Bora Aksu on Sustainable Fashion

"Bora Aksu is an incredible individual, crafting clothing for over a decade, creating unique pieces and dedicating himself to championing the strong romantic woman. Having spent lots of time with Bora, walking his runway shows and wearing his handmade pieces, I'm honored to sit down and get a glimpse into his creative process."

How long have you been designing and creating Bora Aksu? Was there anything that really struck you this year that you wanted to bring to this collection? Do you and Leith Clark, stylist and longtime friend of yours, share a similar idea for the Bora Aksu girl?

A: I have been doing my own label since I graduated from Central Saint Martins over 15 years ago. This season was a kind of journey back home revisiting all the elements from my childhood that kind of shaped my design identity. Each season, depending on the mood or the story, we decide a destination to go and delve into deep research. I guess each season has its own story, it's a mood that becomes created together with Leith, a long time friend and collaborator for my brand.

Fashion design for me is a visual language that enables me to communicate with the outside world. When it comes to inspiration, I don’t put any boundaries around it….

Does every season feel different than the last?  

A: Each collection has its own story and journey, even though the collections somehow link to each other or sometimes the stories continue behind the scenes. It's always exciting. My work only makes sense if it is based on a story. Even the fabrics, textures or contrasts become a representation of certain elements of storytelling. Some stories, especially ones based on my childhood, probably stand out in my mind more than the others. When the collection has its own personal ties to my life, then it feels more personal and I have a deeper emotional connection. As this collection was about me and my roots, my family and their craft, I felt such deep emotions watching the show.

How did you find the inspiration to design? Was it influenced by art or childhood?

A: I think my first initial fashion ideas came through the people around me. My family, my mum, through observing their attitudes, the way they dress… I wanted to almost capture it. When I was growing up in Turkey, every household would create amazing hand crafted trinkets and designs. It could be crochet, needle work, knitting, weaving ect.. As a child I remember my Auntie and Grandma, sitting in our home — always creating hand crochet and lace. Whether it's the past or the present, all my ideas come from what's going on around me: from friends, culture, or from my memories.

Anything or anyone can be an inspiration to me. It's usually a big pot of ideas. As soon as an idea comes to mind, I like to sketch it out. My process of putting together a collection is through many layers. You can have an initial inspiration. It's never just one thing. It's not so much of what sources you’re inspired by, but more of how you use them or make them your own. I always look into my childhood memories and bring out something very personal to me.

The world you’ve both created and refined seems to have a touch of whimsy and nod toward vintage pieces…. Is that a source of inspiration for you and Leith?

A: I guess, even though me and Leith have different approaches and complete each other in different ways, our ultimate aim is to create our own definition of beauty. I am an incurable romantic and my aim as a designer is to seek and define beauty in my own terms. My design aesthetic fuses a romantic sensibility with raw elegance. There is an imperfection to my work, which creates purity and beauty. Fashion design, for me, is a visual language that enables me to communicate with the outside world.

We do like telling stories through collections. For me the collection development really makes sense if it is based on a story. Even the fabrics , textures or contrasts within the collection become a representation of certain elements of storytelling. I have always drawn to characters like…fragile and somehow broken, but still they have this determination and strength to stand against traditional restrictions. I love the naivety, and the way these characters translate their brokenness into strength. So every season, depending on the mood, I search for these heroines and try to dig into their lives, finding out their struggles and their strength. And, of course, the obstacles they faced purely because of their gender — that still amazes me. But overall, I have deep admiration for these characters, especially how they push through life and how they refuse to be shamed by society. And most of the times, [they] gained the much deserved respect way after their lifetime.

Does incorporating vintage fabrics and silhouettes integrate into your desire of being sustainable?

A: Sustainability and any efforts to protect natural sources is even more essential than ever. A couple of seasons ago, as part of this process, we started searching for the rejected stock fabrics of fabric manufacturers instead of acquiring newly produced items. Using the stock fabrics and going through the back rooms of manufacturers to discover the hidden gems became a key part of developing the collection. Some of the stock fabrics we found go back 20 to 30 years, and some have defects, such as discoloration. Most of the crochet pieces were from my mum’s and grandma's unfinished knitting projects. My grandma has all these crochet blanket squares dated back to the 80s, and I thought bringing them into the collection in a literal sense makes so much sense, in weaving a story within these very personal moments with the fabrics itself.

How do you think Fashion today can be more sustainable?

A: Fashion of course can be more sustainable, but it needs a collective approach. We all need to understand that sustainability is one of the main paths that we all need to take to help nature restore itself. There has been so much damage and even though it's already too late, we can still do things in our power. I think in the end, the customer has the most power, and if they make the choices, then the mass production entities have to follow.

Do you feel a pressure from fast fashion or consumers to create more? Or is that just creating more waste?

A: I feel more challenged to find ways to maintain my creativity and my business while trying to find ways to be more sustainable, use less sources and produce less. I think we are at a point where we need to try to change customer behaviors. We live in different times now so we all need to adapt.

I believe we need to find harmony between each other. Getting to know other cultures is so important to create love and understanding. Fashion is a great tool to build this bridge between different cultures. We have been influencing each other over many thousands of years and through technology this interaction is much faster and much stronger. I really think “fashion” should have been kinder to the world we live in. As to me, fashion displays such beauty, and it's a shame that there is such hidden harshness behind that beauty.

It seems like this season you were able to seamlessly blend your Turkish Heritage and love of Vintage fabrics/silhouettes into a cohesive vision. How did you do that?  

A: It’s very important how the designer processes his culture into his design signature. For me, London always represents individual style and fits perfectly with what I am doing. It’s a creative source, holding such different cultural references and artistic movements. This city constantly feeds me with such unpredictable surroundings. It also offers such freedom to individuals. But saying that, being raised in Turkey and surrounded by such historical and cultural richness of course influenced my design language. It’s almost a genetic cultural richness that you carry wherever you go...So in some ways, it was a natural way for me to turn back to my roots and take elements from my childhood.

For me, designs can never be completed..It's more of a journey, rather than the end result — my collections do not have a starting and end point in their process…It's very organic; some of the ideas give birth to new ideas and some of them dissolve, or they overlap with each other. So for me, it’s very hard to see the design process as an end product...

You and Leith also created an incredibly powerful photoshoot raising money for the victims of the earthquake in Turkey last February. How did you decide on that?

A: The photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten has embarked on a mission to shine a light on the aftermath of devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Leith and I joined forces to support Julia. Our models were mostly from the Turkish and Syrian diaspora, mostly living in London, as well as refugees who were affected by the earthquake and are now living in the UK. 

I feel like we are in a time where we all need to be more kind, considerate and be there for one another. Sometimes when feeling helpless, being part of a project like this matters, as it has that visual language that speaks more than words. We all need hope right now. And projects like these raise awareness and bring hope and encouragement into the times we live in and move [us] into a better world. I think that finding a better world can only happen when we discover our better selves. 

It’s beautiful to see how you have been able to highlight certain causes like the charity fundraisers for Turkey and your militaristic themed show a year ago, shedding light on social causes.

Do you think Fashion can play a larger role in social outreach, sustainability and acknowledging world events?

Yes, fashion has one of the biggest powers. Fashion is a visual language and has the ability to evoke emotions. I believe fashion will be more about individuality in the future. I think it will be about people, their individual style and their personality. I think that trends will not be dominating fashion as it will be irrelevant. Every individual will create their own trends and follow them.  

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