Two sisters, one mission: we had a chat with identical twins Sandra and Anja Umann, founders of UMASAN, a vegan brand that aims to be a wake-up call for the fashion industry and a step towards making the (fashion) world a better place.
Petite silhouettes wrapped in black. Straight hair, tied up in simple ponytails and delicate faces with subtle make up: At first sight, Anja and Sandra Umann might look inconspicuous. But these sisters have a lot to say: apart from a dedication to climate issues and environmental protection, their declared aim is to make the world a better place by creating animal-friendly and ecologically produced clothes. Working as a designer for Yohji Yamamoto (Anja) and a photographer for glossy magazines (Sandra) and being ethical vegans at the same time, the sisters soon realised that their values and ideas were not compatible with those of the fashion industry. And so they quit their jobs and moved to Berlin, where they launched their own vegan brand UMASAN, which derives from the words uma (Indian for mother of life) and san (Japanese for respect), in 2010.
I had the opportunity to interview the sisters five years ago for a different publication, so I was curious to catch up with them again and find out more about the evolution of their brand.
Since our first interview five years ago, a lot has changed: I turned from a student to a fashion editor and from a vegetarian to a vegan. You not only just opened your second store, but are also about to take on the international market. Are you still planning to open flagship stores in other countries, like you said in 2010?
As it is extremely hard to find good partners in other countries, our initial focus was the distribution of our collection via international retail partners. In this way, we could successfully enhance brand awareness and are now slowly but steadily expanding the Asian and US market. We plan on opening our own stores in Tokyo and New York, where the demand for vegan fashion and natural fabrics is much bigger than in Europe.
How would you describe your customers?
Quite a few of our customers are pretty health-conscious and eco-minded. But not all of them are vegan. Many mainly buy our clothes because of the design, which combines figure-skimming lines and super-soft fabrics with delicate details. We love to get in contact with those who have had little contact with green fashion so far – or even those with prejudices on it. Most of the time our designs convince them to give vegan fashion a try.
As I have heard, you also have many famous fans.
Yes, we are happy to rate Rihanna, Erykah Badu, Moby and Janelle Monáe among our true customers.
If there is a demand for sustainable and stylish fashion, how come there are so few vegan designers?
The search for fabrics that meet all your requirements can be quite a challenge. Many designers shirk this difficulty or simply don’t concern themselves with ethical fashion. Sadly, this industry is all about the surface.
Speaking of designers, where do you buy your clothes?
Most often, we wear our own creations. We don’t feel very comfortable wearing other designs, because we are so accustomed to the UMASAN fabrics and styles.
What distinguishes your creations from others?
Inspired by traditional Japanese form language and yoga philosophy, all of our designs combine functionality, comfort and style. This is what makes our creations unique.
What are your favourite materials and why?
We love to work with fabrics that are enriched with zink or algae, because of their calming effects on the skin – they can even be wound-healing. You could label these ingredients as wearable wellness.
Five years have passed since our first interview. What do you wish fort he next five years?
We want to reach a wider audience – especially consumers that didn’t consider ethical fashion until now. And we want to inspire other designers to think differently and achieve a change in mentality within the fashion industry.
Thank you so much. See you in 2020! 🙂
Last but not least, Anja and Sandra shared their favourite looks from the AW15 collection: sleek and minimalist, these designs can easily be adapted to everyday life. Finished in monochrome shades, this is versatile dressing for a new era.
Find out more and shop UMASAN here.