Meet: Sara Pignatelli
Sara Pignatelli studied MA Fashion and the Environment program at London College of Fashion, graduating in 2014. We met with Sara to find out more about her with her sustainable shoe brand, minimize damage MAXIMIZE ART, she plans to slowly tackle the damage caused to the environment by the Fashion Industry.
What made you decide to come to London and study at LCF? And what specifically interested you about Fashion & the Environment?
I studied my undergraduate Fashion Design at the Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, in Lisbon, where I was inspired by the work of Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen and Nicolas Ghesquière, who were presenting highly futuristic clothing at that time. Their work fuelled my interest in new technologies, and my creations became very conceptual and were conceived beyond wearability and commerciality.
I went on to do several short courses at Central Saint Martins, where a teacher approached me about an internship, which led me to move to London in 2008 to explore job opportunities in the fashion industry. In 2010 a Portuguese footwear company invited me to join their design team and I accepted the challenge. I had always liked shoes, but I never thought that I would one day be creating them. Entering this industry led to a tremendous shift in my thinking – I realised that innovative designs don’t always sell. My interest in the design process slowly decreased and I became passionate about manufacturing and business strategies.
The footwear industry is one of the driving forces of the Portuguese economy and I worked in daily contact with factories and suppliers for four years, including production management in Indian factories and attendance at several trade shows in Europe and the US. I saw with my own eyes the damage that this industry is causing and the idea of continuing working under these standards became unbearable. After the oil industry, fashion is the second most harmful, with shoes being having the highest impact on the environment.
When I came across the MA Fashion and the Environment program at London College of Fashion, I felt that it could be the paradigm shift of my career. I decided to follow my gut, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
What was the best thing LCF taught you? Did it help you prepare for life after?
Before the course, I only had a basic idea of what sustainable fashion could be or look like. It was in the context of this MA program that I gained a global perspective of sustainable practices and research in the fashion field.
As an MA program, students are expected to be independent and that can be either confusing or scary. Teachers are not there to tell you what to do and how to do it, but if you stay aware you will understand that LCF puts you in direct contact with pioneering resources, technologies, research centres, organisations and professionals that are actually moving towards sustainable solutions – the network opportunities are outstanding. Once you are clear about your goal, there is no place like LCF to actualise it, because you will be able to present and discuss your projects with the most brilliant and forward thinking people.
On the top of that, LCF sees each student as a single individual with a unique talent that should be motivated and pushed forward. So this is a precious opportunity to be yourself, to put your ideas out there and see what you can do with them. LCF also has a Careers department who help you improve your CV and find your place in the Fashion Industry. I met with this department at the very beginning of the course and it helped me make the most of all the opportunities within the course.
What was the best thing about living in London? What one piece of advice would you give a student moving to London?
London naturally became my second home and a place that I cannot live without. In my perspective, anyone aiming to work in fashion should come here. The city is so vibrant and there is so much information everywhere that, honestly, I feel that I am learning just from walking in the streets with my headphones on. One day I saw an advert with a picture of the Queen on it, with the writing; “we are not afraid of what is different, because being different is what makes us stronger”. To my eyes, the meaning of this sentence is the feeling I get from London. There is space for everyone to be unique, there is no judgement and people feel free and comfortable to express themselves in the most creative ways – through their style, art, music, business…
But there are downsides too – for those who come from sunny places, like me, the weather can really affect your mood… but slowly, with time, you will understand that there is also beauty in foggy days, which normally are great days to focus on your work!
The best advice I can give is to get out of your room, explore the city as much as you can, meet people, go to exhibitions, conferences, house parties, BBQs… and, if you like riding, GET A BIKE and forget the tube and buses. London looks so beautiful when you are riding. And get your business card done asap, you will need it.
Have the relationships you formed at the University of the Arts helped you since graduating?
The chances for networking at UAL are huge. Not only did I share classes with students/professionals from around the globe, the number of conferences, symposiums and talks are infinite. At these events you could meet anyone from Lilly Cole to your future boss/partner. Many of these contacts are also Facebook groups, where everyone shares information daily.
At the moment I am working exclusively on my footwear brand, but until few months ago I was still doing some production management services, helping other fashion brands find factories and suppliers in the Portuguese manufacturing industry. This activity kept me in contact with some of my teachers/tutors and we frequently exchange information about new materials, technologies and how to implement Portuguese materials in the UK market.
As a UAL student I was given 5000 credits to spend at Own It, which is a UAL department created to offer intellectual property (IP) advice to students and staff members. As graduates, we can continue using these credits for two years after graduation.
The Own It lawyers and advisors helped me with the whole process of registering the brand and product. I was faced with a particular situation that I needed legal advice for, and Own It put me in contact with three other organisations/institutions that helped. Through this I ended up meeting my “business-angel”, my right-hand, who has been guiding me on the business side since then! “Sometimes, life puts you in touch with the people you need to meet to help you”… It’s destiny… it happened to me!
What have you been doing since graduating?
Through my MA research I came to a formula to reduce the environmental impact of a standard deck shoe. My ambition was to prove that is possible to start improving a standard day-to-day product and the deck shoe was the style I sold the most during the periods I had worked for other companies.
With this project I was given a Creative Enterprise Award in 2014 by UAL, and second prize in the Ernst & Young Enterprise 2015 award by NOVA School of Business and Economics. Being awarded helped me realise that my idea could be much more than just a project full of good intentions written down on paper.
Choosing a name was not an easy task – A huge percentage of consumers still see sustainable fashion as “boring”, “hippie” or “green” and I wanted to go against all that. After eight months of struggling, the’ eureka’ moment happened and I came up with ‘minimize damage MAXIMIZE ART’. ‘Minimize Damage (MD)’ stands for our goal to reduce the waste ending up as landfill by upcycling and recycling materials to produce some parts of our shoes. ‘Maximize Art (MA)’ stands for the exclusivity of each pair of our shoes because the materials we use are unique and finite cuts, meaning very few pairs of each design are produced.
After graduation I started meeting manufacturing companies, looking for the right partners to convert my idea into a real business. It took me precisely one year to produce my first stock, which came out by the end of November 2015. Minimize Damage – Maximize Art Ltd is based in London, while all our shoes are made in Portugal (where most companies work under ethical standards). Our eShop, www.MDMAshoes.com, was launched on the first week of January this year.
MDMAshoes only offers limited editions and don’t plan collections one year in advance, which is a business model that goes completely against the current standards of the fashion system. I know that I will have to create new strategies to put this brand and product in the market, but I honestly believe that we cannot continue operating in the same way and it’s time to reshape the future of this industry. The pace we have been consuming fashion is generating millions of tons of rubbish per second and we have to think of what to do with it, to start looking at it as a raw material. This is only a tiny drop in the ocean, but it is already a step forward towards a more sustainable practice.
What are your plans for the future?
Our first collection was named UPcycling and converts defective clothes and textiles into shoe parts while all the soles are made from recycled rubber waste… but this is only the beginning. We are already testing new recycling solutions to present in the future but we will do it slowly because the public needs to understand what we are doing and the manufacturing companies need to accept and adapt to these changes. Collaborating with other fashion brands is also in our plans…
I never dreamed of developing a career in the footwear industry or creating my own brand – they were things that happened naturally. I found job opportunities in this sector and, suddenly, I realised that shoes became the strongest tool I had to start doing what I always really-really wanted: to work towards a better and more sustainable future.
My greatest wish for minimize damage MAXIMIZE ART is for it to belong to an emerging era of business and consumption – more conscious, positive, meaningful and ethical – in which every brand, businesses and governments will take Nature in consideration.