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"We have been offered 'buy now, pay later,' which in the end, is a trap. We have been tricked into overconsumption in the last decades and have lost touch with nature's rhythm. Sometimes we even forget to take care of ourselves, to stop and breathe, to watch the clouds and the blue sky beyond,” Amy Valentine, the founder and the creative director of AVASAN, shares to Luxiders.
She goes on to say that having more is not going to make us happy.
Valentine recalls that, during her long trip across Japan, she fell in love with kimonos and decided to create a sustainable fashion brand that drew references from art and theatre and put a modern, genderless twist on traditional Japanese attire.
The story began when Valentine decided to return to the fashion world after dedicating 20 years to working in an art and theatre company in France. She describes setting out with "an absolute urgency" to create responsible, conscious and sustainable fashion, which led her to contact an environmental lawyer who was also a fellow fashion lover. Together, they came up with AVASAN—a sustainable fashion label whose name incorporates the Japanese honourific, san, indicating a respect for people and the environment. AVASAN kimonos are intricate structures that are at once sleek and minimal but also laden with detail, including some that are embellished with touches like embroidery or fringe. The unconventional handling of textures and the reversible designs elevate these pieces to a couture level. They are handmade from high-quality materials and are typically only available in limited runs, and some are even one of a kind.
A kimono is an evergreen and genderless garment. "It's always the most beautiful piece in every capsule collection; the most zero-waste and fashionably timeless." For Valentine, the kimono is akin to a blank canvas on which the artist Araceli García can paint and express her creativity. Its persistent quality is exactly what she projected AVASAN's collection to be. It celebrates sustainability and minimalism, yet remains fashionable.
Born in New York, raised in Spain and having spent many years in France, Valentine's life has been composed of cultural diversity, which enriches her designs and creations. She loves to imbue the tradition, handicraft and aesthetic vision inspired by her life experiences into her collections. Thus, AVASAN combines the joyful spirit of Spain with the sophisticated, urban-chic style of Japan. The garments represent a textile collage that evokes respect and harmony between different civilisations.
About Japanese influence, Valentine recounts how she inherited three defining items from her grandfather: "a sumi-e book, rice paper and a stone inkwell." Sumi-e is an ancient Japanese ink painting technique, which taught Valentine the value of Zen, how to express her inner world and how to practise a conscious attitude. She learned that a calm mind allows one to find a space of stillness, creativity and sensitivity. She was mesmerized by Matsuo Bashō's foreword in her sumi-e book, which included some of his haiku, a form of Japanese short poetry. Alongside these inspirations, Valentine also draws from the works of Yasujirō Ozu, Hayao Miyazaki, Hiroshi Teshigahara and Akira Kurosawa. "Miyazaki's films gave me a new perspective to understand the world we live in, and they always remind me of love."
Valentine is also very much inspired by Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Kansai Yamamoto, Sybilla, Josep Font, Dries van Noten, Zaha Hadid, Luis Barragan, Gregory Colbert, Wong Kar-wai and Hafiz.
AVASAN is committed to composing a modern, circular and responsible fashion world, under the philosophy that "there is nothing more sustainable than what already exists." AVASAN has aligned its mission with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are guidelines for protecting our planet and defending human rights. The brand embraces the values of respect and dignity, and aims to create collections that have a positive impact on people, the environment and the economy.
"We just couldn't imagine our brand without a sustainable and circular approach. The re-use, recycle and re-design framework is part of our brand's DNA."
AVASAN creates exclusive, small-scale collections, entirely handcrafted with love and care in Valentine’s studio in Cádiz, Spain. Valentine enjoys creating and crafting with her hands and letting her imagination run free. "I also love spending my time enjoying other artists' works, listening to them create and being inspired by them." She believes that interacting with other artists plays an essential role in the re-creation process and helps to shape garments into unique pieces of art. AVASAN kimonos are inspired by the relationship between beings and the amalgamation of past and present. The collection is a portrayal of respect and harmony between different civilisations.
Valentine collaborates with small local companies, supporting the local economy while also maintaining a close and personal relationship with its producers. Together, they endlessly research and look for new ideas, materials and solutions to meet a common goal.
"My first suppliers were passed on to me as gifts from a designer friend, long before I began designing. Aside from these, I establish good contacts whenever I visit fairs; last year, I went to Modtissimo in Porto, and now I am beginning to work with a Portuguese supplier, which is great because it is close to Cádiz. One more step for our proximity goal."
I am passionate about beautiful creation that is conscious and respectful." Hence, Valentine began searching for "unseen treasures" so as to give them a second life—for her, it was an extension of what she used to enjoy doing during childhood. Traditionally, brands hold on to their excess fabric for a few seasons before sending it to landfills. AVASAN, on the other hand, rescues these deadstock fabrics before they are thrown away and turns them into beautiful garments.
AVASAN has been working with deadstock suppliers in Barcelona since its inception. Valentine visits these suppliers for inspiration—she goes there to touch the materials, to feel their textures in her hands and observe their colours with her own eyes. "While I am looking at the textiles, I have ideas for the collections in the back of my mind. It's like radio waiting to tune in," Valentine says. The process is similar to a treasure hunt, and the findings are the soul of each collection. She also looks for textiles with certifications—organic cotton, banana silk, peace silk, organic linen. Valentine emphasises that AVASAN never uses animal leather or fur.
"The certifications are the only way we can determine where the raw material comes from, how it is processed and how the workers are treated. It is an essential requirement for us. Although some small communities from whom we buy silk have no official certificate, we can count on our friend who works with them and gives us corresponding feedback. For us, to support these small communities is vital."
The challenge of working with deadstock is that it is not easy to find high-quality fabrics, and most of the fine fabrics available only come in small quantities. "It takes time to find a match; sometimes I have to wait for three or four collections to go by before I can use [what I find]."
Valentine looks back and feels thankful to have met so many people and found so many brands that are committed to sustainability. She presented her first capsule collection, Rose Whispers, at The Ethical Fashion Show in Berlin, which was supported by EXTENDA, the Trade Promotion Agency of Andalusia. "The experience was incredible. We were surrounded by sustainable brands, and that is when I realised that sustainability is more widespread than I thought," Valentine recalls.
From that experience she began on her journey to source sustainable materials and suppliers for AVASAN. "For the moment, we are still working with five retailers in Spain, and we have just begun collaborating with a distributor for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The next step is a pop-up in the La Fulana store in Barcelona on June 5, 2021. In August, with EXTENDA supporting us, we will participate in SOLEIL TOKYO in Japan."
Looking at today's fashion scene, Valentine feels happy to see that more brands are moving towards sustainability and embracing the creative challenge of working with existing deadstock fabric, creating new recycled materials and pushing one step further towards new technologies.
"I love to be part of this change."
On some of her next steps for AVASAN, Valentine muses, "I would love to buy deadstock from some brands I admire in Europe in the future and develop a closer relationship with the silk weaver community so as to support them through our work."
The AVASAN woman values handmade and sustainable fashion. Find the collection at the AVASAN online shop; My Glamorista in the U.S., Mexico and Canada; The Circular Project and Suela in Madrid; VELVET BCN and La Fulana in Barcelona; and Món a Part in Mallorca.