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Aware journalist Eliza Edwards sits down with Sophie Claussen, co-founder of the Berlin-based Upcycling Label, Avenir Berlin

Every designer will tell you that establishing a fashion brand requires an infinite amount of grit and determination at the best of times; throw in a global pandemic and an uncompromising sustainable ethos, and you’re dancing with the devil. But it was a true and honest desire for change that drove Sophie Claussen and Niklas Schütt to establish their Berlin-based brand, Avenir. Sitting together in the open doors of their Berlin studio in July sun, Claussen tells me about the story of a brand determined to execute a design vision, whilst devoted to transparency in its sustainable mission.

Avenir’s journey began in London, where Claussen, working as a junior designer for a luxury brand at the time, was fatigued by the fashion industry’s inauthentic attempts at environmental consciousness: “the pieces looked great, but the production methods, surplus of stock and use of synthetic materials, all still resulted in waste”, Claussen tells me. Informed by this invaluable experience, Claussen returned to Berlin and reached out to an old friend, Niklas Schütt: “the haute-couture guy”, Claussen tells me with a smile. Having designed in Paris for the likes of Lavin and Givenchy, Schütt was the perfect collaborator, and together, at the end of last year, they founded Avenir. 

Max Shorts - Black Linen

In the thick of a global pandemic, Claussen and Schütt began to test the waters: sewing masks, building up a customer support base and defining a sustainable criteria: “I laid out the rules. I didn’t want to use anything new, as a modern brand, we can’t contribute to the vast quantities of waste”, recalls Claussen. Avenir’s research for sustainable materials started at Berlin’s Textilhafen, a textile donation centre; “I actually worked there for 2 weeks, in the beginning, to really understand how the clothing is handled”, Claussen explains, “Whilst I realised that for our denim pieces this method of sourcing would be lucrative, we would have to look to other sustainable materials to create other pieces”. In search of other waste materials, Claussen and Schütt began to build partnerships with German wholesalers who save end of roll material otherwise destined for landfill, “it was vital to us that every material Avenir works with is a leftover”, Claussen adds. Whilst working with end of roll fabric comes with its own challenges (there is only a finite amount, you are forced to work within the parameters of the material), there is a beauty to its fleeting nature, resisting to feed the unlimited source of clothing we have become accustomed to. “I find the idea of limited edition really exciting”, Claussen explains, “If I were a customer, I would love to know that one item is only there for a short time”. 

At the end of 2020, Avenir soft-launched two signature pieces. Firstly, the made-to-order upcycled patchwork denim jackets finished by hand in the studio by Avenir’s resident tailor Hanna Abdullha: “he is an incredible tailor, he ran 2 large big businesses in Aleppo and truly understands how to make pieces efficiently, to a really high standard”, Claussen tells me. The second piece, a 70s inspired dress manufactured from end of roll fabric produced in Portugal. By manufacturing in a country renowned for its efforts in sustainability, Avenir was able to ensure supply chain transparency, fair wages and the possibility to work with low MOQ’s (minimum order quantities). “In Asia you always have to mass-produce and whilst that might be necessary for bigger fashion brands, that doesn’t work for our brand ethos”, Claussen tells me, “Portugal is really leading in this industry”.

Marie Blazer - Blue Linen

A few months later, in June of this year, after months of sampling and cutting in their studio, Avenir released its first collection, “whilst it felt great to finally bite the bullet, there have definitely been some obstacles”, Claussen recalls. One particular challenge rose above the rest, and it’s one that many sustainable brands face: integrating upcycling in its manufacturing methods whilst moving the brand aesthetic in a contemporary direction. “I want to reach the people who really understand that we need to make a change, but of course, as Niklas says, we can’t forget couture”, Claussen admits, “it’s about recognising that a piece is sustainable whilst executing a polished finish, it requires balance and a high calibre of design”. The tension between quality and pricing, a challenge all too familiar with responsible brands, is one that Claussen and Schütt are still exploring: “You have to convince people that what you are doing is the only right way and that the price of our pieces is justified”, Claussen admits. 

Max Shirt - Black Linen

Looking towards the future, Claussen, true to character, is full of optimism. The duo plan to explore ways to grow the business without producing more waste, continue to be vigilant about its suppliers and develop a sell back scheme. Next to this, Claussen and Schütt are determined to think beyond the clothes, “we want to connect people like Hana, who come to Germany with an incredible skillset, with companies like ours, where their craft will be truly appreciated” Claussen vows.

As I leave the space, I catch a sign on the wooden double doors which reads “no space for waste”, a final nod to Avenir’s mission: a brand determined to be a force of change within the Berlin fashion landscape.

 

by Eliza Edwards