Born in Poland, Agata Natalia Kozak left to study fashion and textile at universities in Barcelona and Istanbul. Later on she moved to London to properly commence her career as a fashion designer. After years of designing for others, she decided to start her own sustainable fashion brand called COSSAC, which was launched in October 2014. When she’s not designing, she can be found at the yoga studio or travelling to another magnificent destination. Her newest SS17 collection is called “Meet me in the streets of Istanbul” and typifies Agatka’s fond memories of living abroad in Istanbul as a design student and the unassuming style she’d often see in unlikely corners.
COSSAC stands for…
Sustainability and simplicity. Each season we deliver a ‘Capsule Wardrobe’ of contemporary threads and redefined basic with a sass edge that you can treasure season after season. We strive to make eco fashion current and relevant and appealing to both the eco and mainstream fashion customer.
Tell us about your beginnings, how did you start the label. Like this very moment where you thought, ok now I need to do this, was it because of a sort of crucial experience? And what´s your background within fashion?
I started the label in October 2014 after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the fashion industry. I have been working in fashion for many years before and even though I loved it, I started to notice the superficiality and injustice that was coming with it.
Having worked in both high end and high street fashion, I too was initially seduced by the allure of the fast fashion price tags but it never felt quite right. I remember how my mother used to save for a month to buy a particular coat she wanted when I was a child. Now all of a sudden you can have a coat for £20! I just couldn’t comprehend how this happens. I mean how was that even possible? But then the more I observed, and immersed myself in the industry, the more transparent the problems became.
I think Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 was the final straw for me. I started to educate myself on the subject; books, documentaries, you name it. Simultaneously, ever since I moved to London in 2010, I have become more conscious of the world around me, social issues as well as being fascinated with sustainability and organic lifestyle. I always wanted to have my own label at some point and as I was applying responsible living habits to my everyday life, starting a fashion brand with a difference came as a natural outcome of my experience.
“Eco brands are still a niche market but it will soon become mainstream; as people demand more transparency, I believe that sustainability will become a standard in the fashion industry.”
Are you a real London girl or it´s „just“ your current home?
I adore London and the rich culture is has to offer. I love that there is always so much to do and discover. I think it’s also a great carrier move and it has been an amazing creative hub for my start up. Unfortunately, the current political situation makes the future uncertain and has put many things in perspective. I consider myself a citizen of the world and COSSAC as my ‘baby’ is a global brand that knows no borders. The way I set up and run COSSAC makes it easy to be mobile, travel and be based anywhere that I want. I’m not saying goodbye to London just yet, but I must admit that Japan is very tempting.
How hard is the reality to set up a business over there these days, I mean, London is a creative but very expensive place…
Up to this point, it has been very easy to set up a start up business in London. The trick is to make it last longer than 2 years! Because the initial process is very straight forward, it attracts many great creative minds who want to chase their dreams and are not afraid to just try. Unfortunately, the costs of living and running a business can be very high if you are not smart about it or simply don’t have financial knowledge. It was a problem for me too; as a creative I just wanted to draw pretty clothes and ‘dream, create, sleep, repeat’ so I do struggle with the ‘business’ side of business.
I have a very curious mind though so I constantly try to educate myself on the operational and financial sides of the business. London has so many loans and start up mentoring programmes as well as co-working creative spaces that I’m convinced that if you are passionate and persistent enough, you will make it.
“I love that Turkish people working in textiles really take pride in their job; it’s a very respected profession over there.”
I love your designs, and it´s true that with Eco fashion you usually have this hippie look/ image with it. How come, in your opinion, that this is still such a niche market , in the sense that it´s so hard to find affordable, cool eco brands?
It’s still a niche market but it will soon become mainstream; as people demand more transparency, I believe that sustainability will become a standard in the fashion industry. Unfortunately it is true that currently many ‘eco’ fashion alternatives are still very expensive which makes it extra difficult for sustainable brands to compete with mainstream fashion. ‘Eco’ will always be more pricey as we naturally pay higher wages for our workers and higher prices for sustainable fabrics, but I do believe that maintaining affordable and competitive prices is still possible.
COSSAC is a living and breathing example of it. Local sourcing, smart design, carefully planned production runs and smooth logistics make the whole manufacturing process very efficient and allows us to offer the final product at reasonable prices. It will of course be more expensive than Primark or other fast fashion brands but customers need to understand that £10 for a dress is not a just price and someone else along the supply chain is paying the ‘real’ price for it.
How did you chose your production places, I read you produce in Turkey and UK, but how did you find those places you wanted to collaborate with?
It took me a year of research to find the right places. I had to find places that would accept small production runs and at the same time offer certified working conditions and just wages for their workers. Sometimes I actually thought it was a mission impossible. As a UK-based brand I did want part of the production to come from here; I’m a true supporter of small local businesses. It was very hard to find though; believe it or not, there are many sweatshops in UK as well! After months of research we finally found three places that we still collaborate with!
When it comes to Turkey, as I previously lived and studied there, I knew what a rich textile history the place has. What I also love is that Turkish people working in textiles really take pride in their job; it’s a very respected profession over there. I randomly met my current factory’s owners at a trade show in London. We hit it off straight away. I liked their work ethic and how transparent they were about their business.
But what clinched it for me was when I visited their factory in Istanbul; in order to get through to their office, you need to walk through the entire production plant! This is unheard of and it simply proved to me that they are fully transparent and have nothing to hide. Now after over 2 years of working together we are very good friends and great business partners.
“I’m incredibly nostalgic about Istanbul. You may love or hate it and it’s a very uncertain political situation but there is nothing more beautiful in this world that sunsets over Bosphorus.”
SS17 collection is called “MEET ME IN THE STREETS OF ISTANBUL”. It´s about your fond memories of living there. How long did you live there and what fascinated you most about the city?
I’m incredibly nostalgic about Istanbul. You may love or hate it and it’s a very uncertain political situation but there is nothing more beautiful in this world that sunsets over Bosphorus. I lived there for 8 months but I have been travelling there for the last 10 years. Rich history, exquisite Turkish cay, beautiful streets inviting you to explore and get lost, the cuisine, and the sunsets, I could go on and on! My first true love also happened in Istanbul which has a huge part to play in my Turkish experience.
What are your goals and dreams for COSSAC and yourself in the future?
I want COSSAC to ‘mature’ and expand into new markets but I always want it to stay relatively small. I don’t want it to be another (but greener) H&M. I want it to have presence in carefully selected and curated boutiques all over the world. I like small business, small is beautiful! I don’t believe that growing too much as a business is very sustainable. As long as I can make a living doing what I love, and along the way improve the livelihood of other people that work with me, I will feel extremely happy and fulfilled. I want sustainability to become a standard norm within fashion and I hope that COSSAC can contribute to that transition. I believe that the future is exciting and it will be ECO-HOT!