At Fashion Week this September, be on the lookout for two of the most innovative, young, award-winning German designers hitting the runway. Anja and Sandra Umann of UMASAN are taking the fashion world by storm with their celebration of subversion of sustainable design. I recently stumbled upon their spring fashion collection and I couldn’t resist putting them on my list of “people of interest” that I would like to learn more about.
Anja and Sandra are identical twins and are about as close as two sisters can be, working side by side to create their unique take on fashion. “UMASAM is the first and only vegan High Fashion label that satisfies the needs of the new health style generation. The vegan label attaches a great importance to ecological and human production processes, as well as the natural, sustainable and animal-friendly use of resources.”
In today’s fast-paced society, the main philosophy you’ll find at UMASAN is slowing down. Their “feel-good” fashion is shaped with pioneering vegan fabrics like SeaCell (seaweeds), MicroModal (beech wood) and TENCEL (eucalyptus wood) to name a few. Their commitment to staying away from using any animal products, as well as ecologically manufactured fabrics, is a top priority and is what gives UMASAN a distinction as a leader in the eco-friendly fashion market. To use the term “eco-friendly” does not truly encapsulate the essence of their work and mission, but it makes for a nice umbrella perhaps “earth-friendly” is more encompassing and chic. Sorry, ladies you won’t find any cashmere, fur or leather in their collections, but rather sustainable and earth-friendly materials.
If this is your first introduction to these two Berlin-based designers, you’re probably wondering how they got their start. Umann sister Sandra took the time to answer that question and more. It was a thrill to get to know her better, as well as understand the history behind UMASAN. First I was curious about the name UMASAN. The brand name is defined as, “The deeper meaning of “UMASAN” is coming from UMA – mother of life/divine mother (the Great Goddess of Indian mythology) and SAN – is the meaning of unity and respect.”
When asked about the history of how they got started on their careers in fashion, this is what Sandra had to say, “We are twins, so we do everything together. We are identical twins who are identically fascinated with the world of art, literature, eastern philosophy, traditional yoga and a higher consciousness. Anja went on to study Fashion Design at the AMD Munich at the age of 23 with vision to become a designer in the high end avant-garde world of fashion, working successfully for Strenesse, Wunderkind and most impressively Yohji Yamamoto in Paris and Tokyo. I decided to follow my passion for visual Art and Media and became a well-known photographer (published in Vogue, Gala, Bunte and many more) working as an artistic/creative director for many forward thinking global projects.
I was so close to her that I became part of it as well. We always worked together. Anja first started a label with another partner, but that didn’t work out, so we gravitated back to each other. We have a deeper trust and understanding, which makes everything easier.”
Twins have unique relationships and I was curious to understand how they work together. Here is what Sandra said about her and Anja’s working relationship, “Working with my twin sister… it’s quite special but really easy at the same time. We can totally trust each other, understand and more over communicate without words. We have a call maybe five times a day, if we do not see each other, but actually we are always in the mind of the other. We enjoy working together but it’s not so easy for our team… they do not understand what’s the matter when we communicate without words.
We have a clear definition of what is the part of Anja’s and my work. Anja is doing the Design and Production Management and myself doing Marketing/PR and Sales, but Anja would never bring out one style without my commitment.
Finally we are so happy to have each other and to be working together.”
What matters to them most is their message. “We have something to say and fashion is for us the tool to communicate this message. Don’t think we are artists, we are speakers.” When it comes to their long-term goals as fashion designers Sandra says, “We don’t want to be just a niche label, and hope to communicate our message globally and inspire others to follow in our footsteps when it comes to sustainability.” To aspiring fashion designers she says, “Believe in your dreams… your dreams can come true, if you have the courage to pursue them.”
Here are some of the highlights from the rest of our interview:
Sherrie: What does fashion mean to you?
Sandra: Our demand and at the same time our motivation was to create something new which goes far beyond the production of clothing and establishment of a fashion brand. As innovation in the fashion industry also means to correct luxury mistakes, to re-define collective values and to increase individual values. This was reason enough for us to found UMASAN in 2010.
Sherrie: How would you define your (and Anja’s) personal style?
Sandra: Connection of western modernism with the traditional wisdom of the Far East. Aiming at no style or trend as well as no category to fit in… just to unfold an own dynamic and aesthetic. We like to break through boundaries of beauty dogmas and invites our followers to a shift in paradigm, social responsibility and true individuality.
Sherrie: How would you define Berlin’s fashion scene?
Sandra: A little like the 80s I would say. Colorful, individual and maybe kind of shrill.
Sherrie: Tell us about your design process. How long does it usually take you to construct a piece? Do you prefer sketching designs or actually constructing them?
Sandra: Well it’s a daily process. We’re inspired by the day-to-day life of down to earth, working people, from various cultures — by artists and travelers who are not simply into a glamorous allure. We look at the human body and how it moves.
Actually we prefer sketching in the first step and later – for details – contrasting a little.
Sherrie: What do you feel are some of your accomplishments as designers?
Sandra: UMASAN creates avant-garde ‘feel-good’ fashion with innovative fabrics and sophisticated Japanese cutting technique. UMASAN is creating a brave new world combining high end taste with the latest innovation regarding the longevity of planet earth and its inhabitants. Our high end collection is dedicated towards the global, change avant-garde who likes comfort and taste without sacrificing responsibility and consciousness.
Sherrie: What designers do you draw inspiration from?
Sandra: Well we are still inspired by the old Japanese like Yohji Yamamoto but also we like the style of Rick Owens (apart from the fabrics).
Sherrie: Where do you buy your fabrics and other sewing materials?
Sandra: All in Europe most suppliers are from Switzerland and Germany as well as Austria.
Sherrie: What do you believe makes a quality article of clothing?
Sandra: The story behind… not only the design it’s the hidden message, the innovative capacity, the chain of economic value added and most of all the comfort.
Sherrie: How do you prepare for a fashion shoot or show?
Sandra: Mostly the shootings are very instinctive. The shows of course are planned but I think we are quite relaxed by preparing our shows it’s just a natural process of a floating first idea.
Sherrie: What do you look for in a model to best represent the UMASAN brand?
Sandra: Charisma and personality.
Sherrie: What can we expect from your next collection?
Sandra: Character. The word in Greek means “a making instrument” and was originally a distinctive mark impressed, engraved or otherwise formed. The word later generally came to mean an enduring imprint or the peculiar, persistent nature of something, evident in all its individual expressions and impressions, and distinguishing it from everything else. But above all the word is used as a description of the peculiarity of a willing being, as becomes apparent in its actions. UMASAN SS 2015 Coll. searches and strengthens the relationship of the individual to his inner world, and dedicated to her, where we ourselves refuse any form of dogmatism.
Sandra it was a pleasure to get you know you better and I look forward to seeing what UMASAN does next. Earth-friendly UMASAN is truly changing how we look at fashion on so many different levels.
ABOUT: UMASAN is the award winning, Berlin based, vegan brand founded by twin sisters Anja and Sandra Umann. Their avant-garde cutting and draping, simple and elegant aesthetics combined with androgynous style combines fashion design and unique artistic reference. The label’s nonchalant, trans-seasonal, wearable garments, developed without regard to trends, in eco-friendly fabrics are quickly converting shoppers who cherish individuality and who prefer to be creative with the styling of their closets. With two stand-alone stores in Berlin, UMASAN is available online at www.umasan-world.com and at boutiques across the US including Atrium.