Yannick Aellen: «Fashion should also be fun»
How do we reconcile our desire for sustainability with our desire always to be seen wearing something new in every Instagram post? We talked to Mode Suisse founder Yannick Aellen about the fashion industry - and found out that «fake» can be sustainable, too.
Mr Aellen, how much is a T-shirt worth?
It's difficult to put an exact value on it. But I would say that a normal white T-shirt should cost at least 30 to 35 francs, probably more.
What's your opinion of T-shirts that cost 5.95 francs?
A T-shirt incurs production, manual labour, purchasing and materials costs. A retail price as low as that can't be fair to the people who have played a part in its creation. But of course there will be families on a tight budget who are pleased that there are goods like this on offer. So I can fully understand why they need to go for cheap merchandise.
What's your opinion of T-shirts that cost 595 francs?
It depends what sort of a garment it is. If it's a one-off, or one of only a very limited run, a price like that may be reasonable. Perhaps it has been hand-painted or has attractive appliqués on it? That quickly adds to the price. The work that's gone into it has to be evaluated and factored in. But of course, there are some brands that are just money-making enterprises. They put a huge mark-up on the garment just because of the name on the label.
Yannick Aellen (44) is founder and director of Mode Suisse. He grew up in the Canton of Bern, has lived in Paris and England, and now lives in Zurich.
Whether it's too cheap or too expensive: sometimes you get the feeling the fashion industry is plain mad. What do you think about the sector, looking at it globally?
There are many facets to the fashion industry. It's quite normal to think first and foremost of the big name brands, fashion weeks, glamour and high fashion. To be honest, Covid hasn't been purely bad news. The slow-down has done the high fashion segment good. The sector has been wanting a slow-down for a long time now. People were dashing from one fashion week to the next - I think they have realised that they don't all have to jump on a plane to London or New York week after week. And that there's nothing wrong with smaller, or fewer, collections.
What problems still exist?
Communication - that is to say, explaining what we're about - is a big challenge. Even in a prosperous country such as Switzerland, the idea that «cheap is good» prevails in places. Even if many of these people could afford to pay more and really ought to be better informed. It is important that people understand why good products cost proper money.
What, in your opinion, would be the ideal approach to buying and wearing fashion?
First and foremost, we should be buying fashion consciously and selectively. That means, before buying anything we ask ourselves: do I need this? And, who made it? But it's important to stress that fashion should also be fun. I am turning 45 in a couple of weeks' time - at my age it's easy to say that we should be more conscious of what we're buying, and why. I bought a lot more when I was a teenager and in my twenties. A large proportion of young people today are much more conscious of the need to live sustainably - and they champion buying second-hand, for example.
The 20th staging of Mode Suisse will take place on Monday 30 August in Zurich. It has been providing a twice-yearly platform for Swiss fashion designers for ten years now. Almost from the start, Mode Suisse - and with it, the national fashion design sector - has been supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund. The Fund seeks out and funds projects with differing thematic focal points that aim to strike out in new directions and try out forward-looking solutions. The aim is for these projects to become self-sustaining after a certain period of time. The sponsorship of Mode Suisse by the Migros Pioneer Fund and other associate partners will end this year. But Mode Suisse will carry on, stresses Yannick Aellen. It has already entered into new partnerships and are looking for further sponsors.
What do you think of shopping as a hobby?
It's OK from time to time - but I don't think we should be encouraging it as the sole leisure pursuit for a Saturday.
How should consumers reconcile a desire for sustainability with always wanting to be seen wearing something new in every Instagram post?
For «Insta fashionistas» this is indeed a case of two worlds colliding. But, for example, there are platforms that allow you to hire outfits - high fashion ones, too. So if someone really feels the need to be photographed wearing a new outfit every week, they can hire or borrow one. What's more, there are some exciting new online tools that allow you to don a fake outfit. You're not really wearing it, but in the image it looks as if you're wearing a Balenciaga pullover or a Chanel outfit. That could give people who thrive on always doing or wearing something new quite a thrill.
How is social media influencing our behaviour as consumers?
Anyone who decides to use these channels will be subconsciously influenced by them. But this, of course, depends on how old you are, to which bubble(s) you belong and which social media you use. With the kids it's quite blatant: it's as if they're wearing uniform. But young people need their role models and their movements. That's normal and has always been part of pop culture.
Can fashion be sustainable?
It's not easy to reconcile fashion with sustainability: after all, fashion uses up resources, even when the raw materials used are wholly organic or the equivalent thereof. But it is not impossible - take the case of upcycling collections, for example. However, we should not forget that sustainability works on several levels: the fashion industry creates jobs, feeds whole families.
Many fashion companies now have sustainable collections. What do you think of that?
