Interview with Sonia Carrasco

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Tourists line the Barcelona streets, closely following the person in front of them for some protection from the sun, relentlessly beating down onto the backs of our necks. Round the corner, down a quiet, shady street, through a tiled hallway and up some terracotta steps, I was beckoned into Sonia Carrasco’s studio. Apparently Barcelona is too hot even for the people that live here; Carrasco’s headquarters were empty and I had the CEO and creative director all to myself. I caught a glimpse of the main office space – white walls, beautiful windows, minimal – before Carrasco led me into a meeting room where the current collection hung. We sat at a round table with my microphone, a ton of H2O and began our conversation. 

Carrasco trained under the Alexander McQueen name and then Celine, during the celebrated era of Phoebe Philo. Her designs are considered, elegant, clever, structured, with hints of workwear. Earthy tones meet ocean blues, distressed tapestries meet a soft white wool and exquisite detail upon exquisite detail make up the Sonia Carrasco identity. Everything Carrasco creates is careful and innovative; the pocket on the outside of the pant, or the cut out space between waistband and top of thigh just works. Carrasco is unpretentious but unflinchingly confident that her namesake brand is on a path of progression and damn does it look good in the process.

What’s your earliest memory you have of the desire to create within the fashion industry? Tell me about your path early on in your career…

Since I was a child I wanted to have my own brand. When I was 7 I had already imagined a spring collection. Then in 2016 I met the team at Alexander McQueen, I fell in love with his iconic aesthetic, I thought: oh my god how can this be possible. For me Alexander McQueen is a pure inspiration. 

Originally I did a degree in business, which later was good as you need that for starting a company.  And in the evenings I did courses on fashion, pattern cutting, button courses etc etc etc. I spent one summer at Central St Martins. I then went on to study fashion design in Madrid - I then I applied for a major fashion contest here in Spain in 2014, which I then went on to win. To build my portfolio I then went on to create 2 collections to gain Spanish acclaim.

How did you begin working for Alexander McQueen?

I started with them in 2016. I did an internship there. I had created two collections and went to Paris to show them to anyone who would watch and listen. Alexander McQueen listened and asked me to come for an interview and gave me the role as a designer right there, in the interview room. I said of course, of course, it was fascinating. Then I had to wait 6 months.

I imagine that McQueen’s influences and designs left a great impression on you and still have a great influence on your work. Do you notice any similarities between his aesthetic and your designs now? 

I don’t know. I think maybe - now the collection is more commercial but before the collections were more experimental, so I think this may be more comparable. McQueen was always my inspiration and the genius of the fashion industry. Now 2019, he passed away 9 years ago, since then so many designers and nothing comparable to his talent.

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For me, what stands out is that he had no fear of alarming people, there were no boundaries. Maintaining the english reserve was never part of his rhetoric, his aim was to shock the audience as much as possible.

Yes, his shows were like art.

Before your internship with McQueen you went to Zara for six months. With a sustainable brand like yours I was shocked to learn this. Tell me about your experience there...

I mean, it’s not for me. It’s super different to the fashion that I create now. Every 2 weeks you do a collection, I was in the team of TRF making tops and dresses. I started to have my environmental values partly as a result of working there, I just didn’t feel good there. 

I know it seems strange I went to Zara but I am a person who if I talk of anything it’s because I know. With Zara, I wanted to know what they were like, it’s quite fascinating, it’s so different to a fashion house. They are the monsters of the fashion industry, they are huge, I was so curious to see how they worked. 

It’s interesting that you had to work in that particular sphere to realise that that specific branch didn’t chime with your moral code.

Yes, I didn’t feel good or creatively motivated. There was no space for artistic license, you cannot be creative there. It wasn’t for me but I did learn a lot, it was fascinating to see how they work but I don’t share their values. 

They say by 2025 they will use 100% recycled fabrics, organic fibres, my question is: why don't you do this now? You have the money, the aptitudes, you are the biggest of the fashion industry, you have the resources from all the wasted clothes you don’t sell, why don’t they do now? 2025 might be too late. I read last week that the next 18 months are essential to do the right things, if not everything is gone. If I do now, why don’t they?

I guess my line of thought with these brands is ultimately fatalistic. Their business model is based on high levels of production, so in terms of revenue it would make no sense for them.

The problem is people now see sustainability as a trend, it’s the message that we are talking about in the new T-Shirt: ‘don’t be fooled’ - the people are using the word sustainable too lightly, just for one fabric, sustainable means the whole brand entirely is committed to the environment. Zara wont just have to use sustainable fabrics they will also have to work to cease using plastic etc, it’s a lot of things. 

