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December 14, 2017
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From Isabell de Hillerin S/S14. Source: isabelldehillerin.com.

Since Summer 2009 Isabell de Hillerin has been making avant-garde fashion in Berlin, Germany. While establishing her label internationally, she is also trying to preserve a traditional handcraft that provides a future for women in Romania and Moldova. Lara Wiedeking asks de Hillerin about her designs and the social responsibilities of the fashion industry.

Lara Wiedeking: What is your number one rule for any design collection?

Isabell de Hillerin: It's very important not to overload my collections; the designs need to work together - form a bigger, elegant picture, so to say. And then every design is accessorised with subtle details.

Traditional weaving in Romania.

Source: isabelldehillerin.com.

LW:  You use weaving and embroidering as part of these details, but it's not just for the aesthetics, is it?

IdH: No, it's not. I want to help preserve this traditional handcraft. It is passed down from mother to daughter, but hardly anybody uses it anymore, which is a shame. Part of my family is from Romania [and] that's probably why this tradition is so important to me. It hurts me to see it die out.

LW: Were you born in Romania?

IdH: No, I was born and raised in Munich, [but] in Romania I feel at home. I go there twice a year to discuss the possibilities for my next collection. In Moldova for example I work with women from different villages and it's so much fun to sit together with those women, thinking about old patterns that are hardly produced anymore [and] how they can be included in my collection.

LW: How do these women react when you visit them?

IdH: It's very touching. Whenever I visit them, I'm welcomed with their overwhelming hospitality. These women are very, very proud of their work. Their technique of weaving and embroidering was passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter. It's a very complex way of manufacturing, [usually reserved] for festive clothing pieces, like traditional dresses, christening robes or wedding dresses.

People always tell me to take my production to eastern Europe, because it's cheaper there. But I have principles, values I don't want to betray. I'm a German label, why produce abroad?

LW: How much do these women depend on the work you give them?

IdH: The women I work with live in very rural, isolated areas of Moldova and Romania. They are very poor, [and many] young adults [in these countries] have to go abroad to work and send their parents money. I'm able to support these families financially and that's great.

LW: Before fashion week this summer you started a crowdfunding campaign at startnext.de to finance your fashion show. How hard is it for young designers to set a foot in fashion industry in Germany?

IdH: With crowdfunding I tried [something] new. Fashion has this very glamorous image [and] I am very lucky to be able to show my designs at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, but very few know about what's going on backstage - the amount of money necessary to get a show running.

LW: And you have your high ethical standards to consider into the cost. Would you ever make trade-offs?

IdH: No. Never.

LW: Or take your production somewhere other than Berlin?

IdH: No. People always tell me to take my production to eastern Europe, because it's cheaper there. But I have principles, values I don't want to betray. I'm a German label, why produce abroad? Of course it makes my clothes more expensive, but they are also of a higher quality.

Related: The Cost of Low-Price Clothing.

Isabell and the weavers of Moldova.

Source: isabelldehillerin.com.

LW: How important is the social responsibility of a designer?

IdH: Nobody can claim [ignorance to] what is happening when clothes are produced cheaply. It's still the designers', and the consumer choice as to how they want to handle these things. For me it is very important to produce fair, and that does not only apply to the women in Moldavia and Romania, it also applies to my choice of fabric and the material I buy to make my clothes.

LW: In Germany cheaper fashion stores like H&M or Primark have continued to grow - fast fashion is what the customer asks for. Do you think society values your engagement with ethical fashion?

IdH: Well, the kind of costumer I design for either has a sense for these values, or has regained it over time. I constantly call up on society to change the way they consume, to start appreciating things again and be more sustainable.

LW: Where can customers purchase your clothes?

IdH: There are two stores in Germany, here in Berlin that sell my clothes. There is one in Hong Kong, California, London and Australia - it's really mixed.

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