There must be a reason why human beings often need a disaster of huge proportions to come to their senses. For designer Sara Sandor it all stemmed from the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. Thousands of kilometers from Hungary, where the creator of fashion brand Nanushka lives, but bordering a choice of truth, honesty, awareness, and the fight for a fair job. With passion, commitment, and daily dedication, Sara Sandor has created a brand that is very much talked about and is a very special case in the European scene. I’M Firenze Digest reviews the brand’s history as a case study for new sustainable awareness in Fashion.
by Giulia Volpini. Cover image Nanushka P/F 2022. Photo credits: Pierre-Ange Carlotti. Courtesy: Nanushka.
Since her childhood, Creative Director Sandra Sandor felt very close to nature: she loved hiking or spending time outdoors with her dog. She always had the idea of creating a sustainable brand, even 15 years ago, when the word “sustainability” was still a bit ambiguous.
Sandor has tried since the beginning to create a brand that values durability, recyclability, and traceability.
However, it was 2013 tragedy of the Rana Plaza collapse that opened her eyes even more and made her realize that what was happening in the world, especially in eastern countries, was more than unfair. It was brutal and violent.
The Rana Plaza was a clothing factory based in Savar, Bangladesh. For many years the workers had been complaining about their unfair contracts, their endless working hours and the unstable conditions of the eight-story building in which they worked. On the morning of 24 April 2013, the building collapsed. 1129 people were killed.
This disastrous event taught the whole world a lesson: the fast fashion industry cannot continue for long. We need to work to stop this need for impulsive buying and try to start buying better, with an eye to the people behind our clothes.
After this event, many designers like Sandra Sandor decided to focus even more on sustainability and safe working conditions.
Nanushka shows a deep respect for nature, the community, and the world in which we live. In fact, nothing is wasted here, not even leftover fabric. The project focuses on sustainability, circularity, upcycling, the use of low-impact materials and traditional as well as contemporary craftsmanship.
Their goal is to create a wardrobe made of long-lasting materials, such as regenerated leather, materials with cruelty-free vegan leather, or sunglasses with organic lenses. The brand also provides a garment repair service, precisely with the aim of extending the product life cycle. Where the garment cannot be repaired, it will be recycled or donated to create theatre costumes.
The brand cares a lot about the concept of “we are all equal”. For this reason, Creative Director Sandra Sandor has worked over the years to provide financial support to non-profit organizations that work with children in the poor areas of Transylvania and Hungary, trying to secure a better future for them. She has also showed her support to the Art Education School in Miskolc – the fourth largest city in Hungary – as the brand believes that art is the essence of life. The support provided by an important brand like Nanushka can be essential for students who are unable to afford proper education.
Another initiative is to help non-profit organization Bagàzs, which is trying to prevent imbalances among the members of the gypsy community. In 2019 the brand helped to teach some women of the community how to sew bags to create employment opportunities for them.
Like many sustainable brands, Nanushka is constantly striving to improve their work. Since the main purposes of the brand are both sustainability and equality, they started a collaboration with the small Hungarian village of Terèny, near the border with Slovakia. This collaboration has a double goal: to create employment opportunities for the local women, and to try and reduce the amount of plastics in Nanushka’s products (especially found in accessories) by using ceramic finishes made exclusively by these women.
We can see the brand’s constant commitment to making the entire production process as transparent as possible.
The founder is an innovative person and in step with the times. She had the clever idea of adding a QR code to their product labels with the history of each garment, its composition and care instructions. Nanushka also published a sustainability report in 2019.
However, if we had to find a downside to the brand, Nanushka clothing is very expensive.
For a sustainable brand it is important to ensure quality and protect the environment, but at the same time it should also enable people to afford it.
Sustainability is still too often thought of as a new thing, which is why brands tend to raise their price tags. We should understand that “sustainable” is no longer synonymous with “novelty’’, but it is the approach that we should all adopt.
If we want to change the world, sustainable products must become a normal type of purchase. Over time, these products will no longer be associated with novelty, and they will come with a lower price. We only need to wait for people to realize it.
To be even more efficient, sustainable brands could try and expand their customer base; as for Nanushka, their offer includes special products with an avant-garde feel that focuses on younger consumers. Brands with a sustainable mindset could try and create more basic and complementary lines, allowing different categories of people to be able to buy and join a different lifestyle.
Giulia Volpini is an undergraduate student in Fashion Business and Marketing at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.