The Russian born, Austrian raised and now semi-London based designer is, despite her pristine appearance, very unconventional, and not least because of her start in the industry. Having originally been pushed by her parents to develop an education in business, Sabinna found inspiration in her grandma, who taught the designer how to knit and crochet at a young age – skills that would come to form the crux of the designer’s brand. “I thought ‘wow, she’s a magician’ and I wanted to do it too” she says, explaining how it was the magic of watching her grandmother create something from nothing more than yarn that initially pushed her to pursue a more creative – and less stable – career choice.
After completing her BA at Central Saint Martins, she worked in knitwear at Dior, where she was offered a job, and at Mary Katrantzou before deciding to launch her own brand. Now, she’s braving a radical new approach to launching a label. Culture Trip caught up with her to find out why.
Culture Trip: Let’s start with the basics. You’re based in London and Vienna – what’s the fashion scene like in Austria?
Sabinna Rachimova: If you’re not in the gang, in the clique, it is harder to break into the scene – people go to creative schools, and then to fashion universities. In Austria they have a lot of heritage; you think of Mozart and Klimt, but you don’t think of modernity. But that’s beginning to change, there’s a lot of talented people but they tend to go abroad. I think you should always think outside of your borders. It doesn’t matter where you’re based because at the end of the day the internet goes further. I feel more welcome and happy in London.
CT: London is so big…
SR: It’s an advantage and a disadvantage; obviously the competition is bigger, but the market is also bigger. There are more possibilities. I felt like, “I don’t want to be the one who breaks through all the walls in Austria”.
CT: I’m thinking of the Antwerp Six, but I suppose they came up as a collective.
SR: Antwerp is a great example. When people think about Vienna they always say “Oh Antwerp did it, and they’re not big”. But then Austria has Helmut Lang for example, and they have a great university for applied arts. It has been quite insular, but that’s starting to change and I want to be one of their pioneers from the beginning.
CT: Fashion is a very competitive industry, how did you even begin to launch a business?
SR: I applied for hundreds of grants, in London, in Austria, in Russia. They all got rejected. I had to think about whether I wanted to give up, but then I thought: No. I think in general the fashion system needs to be re-thought. You wait to be chosen by a big institution, but it shouldn’t matter if you’re not. From the start, I had to think about a different way in and began to look for paid consultancy jobs, and then Sony and Sandqvist asked me to design a phone and matching backpack. I ended up doing my first collection with that money.
CT: What have been the biggest challenges, and how are you doing fashion differently?
SR: Trying to get your name our there is the hardest part, but we use social media a lot. Once I had the basic costs covered I began to focus on business development and specifically, how to reshape the industry. I produce everything in the UK and it’s important for me to have good quality, but the problem is that the price is so high. So what I tried to do was to reach the end customer directly. I don’t say I’m rejecting the other way, but the industry is big enough to have both.
CT: That’s a big change…
SR: The season before, a lot of my private customers said “I want to buy that, I saw it at the show”, and I had to say, “oh, it’s not available for six months”. And customers don’t care about the mechanisms of production, they just want the skirt. Six months later, they don’t. This was the start of re-shaping. We have an advantage because bigger brands have existing partners and commitments, but we can be much more nimble and flexible. Everyone tries so hard to copy a successful story, which is normal, but sometimes the solution is elsewhere. In general fashion has gone beyond the product now. It’s a lifestyle. So my plan is to continue to question and challenge existing ideas.
CT: Do you think that fashion has to change?
SR: Fashion is difficult because you are originally creating something people don’t really need. However when I stay at the shopping event post-show I can tell customers about the process of the creation, which means they go home not only with a piece of clothing, but with a story. That’s why you have a higher price point than Zara, [or other companies which don’t] offer a sustainable model. You have to find another way of bringing people in.
CT: Looking ahead, what are your influences and inspirations for next season?
SR: Next season is going to be really cool! After the show we are not only going to have our shopping event, but we also paired up with Fashion Innovation Agency to bring Augmented Reality into fashion. I’m very excited about that. In terms of research, I like to explore personal topics, especially the teenage years. This season will focus a lot on first love and first crushes, the dilemmas between changing for someone and sticking to your guns.