A brand that makes you question things without losing sight of your authentic self; that is what Zanna hopes to build in the coming years as a sustainable designer. After scrolling through her whimsical Instagram feed and watching the ethereal video showcasing her latest collection, I was a fan. Learning of her perspective and efforts to design sustainably, I was inspired.
“I just ended up getting roped into this knitting madness with a bunch of Texans”, she said with a playful scoff. It was so hot, especially from for an Englishwoman, there was literally nothing else to do while staying with distant family. So she knitted for two weeks straight. However, Zanna’s knitting endeavors continued long beyond that summer visit. Back home in England, she recently graduated from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martin’s Fashion programme, specializing in knitwear, and now she is in the midst of jumpstarting her brand.
Before the knitting madness, Zanna was first captivated with making clothes with her Gran, a sustainable designer in her own respect. Zanna joyfully recalled memories of going to her house and cutting up all their clothes to make new things. It was so fun that she couldn’t stop doing it, saving up whatever money she had for sewing machines and evolving her abilities as a designer throughout childhood. This earned her a spot at Central Saint Martins, one only 20 students are awarded out of 3000 applicants. It was tough, “People drop like flies…by the end there were only like 15 of us”. Though she feels she came out better because of CSM, graduating in a time of COVID and being denied the ability to showcase her graduation collection to an audience of 40,000 left her feeling lost in terms of next steps. But now, after working in a school to save enough money, she has finally reached a point to officially set up her brand.
One of the reasons it took Zanna so long to launch was that she didn’t know if designing would provide a profitable means for adhering to her values of environmental sustainability and social justice.
Though she attributes some of her environmental connectedness to growing up in the countryside, what initially drove her to sustainability was fear. She first learned about climate change when she was 15 and remembers feeling hopeless. In perusing design, she came to realize how damaging the fashion industry has been, and continues to be, to the environment.
Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. It produces unimaginable amounts of pollution and waste, and the people of poorer countries, where the manufacturing occurs, bear the brunt of the environmental and public health risks. Consequently, fashion produces not only environmental impacts but social ones as well. Even as more customers are calling for sustainability, many companies get away with marketing themselves as sustainable without actually being such, a concept known as greenwashing. Zanna explained how companies can label a garment to be made with recycled fibers, but then you look at the label and 3% of the fibers are recycled, and the rest are plastic. Additionally, there is nothing in the label of ‘organic’ or ‘eco-friendly’ that ensures that those making garments are being paid and treated fairly. Textile manufacturers are also notorious for their “runaway factories” where they move to countries with lax regulation for protecting workers and the environment. When called out, such factories are difficult to shut down, as the parent companies have enough money to pick up and move to different areas and continue polluting. “Oh my god I could literally talk days”, Zanna said on these issues.
She recalls 2020 as the year her grade-school textbooks would say we need to improve by. Now in 2021, one year removed from her textbook’s projection, things aren’t much better. However, she has knit together her passion for creating a healthy planet with her love for making garments, and is encouraging the change she wants to see in the world.
Looking to the Past for Present AnswersThe wisdom of her Gran is where Zanna has found much of her inspiration to work towards sustainability for the planet. “If there was a bit of mold on cheese, [Gran] would cut it off and be like, ‘Try it now, eat it’”, which Zanna used to find disgusting. Now, she recognizes her grandmothers appeal as a form of consciousness that previous generations had all along. There is an existence of understood value and deeper level of care for one’s possessions that many people living in a developed western society seem to be missing. In the past, if things were broken, they would be mended and reworked to be given new life. Though the phrase “make do and mend” doesn’t carry with it the shiny intrigue of new technologies to combat climate change, she believes it to be a crucial part of sustainability moving forward. It is important to listen to the voices of indigenous groups and others who have been living sustainably for thousands of years, and work with them rather than on top of them.
