Luz Daniela Legrain Sanabria is a Belgian-Bolivian fashion designer and artist. For Luz, fashion serves as the perfect medium to express her deepest feelings and convictions: “Clothing is like a second skin. It is essential that the clothes adapt to the person, not the other way around.” In 2020, she founded LuzbyLuz, a sustainable fashion brand committed to the feminist cause and to bringing emotions to life in fashion designs. We meet her in Grand Hospice, the headquarters of LuzbyLuz, where a vibrant conversation unfolds on sustainable fashion, the importance of self-expression and feminism.

Hi Luz! Can you tell us how you ended up in fashion?

In high school, I studied maths and business. However, after graduation, I felt a strong urge to pursue something more artistic. As I explored different creative paths, fashion design immediately sparked my interest because it combines creativity with technical skills.

I studied fashion at the Haute École Francisco Ferrer for three years. This was a very intense period. We had to work all year long on our projects and rarely saw anyone outside of our fellow students. Despite the challenges, I loved it, because, for the first time, I was doing something artistic that I was very passionate about.  

At the end of those three years, I asked myself: “What do I really like about fashion?” My answer was – and still is – that I really like how you can convey important messages and express yourself through clothing. This second aspect of self-expression became central in my graduate collection about my torments. I had just gone through a difficult year personally, so this collection was very intense. Each silhouette would represent a feeling that I really did not like, something that I did not want to feel anymore. Fashion allowed me to transform these abstract and heavy feelings into very concrete tangible pieces. Because of this intense process of creation, I already felt much lighter.

After finishing my studies in fashion, I wanted to create my own brand. My goal was to build a brand that helps people to feel good about themselves. Clothing is like a second skin.  It is essential that the clothes adapt to the person, not the other way around. I don’t want to be part of the fashion industry that complexes people. I want to lift them up. To turn this dream into reality, I followed an entrepreneurs program of four intense months to learn how to build a project from scratch. Then, during the first lockdown, I brought LuzbyLuz to life.  

Is there a community of people who share the same ideas about fashion?

Absolutely. LuzbyLuz is almost four years old now, and I’ve really seen the slow fashion community grow in Brussels. Every event I go to is like a gathering of people who face the same struggles and share the same vision. Moreover, here in Grand Hospice where I have my atelier, there are a few other brands that are working with upcycling. It feels really nice not to be alone. All these people have so much energy to give and we are really stronger together.

More broadly speaking, I have observed a significant mentality shift since Covid and the lockdown. People have become more conscious about their fashion choices. For instance, there’s been a noticeable increase in people buying locally made items. 

(photo by Luz Daniela Legrain Sanabria)

Which audience does LuzbyLuz target?

Ideally, I would like to reach everyone, but that is not possible for a thousand different reasons. In the beginning, I noticed that I mainly reached people aged 35 and above, who often had stable jobs and were therefore willing to invest into something that is nicely done. However, I now reach more and more younger people. For instance, I recently came across a student who had saved up for three months just to be able to buy one of my pieces, which was incredibly heartwarming. I am impressed by this new generation of engaged people who want to align their purchases with their values. 

By mentioning upcycling and the slow fashion movement, you’ve already hinted that LuzbyLuz is a sustainable fashion brand. Was sustainability always a core value of LuzbyLuz, or was it integrated later on?

Sustainability has been an important value of LuzbyLuz from the very beginning. I was determined not to be another fashion brand that does not contribute to making fashion more meaningful and less harmful. My vision was to create a brand that not only positively impacts people, but also leaves a minimal footprint on the environment. During my fashion studies, we did not have courses on sustainability, which is rather baffling given the huge negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment. Despite this, my goal remains to make a sustainable fashion brand. In the entrepreneur program, I found the necessary tools to reach that goal. Thanks to this program, I also crossed paths with Arthur Prigent who, like me, wanted to start a sustainable fashion brand. He really helped me to think out of the box and understand that the possibilities to be sustainable are endless. Along with other upcycling creators, we founded the nonprofit Upcycling, which became the collective Trash Test Culture. In this very diverse organisation of nine upcycling creators, we share resources, experiences and valuable insights.

You told us that you observed a significant mentality shift towards making more conscious fashion choices. Do you see a comparable shift towards sustainability in education?

While I did not learn much about sustainability during my fashion studies, I indeed see that things are changing now. In my old school, they now offer courses on zero-waste patterns and innovative ways to repurpose materials like plastic waste. However, there’s still a long road ahead. For instance, in our twelve years of general education, we learn so many things. We learn about science, mathematics, languages, our bodies and so on, but we don’t learn about fashion and its impact. We don’t learn about something that we wear everyday: we don’t know how much time it takes to make clothes, how our clothes are made… To me, that is quite perplexing.

How does LuzbyLuz try to be sustainable?

One key aspect of LuzbyLuz’ sustainability is that I create everything personally here in Brussels. Moreover, as LuzbyLuz grows, I want to keep working with a local production atelier. Maintaining local production is really essential to me. I can’t imagine having my production on the other side of the globe.