On Instagram you see brands that state in their bio “sustainable” or “eco-conscious” brand and then you go on their website, which I always do, and see that they are working with polyester! There is a considerable difference between practicing with sustainable fabrics and being a sustainable brand. 

Yes, it’s greenwashing! In my research for all my journalistic pieces I have to go through each and every brand to check I am writing about them accurately. I often find polyester on their website, it’s very demotivating sometimes. 

Yes it’s very depressing. A few weeks ago I read another report that said the trend of sustainability was going down. I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. It’s not a trend! I defend my values and everything I create is committed to saving the environment even down to the thread. And I can tell you it’s a lot of work to do it.

And then you went on to start at Mcqueen, one year there, how was it?

It was amazing, the whole time I was thinking he was here, he was here, I fell in love! The job was really hard but I have to be really thankful to McQueen and Celine - all I know now is thanks to them.

And Phoebe Philo and McQueen are two of the industry greats so…

It was amazing, they work so hard. But they were also hard years because I didn’t have a social life, I was only working. 18 hours per day, but I was so happy to do it, it was only a temporary thing. I learnt a lot, I learnt a lot of technical things. When you learn professionally it’s different to school.

So you went from Celine to McQueen straight away, what was your position? 

I was a trainee assistant, I was working close to a senior designer. I had to design a piece from the pattern to the final look - it was very creative. For me Celine was a very good time, I love the design and Phoebe Philo. Of course there are influences from Celine in my designs, you can see it in my collections. 

When I finished at Celine I went on to create my own brand. I was accepted at Central St Martins but couldn’t start the course due to failing a very challenging english language course. It was a very hard time because they loved my work but my english wasn't good enough. It was very hard. So I went on to establish my own brand in 2018. We launched in January.

So you knew from the beginning that you wanted to work with sustainable fabrics?

Of course, in 2018 it doesn’t make sense to work in any other way. I was super focused, I knew the things I wanted to do with these values. With these values I started to make the company. The first value was sustainability, everything grew from this central value.

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It’s ingrained in everything you guys do, it’s the core of your concept, which is so important. All of your collections are named after a “world wound”, is it so that the world wound addressed in the collection uses fabrics directly connected to that wound?

Every collection that we have or will create will be coordinates for the area in which a disaster occurred. We want this to raise awareness for the impact we are having on our planet. This means we are subconsciously informing our customers - each collection has an informative aspect to it. For example the plastic island coordinates. In this collection, the thread of this label is made from recycled plastic bottles - PET. We decided to do it in this material because the collection has the coordinates for the plastic island. This is an aspect we want to continue - we’ve already got our conceptual identity and coordinates for the next collection.   

What challenges you with regards to choosing to create sustainably?

The biggest challenge is to find a supplier that has the same values as us. I always want to meet them in person. For me it’s really important to know their values are the same as ours. It’s difficult to find a good supplier. I always ask for the certifications. If I can visit them, I visit them. I want to meet them in person. Sometimes suppliers want to know how I work - because they also have a strong commitment to the environment. I want that - it’s good.

What do you think it takes for a brand in 2019 to be truly sustainable? Especially when pondering the question ‘do we need more clothes?’.

First, the thing I always say is less quantity more quality.

Secondly, I think all the brands could work on it. We work with a controlled production on demand. We are now working to measure the impact of each garment, what is the footprint of each piece. We strive for complete transparency. It’s important to be as conscious as we can. We also strive for zero waste, for example we will create all the care labels from old waste.

Being in Barcelona there are a lot of sustainable initiatives, but I was surprised at the disparity between vintage shops and the amount of plastic waste. Do you think people are environmentally conscious?

No. I think in Spain we have a lot to learn. The people have to be educated, I feel that. Saturday I went to the beach, people throwing the plastic in the sea. People have to be made aware. I felt like a member of Greenpeace asking people to pick up a plastic bag floating past them in the ocean, they have to care about that. These little acts, are really important, even if it saves one fish. 

Are there any brands that you currently particularly admire?

No, if I can be completely honest. There are many brands I admire because of their style of inspiration and aesthetics. And there are brands I admire because of their ethics but not combined. I admire Stella McCartney of course, even they are not 100% perfect. But, this being said, young companies are very exciting. 

You have described the brand as being unisex, is that something that was important to you from the beginning?

Yes, we have some womens pieces as well but we aim to be completely unisex. We say we don’t want to be a gendered brand. We don't want to stipulate people, our collection is for environment - whoever likes it can wear it. 

What’s in store for Sonia Carrasco?

We were just in Paris for a showroom which went really well. And we are about to be launched in department stores in Japan, which is really exciting. Which is a big step for us.