Fashion designers are really just creative tastemakers who set the style scene with their brilliant designs. The best ones are observant of culture, communicating their thoughts about the modern environment through the medium of fashion; often playing detective to uncover moments in history that they can weave into the story-telling of their current collections.
Case in point: COSSAC’s AW17/18 ‘Retro Simplicity’ collection.
The collection can simply be described as a fusion of historical and modern influences, engaging subtle maximalist retro styling with voluminous shapes, without surrendering the contemporary minimalist styling the brand is known for. The result is an eco fashion collection that hints at retrospection without being consumed by it, all the while allowing its simple tailoring and tasteful colour hues to come to the forefront.
In line with the theme of its current collection, I interview Agata Kozak, the founder and designer of COSSAC, this time to learn more about her home city and her past, to get a clearer picture of how it influences her pragmatic approach to sustainability and eco fashion, if it influences it at all.
Agata Kozak hails from a small town in Poland called Lublin, a town whose history – like many in this part of Europe – is steeped in war. It has since undergone an economic transformation to become a thriving regional centre, and since it is the largest in eastern Poland (home to roughly 350,000 residents), Lublin also serves as its cultural capital.
Although Agata left Lublin at age 19 to pursue a design career and stake her claim in the global fashion industry, she explains she will never forget where she comes from. Since leaving Poland, she has become much more patriotic but readily admits that she doesn’t feel that “close” to it, considering herself a world citizen instead.
“I consider myself and my brand to be ‘citizens of the world’. I am a multi-local. I am really just a local wherever I happen to be living because I have lived in so many places, not just Poland.” The understanding that comes from living in different places is why Brexit has affected her so much. “Because of Brexit being able to travel like that won’t be possible anymore and especially my hopes of staying in the EU.”
Agata briefly mentions the racist overtones of Brexit and – having been raised to value all people equally – finds racism incomprehensible. “I find it so odd when people think less of others because of their skin colour. I mean, seriously, how can people hate other people because they’re black, or Asian or the fact that they’re gay?” It seems more a rhetorical question than one she expects an answer to.
She’s observed the attitudes of people changing. The UK today is different to the one she met five years ago, she explains. When she moved to the country to pursue her career, people were a lot nicer to one another. Now she fears just speaking Polish in public might attract negative sentiment. She hasn’t ruled out leaving for another part of Europe. She has to be based in Europe she tells me, because it’s where her brand does most of its business. She’s contemplating Spain because she’s lived there before, speaks the language and it neighbours Portugal (where COSSAC produces its collections).
Since leaving the country of her birth, the designer has lived in Spain, Turkey and now UK. She regularly travels for work and frequents places like Japan, China, South Korea and Portugal. Does she ever miss Poland? I ask. No, she says. She still regularly travels to Poland to see her parents who still live there. She admits though that she rarely travels within the country, preferring to spend time with her family at their home instead.
“If I’m on holidays, I prefer to travel to new places I haven’t been to before so when I’m travelling back to Poland, it’s only for short periods of time and I just prefer to spend time with my family rather than sightsee.”
Krakow, Poland’s second largest city, is one place she recommends for its cultural and visual significance. There are more flight connections to Krakow, Agata explains, so it’s easy to get there. The city has seen a resurgence in the number of tourists travelling for this reason, but so too business people.
“The Polish economy is really strong, and one of the strongest in Europe. I think that comes down to our history. Because of it, Polish people have a strong work ethic and work really hard in order to get somewhere. Most people my age in Poland can speak two foreign languages.” The history Agata refers to is war and the country’s fight for independence. In World War I, the Polish territory served as a battleground due to its geographic location and was split between the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. After the collapse of these Eastern powers, Poland fought for independence and won.
Agata believes that the resilience of the Polish workforce is what makes them attractive to employers. Their work ethic, being multilingual and ability to speak fluent English and is an unbeatable combination in the European job market.
And what about the food? I ask. Like most conscious millennial women, Agata prioritises her health and is careful about what she eats. Polish food is “very heavy” she explains so she tries to limit the amount she eats when she travels back to her native country. “Polish cuisine is very flour-and potato-based so it’s quite heavy for my system and I try to be healthy and avoid those kinds of carbs. I’m more of a salad and smoothie person.”
Poland is a decidedly Christian Catholic country – how has that impacted Agata? Raised as a Catholic, Agata admits to being spiritual rather than religious and is really only “Catholic during Christmas”.
“I don’t really believe in religion in truth,” Agata explains. “I think that religion is a source of so much friction in the world. I am a spiritual person and that has nothing to do with believing in a religion. I have strong views about religion being raised in a very Christian country. I just feel that it cannot keep up with the progress of the world and our civilisation. It’s too old school, too traditional for its own good and I just find religion to be quite hostile.”
Live and let live, Agata says. We couldn’t agree more.
Perhaps this is why Agata and COSSAC refuse to be prescriptive in the way they communicate sustainability in fashion. Because it’s about giving people choice. Ultimatums, rules or guilt seldom work.
The AW17/18 ‘Retro Simplicity’ collection is now available. FREE worldwide shipping until 30th August 2017. To shop the sustainable fashion range, click here.
Disclosure: Eco Warrior Princess is a proud ambassador of COSSAC. To learn more, click here.
Direction and styling: Agata Natalia Kozak
Photography: Ola Ajani
Model: Emelie Stenman