Building a Sustainable Brand With Purpose - Tips From Natalia Zawada, Founder of Starseeds
As the founder of YogaClicks, one of my great privileges, in creating a sales platform for the very best yogi makers, has been meeting Natalia Zawada. She is the Founder and Art Director at Starseeds – one of the best brands for sustainable, luxury athlesiurewear and yoga clothing.
A career in fashion and yoga
Natalia received her Fashion/Tailoring degree at London College of Fashion, her Fine Art degree at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and, as well as being a dedicated lifetime yoga student and practitioner, she’s a certified Hatha, Yin and AcroYoga Teacher.
Natalia’s fashion journey started over 15 years ago, while she was working in print, at luxury fashion and lifestyle magazines, in Warsaw, including Elle Poland.
After relocating to London, she took work placements in several fashion houses, and was lucky enough to work in the Alexander McQueen print department where she completed a tailoring degree, following in the footsteps of the Master.
One day, on her yoga mat, working through the stress of another day in the office, Natalia made the brave decision to leave the world of luxury fashion behind and start a slow fashion brand. Shortly afterwards Starseeds was born.
One of the first sustainable clothing brands
Starseeds was one of the first sustainable clothing brands; launched seven years ago in London. Natalia uses an amazing variety of organic, sustainable, and recycled materials, including clothes made from coffee grounds, organic cotton loungewear and wild bamboo bras. The brand is especially well known for its coffee leggings and the famous Shakerato shorts, bamboo bralets, and sculpting leggings which make full use of Natalia’s tailoring skills to fit and flatter.
I sat down with Natalia to talk about how she got started and what tips she’d pass on to anyone wanting to build a sustainable brand with purpose.
Building a Brand with Purpose
So many of the best sustainable businesses are rooted in a change that the founder wants to see in the world. What gave you the idea for the business? What is the change you want to make in the world?
“When we launched Starseeds there were hardly any brands using natural and sustainable materials for sportswear. I wondered why. So, one of my inspirations for making this clothing line were the materials themselves. What really triggered me though was the Rana Plaza's tragedy and the fact that the world was flooded with poor quality clothing that was produced at a cost of thousands of human lives, and trashed after a single use.
I'm already watching the change that me and a few other designers envisioned at that time. The world is slowly turning into more sustainable ways of producing fashion. There is way more awareness of how things are made and the true cost of garment production. However, there is still a long way to go. I want to see a real and genuine shift towards high quality fashion. My brand purpose is to champion environmental responsibility as a must-have for any fashion business start-up.”
Why is this so important to you?
“Before launching Starseeds I worked for high fashion brand, Alexander McQueen. While co-creating pieces of art with the design team- I understood how fashion can become a form of art and activism. Alexander McQueen was famous for relating his collections to real social and cultural issues and for that he was someone I admired.
I also learnt the practical side of garment structure during this time, which showed me how to create designs that would last more than one season.
On top of that, I come from Poland - a post-communist country - where we didn't experience abundance in high street fashion. The only choices were well tailored clothes or frugality style. My grandma would always say: “buying cheap clothes is a waste.” She would go to Berlin and spend a salary on a pair of boots. But the boots were stylish- I wear them now, a few decades later, as vintage.
So after I moved to London I was a bit shocked about how people approached fashion: to buy and bin after one use just didn't feel right.”
Packaging: always a big issue for sustainable brands. How did you come to yours? What were the hurdles? How did you overcome them?
“When we first launched the biggest struggle was finding the bio foils - they practically didn't exist in fashion. You could find a bio-bag in supermarkets already - the food industry was way ahead of us - but none of the suppliers produced flat bags for packing sportswear. We had to encourage our manufacturers to do the search with us. Meanwhile, the industry was growing, and a few recyclable foil options became available.
So, our journey started with stacking garments on top of each other in big cardboard boxes. Later we switched to recyclable, recycled, and finally biodegradable foils. It took a few years to become available, it was relatively expensive, and it was hardly possible to find a supplier for small quantities. At the moment, in Bali, we use local cassava bio-foil.
It ain't perfect- the cassava bag dissolves sometimes due to challenging weather conditions and it can damage the garments, or it can stiffen and break in cold conditions. We're still on the journey to find something 100% eco-friendly and practical at the same time.
When it comes to clothing tags, we started with organic bamboo tags and finally switched to heat printed tags for the 'less is more' principle.
For the hang tags - we used really lovely seeded paper that was plantable - you could grow a plant from it. We did that for fun, and to inspire our people to think about multiple uses of materials.
