helm. Globally, the numbers aren’t much better; only two of LVMH’s fifteen leather & luxury goods brands have women CEOs, and although Kering’s recent efforts to place more women in executive roles has been effective, three of its nine luxury fashion brands are led by women. Often, women in fashion end up starting their own companies, or inheriting family fashion houses (Miuccia Prada).

It’s easy to say that fashion is still an “old boy’s club,” but unfortunately that is the reality. While women are dominating entry-level creative roles and fashion schools’ student bodies, entrenched workplace structures such as lack of flexible work arrangements & parental leave policies, and the likelihood of being a female CEO candidate selected by male-dominated boards of directors contribute to this discrepancy at the top.

Finally, the confidence gap between men and women has perpetuated this phenomenon. A growing body of evidence suggests that success correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence, and compared to men, women consistently underestimate their abilities and performance. The confidence gap has real-world consequences for earning potential and upward mobility. Luckily, confidence can be developed and the gap can close. We are looking forward to seeing more women’s leadership on both the business and creative sides to serve as role models for aspiring designers in the years to come.

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

Viktoria: I am fulfilled when I meet the people who our business has helped. When I listen to their stories, or watch them work. When I make connections with people who share my values. It is a joy to see that we are all working toward a common goal. It’s also a wonderful feeling when your talents are recognized.

Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?

Kathrine:

  • Eco Fashion (2010) & Eco Fashion Talk by Sass Brown
  • Sustainably Chic by Natalie Kay Smith
  • AWEAR World & Conscious Chatter podcast by Kestrel Jenkins

Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, you?

Kathrine:

Partnerships & Business Inquiries: Kathrine Nasteva, CEO: kathrine@lozenainternational.com

Media & Stockist Inquiries: Viktoria Nasteva, Chief Creative Officer: viktoria@lozenainternational.com

What seems like the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?

Viktoria: It’s a struggle to know how long the road to 100% sustainability is. It’s difficult to understand why businesses are not more concerned about these pressing issues. The lack of variety and availability of moderately priced sustainable materials is also a challenge, and can be frustrating, but this challenge is ultimately what makes our work more rewarding.

Thank you for your time, Viktoria and Kathrine.

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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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