Unpolished gets to know a Polish knitwear designer Berenika Czarnota. She unravels her feelings towards the fashion industry, shares valuable advice and talks about her career as a designer.
Last year marked a decade since you debuted as a designer. Inevitably, all of those years were a wave of successes, challenges and failures, but also an intensive time filled with valuable experiences. Looking back at those 10 years in the industry, are there any particular lessons you’ve learnt or reflections that stand out?
In all honesty, I feel like I was truly able to dedicate the time and focus on my brand completely only over the last three, maybe four years when I left an international clothing concern. Of course, before this happened I was still working on my collection, but equally dedicating my time to a full-time office job. As all of the business trips, responsibilities and overtime piled up – and trust me, loads of overtime was involved – it was incredibly hard for me to work on my own brand and create a collection, but because I’m such a stubborn person, I knew deep down that working in a corporate company wasn’t the last milestone for me as a designer.At the same time, working within this industry from a corporate perspective showed me how unethical it can be. There are so many conversations in the air about the Bangladeshi seamstresses for instance, but nobody talks about the other side of this issue, where the owners of those factories are simply forced to produce products below their minimum profit margins. So, realistically the only side that is earning a profit here is the client – a clothing company.
The phase of creating a fashion collection appears to be a rather personal experience for a designer, a unique journey almost. How do you approach this process?
A few months before the beginning of each season, I’ll usually start to collect fabric and yarn samples from my suppliers, create colour palettes, pin particular fabric combinations on mannequins and sketch. I don’t think that my approach significantly differs from other designers’.
What inspires you the most?
I find the people around me to be the greatest source of inspiration, especially the street life. I love to observe how women put together different colours, textures and forms of fabrics. I’ve just returned from a trip to Copenhagen and let me tell you, the style of Dutch girls is just something else. Flicking through dusty, vintage magazines from the ‘80s and ‘90s, visiting galleries and museums, – I look for inspiration in the impressionist masterpieces. I guess I have one rule which I always stick to and that’s to never contemplate or examine what your competitors are creating. I don’t feel the need to artificially inspire myself this way. I’m a fashion designer. I can design and invent. You enrapture and take our breath away with every collection. Highest quality materials, natural fabrics and even satin reign in them. So, I guess the next question that comes to my mind is why knitwear and hand-crafts? How did all of this initiate?
It all started when I was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź. My immediate thought was that a designer should not limit his imagination to only a singular material. Personally, I love the combination of light silks and heavy knitwear. For me knitwear creates a lot of scope, I think it almost doesn’t have any boundaries. Whereas fabric limits me a little or maybe it’s just a blockage I created in my head. You can create everything from wool, whether it’s a sweater, a Christmas tree ornament, a handbag, a scarf or even a sculpture – the list is endless. I don’t perceive as many possibilities when it comes to fabrics, but that’s just a personal opinion.
Did you ever anticipate for garment design to take such a serious, professional turn? Have you always known that this was something you wanted to focus on?
A very long time ago I wanted to paint. I wanted to be a professional artist. I even planned to enrol onto an art course at ASP in Kraków. However, when I begun thinking about it more precisely, I very quickly realised that finding a job with such degree afterwards wouldn’t be a guarantee and that painting and creating artworks the way I wanted to, wasn’t necessarily going to pay my bills. In the end, I guess it was all down to destiny. Have you received a piece of advice that’s still relevant for you today?
Absolutely – that one of the most important things in life is to enhance your knowledge and expertise, and to never give up.
What does fashion mean to you?
As clique as it sounds, fashion is a passion of mine. A way of living my life.
In one of your previous interviews, you’ve embarked on a thought which really stood out to me – ‘I believe that designer clothing makes us feel special’. Can you unravel that a little further?
Everyone has a favourite garment in the wardrobe – whether that’d be a dress, a sweater or a coat, not to mention shoes. Those favourite pieces allow us to gain more confidence. We end up feeling more beautiful, and that beauty really shines through. Designer clothing pushes those confidence levels even further, as the creation processes of those items contrast with those followed by high-street brands. Everything is more thoughtful, more precise, more special. Going down the memory lane of your experiences and fashion encounters, what advice would you give to young designers entering the industry?
Be curious. Be stubborn. Set your goals and – I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – do not give up. If one door closes right in front of you, another will open.
Without a doubt, the fashion industry is one of the most competitive industries out there with a constant pressure of being and staying relevant. Is there a recipe for success?
For me it’s being stubborn and believing in everything I do and create. If I don’t, then why should anyone else? What’s also extremely important to notice and truly appreciate are the people that you work with, from seamstresses to photographers, as they are also a huge part of your success. Always be thoughtful and grateful. Does it ever worry you how fast and time consuming this industry has become? The pace of it all seems concerning to say the least.
Of course, it’s concerning. The most worrying aspect of it all is the amount of garments produced by companies and manufacturers who don’t have a particular consumer in mind. I try my hardest to work ethically, for instance by creating and producing a particular design in smaller quantities. This way, if an item sells out, I’m left with an indication to produce additional batches of that particular garment. Our environment doesn’t need more waste. Sometimes, if a particular piece didn’t work or sell, I completely pull it apart, deconstruct it and create new sweaters, hats or scarves. Due to the high quality of our yarns and wool, you’ll never be able to tell that the hat you are holding was in fact a sweater not so long ago.
I want to end with possibly the most predictable question out there, but I’m really eager to find out what’s next for Berenika Czarnota?
I want to learn, improve, become a designer and continue to work for a company I’m proud to call my own. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.