"It's about women and I want the fashion industry to be accountable" – Prabal Gurung on Etihad, empowerment and sustainability
In conversation with the designer
T his weekend all eyes were on the Etihad Airways F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Nepal-born, New York-based Prabal Gurung unveiled his Etihad Airways Grid Girl uniforms. From the luxury of the Paddock Club lounge, the fashion designer then sat down with Buro 24/7 Middle East's Editor-in-Chief, Shannon Wylie, to discuss his latest designs, sustainable fashion and why contributing to the feminist conversation is the most powerful pledge to the planet right now...
Welcome to Abu Dhabi! You're here to launch the Etihad Grid Girl uniforms. Talk me through the conversation when Etihad Airways contacted you about the collaboration and where it fits in with your brand?
Yes, of course. You know, I had no idea what the Grid Girls were at first. So when Etihad told me about the collaboration and I saw the research, I saw an opportunity for me and what I stand for, to come to this part of the world and to continue my conversation about equality. I also saw an opportunity to create something that could possibly change the way beautiful women, their perception, is. I always play with this idea that feminism and femininity.
I've always found Emirati women so graceful. There's a confidence in how they represent themselves and I love that.
Your sustainability practices are at the forefront of your design process, were the uniforms also created with the environment in mind?
The initial sampling we do at our local factories within New York. Then, as we start to develop each piece the production goes to factories that I have history with, where the supply chain is aware of sustainability.
What's your vision moving forward when it comes to producing a sustainable fashion brand?
Here's the thing... Without knowing we're practicing, we already follow a majority of sustainable practices including local production, selecting fabric from fabric mills where we know how they're made, how we give back environmentally, we cut to the order. In terms of fabrics, we work with this company, which is part of the CFDA's sustainability program, Piece & Co., which outsource sustainable fabrics. Then last season, we introduced a new fabric, which is made out of bamboo. There's no brand out there that is 100 per cent sustainable, not even the ones we think are, not yet. The challenges are there too. First, there's the cost involved. Then it's about educating the consumer; that's the biggest challenge. We can produce however we want to but the concept and the perception of a consumer changes and the supply doesn't affect their buy.
Education can often start with social media today. What does your digital conversation usually project and what would you like to continue to see happen with the relationship you have with your online audience?
Our biggest conversation right now, well ever since I started, has been about women and minorities being at the table. To me, feminine means strength and empathy. The social, philanthropic efforts, whether it's sustainability, whether it's social causes or political issues that you want to be vocal about, we're a luxury brand with a soul. The soul has the ability to say to you that I see you, you matter, we validate you and your existence also validates mine. Hence, the conversation for us is about inclusivity and diversity, not just about race, size or age. When I started the conversation on fashion and soul, I used to get eye rolls because people didn't understand feminine power. They weren't ready for it. I understood it when I was a child.
Was that the impact your mother had one you?
One thing my mum said to me was: "Follow your passion, follow what you love". She would always ask me: "How are you impacting the world and what is your legacy going to be?" She would always say: "I don't want my children to be a burden to the planet."
You first spoke about soul, when you launched Prabal Gurung eight years? What are your plans approaching a decade in design?
We have really big plans for our 10-year anniversary. We're doing something special. Eight years ago when I started I knew that the world had to change and I could see pretty early on, I knew the status quo wasn't going to stay the same. I think it's time for a shift. I saw it happening 10 years ago and that's why I wanted my own brand. I knew that I had to say something and I knew the conversation I wanted to have and that was that you can still look beautiful, you can still dress up and it doesn't make you less powerful, in fact, it empowers you.
Fashion at the moment is in such an interesting state...
I wanted fashion to be accountable; I want all of us to be accountable. Accountable for what we put on our runway, ethnicity, sizes, diversity, transparency and sustainability. Those are extremely important and you know, the time is now, more than ever. In fashion we are very afraid of the status quo, so we stay silent. Silence and complicity are the biggest issues. When you're complicit about everything that is happening and you say it doesn't affect me, all of a sudden, you're connected. That's what I want people to know, we are all connected. Fashion is the second largest pollutant in the world, and to turn a blind eye to everything that's happening and not do anything about it, is an issue. I want the fashion industry to be accountable because that accountability is what future generations are going to remember us for.
Whether we're in Abu Dhabi or New York...
Anywhere! It doesn't matter. Physical location doesn't matter, either. We're living so interconnected now, it affects all of us.
Also don't miss Prabal Gurung's Spring/Summer '18 collection show from New York Fashion Week.