Another factor that contributes to LuzbyLuz’ sustainability is the use of deadstock fabrics. Deadstock fabric is leftover fabric that cannot be sold anymore and that would otherwise be discarded. However, the sale of deadstock fabric has now become a business on its own, making it challenging to verify whether the fabric is genuinely deadstock or not.

Thirdly, I incorporate second-hand fabrics and repurposed waste into my designs. For example, I used the curtains from Grand Hospice for one of my collections. That is why, as you can see, I don’t have curtains anymore (laughs). I also worked with the thick velvet curtains from a theatre and my accessories are made out of waste from a company who make advertising banners. The material is waterproof and very solid, which makes it perfect for accessories.

Could you share some simple tips and tricks to be more sustainable as a consumer?

I think the most sustainable pieces of clothing you can wear are the ones you already own or items that have been previously used. There are numerous tips and tricks out there, but I believe that any effort you make is already a significant step forward. I think you should not become a person who is like “I am never going to buy anymore”. We buy clothes because they serve a function in our lives. If you completely stop buying clothes, you might seek to fulfil that need in other ways that aren’t necessarily better.

I really don’t want to deliver a guilt-inducing speech, because that is neither helpful nor healthy. Moreover, I think the biggest responsibility lies not with individual consumers, but within the broader system. Governments really need to step in. Now, it is still very easy to buy clothes made on the other side of the globe, and there is, among other issues, insufficient protection for workers’ rights. While citizens can make a difference, I think that larger systematic changes are essential for real progress.

Earlier, you mentioned that you see fashion as a means of expression. Can you give a concrete example of how you implement this in reality?  

Of course, let me illustrate this with a design from my first collection. The name of this collection is “Cuerpos Libres”, which means “free bodies” in Spanish. I really want my designs to be very engaged and feminist. Women’s bodies, and bodies in general, are still such a taboo. For girls, wearing whatever we want remains a struggle. The idea behind this collection is to show on the outside what we are asked to hide on the inside. The design represents  the silhouette of a woman. Each piece of this collection contains reminders of body parts, conveying the message: “If you don’t want to see my body because it is so shameful, I’ll show it in another way.”

I can also illustrate the way I use fashion as means of expression through my accessories. On this tote bag, for instance, you see a vulva. With this piece, I aim to strike a balance between provocation and starting a conversation on the topic. What I love about this piece, is that a tote bag is such a banal item that people use everyday. By conveying a message through an object that is part of our daily lives, we become advocates for change in our daily lives.

(photo by Luz Daniela Legrain Sanabria)

One of the things that you want to express through your clothing is feminism. What does feminism mean to you?

In high school, a teacher once asked the class who considered themselves feminists, and I was the only one to raise my hand. At the time, I did not have a very precise understanding of what feminism was. This experience made me realise I needed to know what I stood for. I ended up defining feminism as the belief that women should have the same rights as men. That is where it started for me. Over time, I’ve come to see that feminism encompasses so much more in life

For me, feminism starts with breaking down beliefs that have been taught to me since I was a child. I had a very Catholic and conservative upbringing in Bolivia. For instance, I was taught that girls could not play soccer, and that I needed to smile and be pretty all the time. However, I always felt a natural resistance to those beliefs. I always had a gut feeling that those beliefs were unfair. When I was told that girls could not play soccer, I joined the soccer team. Similarly, skateboarding was seen as an activity for boys. However, I kept doing it and, before fashion, skateboarding was really my main outlet. Today, you see how girls are starting to skate and take back the public space and that is truly empowering.

So, breaking down those beliefs came naturally to me. Nevertheless, It wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 that I started deconstructing my own thoughts consciously and intentionally. This process gave me a lot of strength, but at the same time it was a very scary thing to do.

Can you tell us more about your project, ‘you experience’? 

The ‘you experience’ was actually my original concept when I founded LuzbyLuz. For this project, I meet with a person and talk about their life and emotions. During our conversation, I take notes and ask questions about what symbols and colours represent their feelings. I encountered many deeply intense, but at the same time incredibly beautiful stories.

After these talks, I let the words and ideas sit with me for a few days. Eventually, I link everything that person shared and transform it into an embroidery design on a tote bag. I’ve also embroidered personal pieces of clothing of people to make them even more theirs. In this ‘you experience’ I function as a communicator: I help people who haven’t yet found their own artistic outlet to express themselves. This project is one of the most meaningful things I have done so far in my life. I hope to have the opportunity to return to it someday.

How do you envision the future of LuzbyLuz? Have you set any specific goals for yourself?

One of my goals is to no longer work alone. I would love to have a small team. It is a dream of mine to collaborate with people who share the same enthusiasm as me for the brand. With a team, I would have the ability to grow even more. Moreover, working solo can be challenging, not just in terms of workload, but also mentally. During quieter seasons, like winter, you don’t meet a lot of people and that can become quite lonely. However, if I had a partner, we could lift each other up.

Another dream of mine is to have a permanent atelier boutique where I can welcome people. This space would serve as both a working place and shop. It would break the boundary between creator and customer and make customers feel like they are actively part of the project.

Dit interview werd afgenomen door Marie Cuvelier (studente in de onderzoeksmaster aan de KU Leuven) en Rozelien Van Erdeghem (stafmedewerker bij het Kenniscentrum Kinderrechten).

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