“Sustainability has always been a thing…we give ourselves a bit too much credit”,she expressed in reference to our generation, “I don’t know why technology has to be the signifier of modern development”, when in fact modern development should incorporate methods of what we’ve deemed ‘simpler life’.
Under this philosophy lies the inspiration behind techniques Zanna uses to design sustainably, and focus on knitwear as the medium to express her values. The tried-and-true handicraft of maneuvering yarn into garments has always been a way to use resource efficiently. When knitting by hand or machine, the exact amount of material is measured out whereas woven fabric must be cut out in a pattern, leaving behind a frame of odd shapes that is often wasted. Zanna also explained that if she does produce any waste, she repurposes it by felting with it to be incorporated into a new garment.
Furthermore, she strives to use ethically sourced recycled fabrics and secondhand materials whenever possible because, “The most sustainable option is to make use of what we already have”. In theme with making use of traditional waste, she also utilizes fruit and veggie scraps as natural dyes. For example, with pits and skins of avocados she’s made a lovely blush hue and with onion skins shades of brown.
In her opinion, the best thing for people to do when investing in a piece of clothing is to take care of it, and then mend it when it rips or tatters. That being said, she acknowledges that not everyone is willing to do so because of time and initial purchasing costs of sustainably made garments. To address this sustainability gap in the marketplace and reclaim the beauty of treating garments with new life, she hopes in the future to establish a program within her brand where customers can send back their old garments to be altered or mended.
Creativity in Consciousness
“We aren’t gonna stop buying stuff, so we might as well do it ethically”. In a time of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ and ever evolving trends, Zanna wants to offer fresh takes on knitted clothing that is in contrast with stereotypes of itchy sweaters and grandma smells. Showcasing nonbinary silhouettes and colorful pieces in her marketing, she pushes the boundaries of what sustainable fashion means for the future, because dressing sustainability shouldn’t mean one has to suppress their options for expression. Within sustainable fashion she observed, “You see a lot of muted tones and natural colors, which I love…but I want to prove you can buy colorful, fun clothes that are also sustainable”, creating rays of optimism through the too-often gloomy clouds of climate change.
Though being an environmentally conscious designer is a challenge, it fuels her creativity. There are many different knitting stitches and techniques, and when things aren’t working in one area, she makes them work in another. She understands the organic shapes of pieced together clothes aren’t for everyone, but they don’t have to be.
Zanna hopes that her consciousness as a designer sparks conversations that encourage and even provoke consumers to reflect on their buying habits. “Fashion is a statement of identity, and you can’t have a statement of identity without reflecting on society”, which is why she wants to consider her voice and continually evolve to make sure that she is always making a difference. This core of her brand is aimed to create a domino effect on her customers as well. “We’ll learn from each other”, she said, highlighting that such learning doesn’t need to be depressing. Though confronting serious issues and tackling tough questions, “I think it is important to remember we can be playful and have a nice time while we’re here on Earth”, her clothes being a bright expression of this perspective.
Mean Child, the proposed name of her brand, feels like the perfect encompassment of what she wants it to stand for. Inspired by the joking nickname her mom gave to one of Zanna’s siblings, Mean Child ties her brand back to home while representing the lighthearted edginess she plans to continue creating. Moreover, the juxtaposition of ‘mean’ to ‘child’ mimics the contrast her fun clothing poses in fighting the darkness of climate change. It is also a good reminder to have a little bit of meanness (or rather stubbornness) when pushing back on the sometimes thoughtless relationship among consumers, creators, and the ecosystems that sustains us.
As far as the planet is concerned, this is no time to cast off. Zanna’s most recent collection is reflective of her optimism for the future, “We forget we can do something as an individual. Eventually individual change can become mass change”. So let us go forth and be mean children- questioning, growing, and enjoying the process colorfully.
Make sure to check out her work and stay up-to-date with Zanna through her website https://www.zanna-jane.com and by following @zanna___jane on Instagram (that’s three underscores.)
Sources: Messenger Jones, Zanna Jane. Personal Interview. 30 June 2021.