When we look at the eco-cotton, it’s clear that this is not a fiber for the future, due to the huge amount of water waste it takes to produce. People in the industry are realizing this fact and looking for alternatives

It’s possible to go against the flow of easy and quick consumption. Our clothes are elegant and glamorous, but with a different attitude — the message goes deeper

We are twins, so we do everything together (…) We have a deeper trust and understanding, which makes everything easier

The clothing needs to move with you, not the other way around. Our line is inspired by the movements of yoga, and pattern-wise, we look at traditional japanese samurai wear

There are ways to take shortcuts to cut cost and boost production, but we’re determined to stay true to our values and authenticity

Two girls with two different professional backgrounds in fashion, one as a photographer and the other a designer, came together through their passion for ethical fashion and created Umasan, a clothing line designed with the well-being of the customer in mind. Their fabrics are all made using natural fibers from trees, soy, vegetable pulp and even seaweed. Enriched with minerals, spun into yarn, woven into fabric, and then cut to create a classic line that defies the laws of fast fashion.

Anja and Sandra Umann have worked synchronistically together since 2010, but have been twins for longer than that. Their unisex collections are for men and women who know what they want — timeless, elegant, structured and layered clothing, that move with your body, no matter what your daily activities may be.

We are really fascinated with the fabrics you use. Reading about them on your website, they sound like something out of a sci-fi novel. How did you start working with them?
We wanted to find new ways of making sustainable fashion and started working with natural fibers that are good for the skin — no synthetics or animal bi-products. We looked at the complete concept of sustainability, and since we are both vegan, it was important to include this aspect as well. When we started out, it was quite difficult to find the right blends and materials, so we had to go to outlets and industrial textile fairs to find fabrics that were normally used for interiors, the car industry and worker’s clothes.

Do you think these types of materials have the potential of becoming more accessible to the mainstream?
Gradually, these fabrics are more commonly used by a younger generation of designers. When we talk with our suppliers now, they inform us that more clients are asking for these specific fabrics, whereas before there was no demand. When we look at the eco-cotton, it’s clear that this is not a fiber for the future, due to the huge amount of water waste it takes to produce. People in the industry are realizing this fact and looking for alternatives that are better functionally as well as ecologically.

Do you know much about how these fabrics are created?
Yes, of course! When we started using them, we looked at the production process. They come from different types of wood, like beech, eucalyptus or bamboo. The fibers are broken down into a liquid and enriched with seagrass, zinc or other substances that are good for the skin. The color is added to the material when it’s in its liquid form, which permits the use of 40% less color than in normal dying processes. The material is subsequently spun into yarn and woven into fabric.

Will you be developing your own fabrics in the near future?
We have a special exchange with our suppliers and work closely with them to achieve the textures we are looking for, and we have developed some unique blends because of this. Let’s say we want an extra tensile material with a silk-like finish, we can work with them to achieve that. Our suppliers are often anxious to hear our input and feedback, and it makes the process more interesting for them as well.

You both worked in the fashion industry before, Sandra as a photographer and Anja as a fashion designer. What was your experience like in the fashion world, and what about it led you to onto your current path?
We could talk about this a lot! Before we started Umasan, Anja was working with designer Yohji Yamamoto, a very strong, yet quiet and modest person. Also known for his avant-garde attitude to fashion, it was an inspiring and important experience. The fashion industry itself is always about being faster and louder. It often felt snobby, and this promoted glamorous attitude is not our style. Anja’s experience with Yohji really sparked the idea of starting our own business and showed that it’s possible to go against the flow of easy and quick consumption. Our clothes are elegant and glamorous, but with a different attitude — the message goes deeper. We create real clothing you can wear in all of your daily activities. In our opinion that’s what makes fashion interesting.

The clothes you create are elegant and timeless, eliminating the need for constant reinvention and consumption. How does this work in terms of creating seasonal collections?
At first we were thinking of simply doing one collection a year, but that doesn’t work if you wish to be economically sustainable as well. We need to do two collections, yet our goal is to make items that don’t follow the regimented rules and trends of each season. We always work with clean colors, and don’t use fashionable prints or details that go out of style. We set out with the intention of creating clothes you can wear for years, that highlight the wearer’s personality. We design for a clientele who knows what they want.

What is it like working together as sisters?
We are twins, so we do everything together. When Anja was studying fashion design, I (Sandra) was so close to her that I became part of it as well. We always worked together. Anja first started a label with another partner, but that didn’t work out, so we gravitated back together. We have a deeper trust and understanding, which makes everything easier.

Do you both design your garments?
We do work together throughout the process. Staring with a common vision, Anja begins physically creating the collections and then comes back to me for feedback. Once a sample is done we work together on perfecting the details. We share the same same mind-set, so if Anja for some reason couldn’t do her part of the design process, I would take over where she left off and vice versa.

You design for both men and women. Is there a different process involved in the two, or do you design both collections simultaneously?
It’s easier to design both at once. Our female clients are also women who don’t necessarily dress in hyper-feminine clothes. Much of what we create is also unisex, so when we design the men’s collection we keep the women in mind and opposite.

What is your aesthetic vision for your collections?
We’re inspired by the day-to-day life of down to earth, working people, from various cultures — by artists and travelers who are not simply into a glamorous allure. We look at the human body and how it moves. The clothing needs to move with you, not the other way around. Our line is inspired by the movements of yoga, and pattern-wise, we look at traditional japanese samurai wear, which is completely different from traditional European ways of making patterns.

On your site, you talk about correcting luxury mistakes. What does that mean, and what is luxury for you?
Real luxury to us, is to do something good for you and your body. This also means having enough time. We cherish things that have real value, not something that simply looks chic or glamorous.

Where can people find your collections outside of Berlin, and how do you choose your retailers?
Apart from our two stores in Berlin, our line is sold various places internationally. We work with agents who know our philosophy and understand our collections, and therefore put a lot of care into finding the right stores. In the end, we make the final decisions about where we want our clothes to be sold.

How and where are your clothes produced, and how will you deal with an increasing demand?
The production of our clothes happen in two small factories in the east part of Germany. We love visiting them there and seeing the old-fashioned production lines. And when you go there there and see the women working, you realize that nothing could be further removed from the stereotypical views of the fashion world.

We don’t have the capacity to produce in very high quantities and we do want to maintain a certain exclusivity. This will not change even as we grow. There are ways to take shortcuts to cut cost and boost production, but we’re determined to stay true to our values and authenticity.

What is your future dream for your label?
We don’t want to be a just a niche label, and hope to communicate our message globally and inspire others to follow in our footsteps when it comes to sustainability.

Do you listen to music while you work?
Yes, music is a huge inspiration. When we work, we mostly like classical music — it clears the mind.

Photos by Santiago Ramirez