Julia Ferrar profiles Äli Kargoja the founder of August who recently showed her latest collection at the Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days.
Estonian-born and Paris-educated, Äli Kargoja founded August to combine the clean lines of her design aesthetic with a clean environmental conscience. We meet the designer making waves at Mercedes Benz Kiev Fashion Days to talk about Paris, her artistic inspirations and her plans for the future.
The Fashion Conversation: Born and raised in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, what was it like growing up there and in the surrounding countryside? Changing from your law degree there to studying fashion in Paris must have been a bold decision – had you always known that you ultimately wanted a career in fashion?
Äli Kargoja: I was into beautiful things as a child, not so much fashion. I remember from an early age spending days creating flower installations – no vase was ever left empty! Tallinn is a wonderful city to live in; I love the space, the clean air, the scenery, the seashore. It’s compact but comfortable and, for me as a foodie, the quality and variety of restaurants is amazing for such a small city. Growing up, I would spend my summer holidays in south Estonia, just endless forests and lakes, in the middle of nowhere. I was always drawn to the countryside and to this day, this is where I go to recharge, if only in my mind. I never really wanted to be a lawyer but I didn’t know what to study after high-school; law was a good general degree for the future and one that continues to serve me to this day. At the time, I simply couldn’t afford to go abroad to study fashion, so when I finally got the opportunity to move to Paris, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and decided to use the opportunity to pursue what I really love.
TFC: What were your experiences like at Paris’s prestigious Studio Berçot? Do you feel that you learnt as much from your studies as you did from the city itself?
ÄK: I was rather modest before moving to Paris; I always followed the ‘rules’ and worried more about pleasing others than enjoying the life I wanted. The French way of easy living made me more relaxed as a person; I started to notice and enjoy the little pleasures in life, to break the rules and make my own rules. The Paris years definitely contributed to turning me into a more free-minded, brave and spontaneous person. In terms of Studio Berçot, I must highlight the individual approach to students. The aim was to develop everyone’s own unique style to its highest potential, helping us find our own niche and push our boundaries – developing collections but at the same time keeping the final result ‘sane’ and sellable.
TFC: While in Paris, you had the opportunity to study at the studios of Nicolas Andreas Taralis and Maison Martin Margiela. What was it like working in such contrasting environments?
ÄK: Working at Nicolas Andreas Taralis studio was a much more personal experience; it was a small team and everyone worked side by side. It was interesting to observe such a talented designer at work and see the whole process of an idea becoming a beautiful piece on a runway and I’m just happy and grateful to have been a part of that. The experience at Margiela was very different. It was already a part of the Diesel group by then but, although I had fewer responsibilities, it was nevertheless interesting to have the insights and comparison of such different studios.
TFC: Having moved from Estonia to Paris and back again, do you find your travels and architectural surroundings inspire your work, or do you take more inspiration from other designers and artists?
ÄK: All of the above! Primarily, though, my inspiration comes from the people around me; the streets; my loved ones. I admire the work of my boyfriend, Aurele Ferrero, a talented French photographer who’s been kind enough to help me with the visuals of August, even shooting my recent AW17 look book. In terms of artists, I would name Agnes Martin’s breath-taking graphics and the work of Clifford Still. For music, Holy Other and my all time favourite Sade to slow down life on busier days. My eye also always rests on the work of Christophe Lemaire – with his beautiful and sensitive understanding of volumes, attention to detail, the perfect harmony of colours, and the beautiful fabrics. I really look up to him. Joseph is another brand I would gladly fill my wardrobe with!
TFC: An environmental concern is so central to August; how are your aspirations as a designer influenced by the relationship with the environment as well as with the wearer? We’re so excited for your upcoming collection – what can we expect to see for FW17?
ÄK: I find that simplicity and a minimal aesthetic, if done well, speaks louder than desperately trying to stand out in a crowd. Instead, a beautiful piece of clothing should simply, discretely, support the attitude and aura of a person. This is what I aspire to as a designer: to create clothes that emphasize people’s individuality without outshining it. The focus of FW17 is on the elements of ‘90s silhouettes, the colour and fabrics of that era and an aim to create an effortless ensemble of comfortable everyday classics with an edge. Environmentally, the identity behind August is to combine natural materials with contemporary design. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified fabric mills, agents and sustainable fabric fairs are the cornerstone of our fabric sourcing. It’s important for us to keep challenging the fast-fashion industry that is piling this planet with cheap, low-quality clothes and heavily polluting the environment in the process. We’re a small voice in the huge industry, but we’d like to give the customers the choice to consume consciously.
TFC: You’ve already achieved such an incredible amount by the age of 30 – what are your goals for the future for yourself and the August brand?
ÄK: We’re working hard to expand with new product lines. From launching knitwear with the SS17 collection to looking to collaborate with Estonian jewellery designers on accessories, we will keep expanding and hopefully provide sustainably-made clothing to a wider range of Europe-wide customers day by day. It would also be wonderful to show our collection in Paris, my second home and the city where it all started for me. Personally, I will try to keep persistently creating beautiful collections, not be intimidated by the tough challenges of the industry, face them, learn from mistakes made, improve and keep on doing what I love the most.
TFC: Finally, to have achieved so much so young, what’s your secret to getting out of bed in the morning and ready for the day ahead!?
ÄK: A cup of hot coffee!
About Julia Ferrar
After studying literature at UCL, Julia spent an all-too-fleeting few months savouring the je ne sais quoi of Paris before returning to London where she now works with MATCHESFASHION.COM and indulges her propensities for Virginia Woolf, Jacquemus and the colour navy.