For our online packaging - we've always used recycled paper and water-based glue tape to keep it simple. In the end it's all about the long life of the garment.”
Time: An important part of making a business sustainable is making sure it’s sustainable for you. How do you manage your time? What does a typical day look like?!
“At the very beginning, like with all start-ups, it was not sustainable at all. We would work 16 hours a day and each day we would be learning something new.
At some point, when I did my yoga training, my work to live balance became more important than financial success. My daily yoga and meditation routine is sacred - I try not to miss it as it really makes me work more efficiently and supports my health and wellbeing.
In Bali though there is not such a thing as a typical day. I try to be in the flow. I went to a great business coach who helped me build a weekly structure that balances my creative work with the more masculine side of things. For my ayurvedic type (vatha dosha) it’s crucial to have a structure, but also important to not push oneself too hard”.
People: How many people work for you? Who was your first hire? What skills did you need first? Female first?
“Nobody works for me. However, a few people work with me :) I like the idea of co-creating. Mateusz, my business partner - was the first person to come on board. He felt inspired by the idea of creating a business with purpose. We have Olga – who is responsible for operations. She has been with us from day one. We delegate the marketing to a Bali based expats team, we manufacture in Bali, have a fulfilment team in Warsaw and Mateusz and I share the rest of the duties between the two of us.”
Office life: What does your office look like? Do you work at home?
“As a designer I love to have my hands on my work. I have a workshop space where I make the patterns and designs, but the rest is on the move.
This past year I spent a lot of time in the factory where we manufactured, and a great deal of time in my home office. Mateusz loves co-working spaces as he is always on the move, exploring new life destinations and meeting communities.”
What are your top five tips for creating a sustainable business?
1. Here’s my yogi mindset tip: Any actions and decisions must come from a grounded space. So, use your tools wisely - that's why I start my day with practices and rituals.
2. A surfer tip: Be open to riding the waves! I decided to move our business online before Covid happened. This was a spark of intuition and thankfully we made it through the hard times. I believe intuition is a powerful tool in business.
3. Start small - grow your business gradually.
4. Stay true to your values - make sure your business is aligned with who you are as a person.
5. Only sell products that you are proud of.
Your new collection is beautiful. Of course, there is the signature tailored cut that Starseeds is well known for, but I especially love the colours – the pink, the blue, the gold. I call it dopamine dressing! Tell me how this collection came into being, and your favourite pieces.
The new collection is a collaboration with fellow sustainable clothing brand, Touch Wear. Production is in Bali which also inspired the warm, vibrant colours. I wanted to cheer the world up after two years of the Pandemic, so yes, dopamine dressing is right!
“This sustainably made bralet, a cool, corset design disguised as a sporty bralet, doubles as innerwear and outerwear. Featuring a criss-crossed soft crop bottom for more comfort and a supporting padded bra section, its spaghetti straps make for a perfect hybrid of stylish feminine partywear and functional activewear. What I love is you can throw a black leather jacket or oversized shirt over the top and get off your yoga mat to go on a date without changing.”
“These shorts are shaping and high-waisted with a gently slanted hem, inspired by vintage lingerie designs. The middle panel with curved top stitch visually shapes the body and gently flattens the tummy without squeezing it. The slanted hem is a signature touch of mine to elongate the legs. Wear them in a set with one of Starseeds bra tops to a hot yoga class, gym session and, of course, on a bike. For a more fashion forward look, pair with a tailored jacket and fantastic boots.”
“These full-length, high waist sustainable leggings with side and back modelling panels, are suitable for any indoor or outdoor activities. The ultimate comfort leggings, fitted at the waist so that they don’t slide down, while simultaneously elongating the silhouette. Wear them with a Starseeds bra top, a vegan leather jacket and chunky biker boots to create a cool city look.”
“We can’t go without mentioning the Starseeds Shakerato Shorts. They are a classic, made in Starseeds favourite recycled coffee blend fabric, ICE-CAFÉ™. The idea is that they’re suitable for ashtanga, hot yoga, dance, running and any sweaty activities; the bodycon cut, high waist and curved back makes you feel supported from all angles while you move. Shakerato shorts follow the natural flow of the feminine shape and visually lengthen the legs, making them flattering and fashionable. I suggest you wear them with a tailored jacket for an edgy look!”
Thank you Natalia for your generosity in passing on your knowledge and for giving the world this beautiful sustainable brand with purpose.