Respect the nature, people and good kiks. These three elements have guided Katja Iljana and her brand KIKS since 2003. For Iljana it goes without saying that she operates in a responsible and ecological way, and in her opinion, on this matter the small ones have shown good example to the big ones. The huge questions of responsibility cannot solely be thrown on consumers or companies, but the change must happen on political level too.
What does sustainability and being ecological mean to you personally?
Originally I wanted to invent, reuse and create new purposes for old materials. From the beginning, upcycling sustainability has always been my number one principle. For KIKS, sustainability means using recycled and surplus materials, own or local production, durable products both style- and material-wise, small series and custom-made products. I want to avoid big stocks and producing unnecessary goods.
I also aim to be easy-to-reach and close to my clients because in my opinion, listening to the customer is a key factor in sustainability. If necessary, I also design clothes personally together with the customer. Sustainability should be a given for each and every company.
As a designer and an entrepreneur, the most important factors for me are personal and professional growth, understanding and learning by doing. In my opinion, sustainability and ecology should be obvious values for every single company.
Do you feel attitudes towards consumerism have changed?
As 12 years for KIKS have passed, I definitely think that attitudes have changed. When I started my label in 2003, many people questioned the price of the product, as if a hand-made product made from upcycled material should be cheaper than the shiny new made-in-china one. Nowadays, many consumers are aware of their power to change things.
For example, waste of water and other natural resources, dangerous chemicals and inhuman working conditions are today’s topics. That is why we should focus on finding new ways to recycle and refine the materials that already exist.
However, clean conscience is not enough for most consumers, nor should it be. The change in one’s personal consuming habits usually happens, when one actually gets a personal experience that the product made in a sustainable manner is better than the one made in a sweatshop. A one really good piece of clothing can actually make up for ten mediocre ones.
When it comes to producers, the change has grown up from the grassroots level: the small ones have shown good example to the big ones.
I also believe that we are going to travel a full circle in clothes production, and the good old tailored clothes will rise to companion the zig-zag globetrotting webshop-sweatshop-rugs. At some point people start to look for their own tailor. Custom-made outfits are always essentially ecological and sustainable because they are made for a need and for a real user. I believe that clothing designers are needed even then when the technology enables clothes production for anybody and anywhere.
How the matters considering sustainability and responsibility could be promoted more?
In my opinion, responsibility cannot solely be thrown on consumers or the companies. The change must happen on political level too. Business itself does not have a moral, but the people in business do have and it varies depending on their culture and identity.
We cannot assume that all the companies in the world turn sustainable without laws and orders. That is why we need minimum wages, chemical laws, environmental protection and so on. I must emphasize, that here I am talking about the regulations that protect the nature and those people who cannot defend themselves. I also believe that it would be helpful to decrease the value-added tax of upcycled products at least here in Finland.
How does KIKS promote its sustainability?
Naturally KIKS wants to embrace sustainability in everything it does, but I wish I had more time for social and societal action too. This year we made a collection together with the local Qstock music festival here in Oulu. By using their banners and speaker fabrics from previous years we made wonderful, upcycled products.
Although one cannot save the world by just recycling, I believe this kind of campaigns have a market when trying to change attitudes. It must be said, that it is not sustainable to ride just on the green wave. I want that my products and services come first although they are both strongly value-based.
Preaching about sustainability is not going to do the trick either. I feel that making a change can be enjoyable and fun through projects and social movements. The best example of this would be the Fashion Revolution Day. Last time we participated into the FRD with KIKS and a design shop called Non Boutique, we wanted to bring up small Finnish brands, which have sustainable production. At the same time we modestly campaigned for Finnish labour.
What are the main challenges and opportunities in your field of industry?
It is totally different to use recycled and surplus materials compared to using new materials. Designing is material-sourced and serial production is very challenging. Constantly, I have to ask, dig and look around since I cannot just order the materials in all colours and prints I desire. In addition, it is challenging to arrange the production of the small series and unique pieces in a cost-effective way.
Sometimes I bump into wonderful treasures, but the lack of storage space prevents me from accepting all the available materials. Sometimes there are situations where a well-sold product has to be taken away from the selection of KIKS due to the lack of material. The same product might then have been brought back when I have managed to get the material again.
It’s fair to say that holding on to local production, eco values and all-round sustainability often disturbs the company’s economical success. For me though, entrepreneurship exceeds much further than the numbers as on the other side of the scale there is always the common good!
Besides, it would not even be fun to take the easy way! Both in cooking and designing clothes, the best results and the best kiks come from limited ingredients.