It's a good thing; and it's important. Hermès recently launched its first bag made of a fungus-like material. And vegan leather is becoming more of a priority for many other haute couture labels. Enterprises such as the Swiss company «Sohotree», which makes leather out of apples, are attracting a lot of interest. It is important that everyone knows that sustainability is a big issue in the fashion industry.
But not everything that claims to be sustainable is in fact sustainable, is it?
Of course it's wrong if companies offer sustainable collections in their portfolios, but in all other respects do and promote the opposite. That's just disreputable marketing. But if a company has employees who are genuinely trying to make their production more sustainable, step by step... well then, we should be welcoming this. Issues such as sustainability have to become mainstream topics of discussion if we are to get to a stage where it becomes a given.
Mr Aellen, which items of clothing should every person have in their wardrobe?
- A good pair of trousers that fits well and looks cool, that you could ideally cycle to work in, but which would be elegant enough to wear in meetings, too.
- A perfectly-fitting jacket.
- A favourite shirt in black and white that works well and can breathe.
- A good rain jacket and rain trousers that are breathable.
- A hoodie that's comfortable to wear around the house but also looks good when you're out and about.
- A Bananatex Qwstion bag, providing you with a home from home.
Can I assume that the T-shirt costing 595 francs was produced fairly?
Not necessarily. Perversely, there are cotton T-shirts to be found on the international market that cost that much and just have a printed motif.
You once said in an interview that the Swiss fashion scene is already sustainable, even before this became such a hot topic. Why?
It seems to me that we Swiss have grown up with an awareness of this issue. As a kid growing up in the '80s, it was obvious we had to separate out batteries, metal and glass from the general rubbish. But in France, up until a few years ago, everything was thrown in the same bin. For as long as I've been working in this sector, it has been important to most Swiss designers where the goods are coming from. They would prefer to manufacture here or in neighbouring Europe rather than further afield. And that trend has become even more pronounced in the last decade.
What's special about the Swiss fashion scene?
Its huge diversity. It is always pleasing to see the positive, somewhat surprised reactions of non-Swiss audiences. They find our designers refreshing. We have good schools of fashion in Geneva, Zurich and Basel, many talented designers, good professors. And for sure, with Mode Suisse we have been able to change and professionalise a few aspects of the industry. Swiss fashion today is extremely diverse, teasing and able to get a dialogue going. But we also offer classic fashion. I think we offer an exciting mix of brands here in Switzerland.
Yannick Aellen: 10 favourite looks from the past 10 years
Many Swiss men and women have never worn a garment designed by a Swiss fashion house - either because of a lack of awareness or because the price is too high.
I can only recommend that they find out what's on offer. They should take a look at the online shop «Laufmeter», for example, which is also supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund. You can buy some fantastic clothes made by Swiss designers there. They're cheaper there, too. Our Mode Suisse pieces will be on display in Jelmoli in Bahnhofstrasse in September.
Which specific brands would you recommend starting with?
The first one that springs to mind is Nina Yuun. Simple and yet very sophisticated, excellent value for money. I could also recommend a silk blouse from «Mourjjan x Ginny Litscher» or Vanessa Schindler earrings. Another good way to start might be with some sunglasses from «Sol Sol Ito» or Viu? If the budget is a little bigger, I would really recommend looking at Julia Heuer or Nomadissem items.
For 10 years now, you have been providing - with Mode Suisse - a platform for Swiss fashion designers. How are Swiss designers doing?
Covid was bad news. It was difficult enough beforehand to get through to a wide audience and stir up interest. But the pandemic has made independent fashion even more of a niche phenomenon. Intriguingly, however, interest in local products has grown - which definitely presents us with an opportunity. But the designers are certainly not in a position to create their collections and then sit back and wait for the money to roll in. They have to work hard for each franc earned.
What trends are you observing at the moment?
We are currently still mid-season, so I'm curious to see what our designers will be presenting for next summer. But at Mode Suisse I am expecting them to be daring in terms of both colour and comfort. I think we'll be seeing collections that exude positivity and hope.
Is there a trend you would never adopt?
When I was a twenty-year-old in Paris, I was - unsurprisingly - happy to follow a lot more trends. These days I have my own uniforms, so to speak. I know what works for me.
So, what's your uniform?
(Looks down at what he's wearing) What I've got on today, for example. I'm wearing a shirt from the «Le Shirt» collection, designed for the most recent Mode Suisse by Rafael Kouto working in collaboration with the Zurich Silk Association. It's a somewhat angular shirt, with big sleeves and an '80s/'90s touch to it - but also an Afro-Japanese feeling about it. I feel perfectly fitted out in it, no matter what time of day.
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Photo / stage: Mourjjan, © Alexander Palacios