Susan Hollingsworth’s life has taken her to places most people only dream about. During her years living in Africa, Europe and Central Asia, she was introduced to the cultural practices of fiber art and the techniques employed to turn textile and fiber into visual stories. She has brought to life many ancient cultural art techniques as part of her one-of-a-kind jackets. Every jacket is a work of art, uniquely and meticulously conceived and crafted with the highest quality materials from all over the world.
The name SuKaz, a combination of designer and country, is a mix of various cultures and their histories intertwined with western influences to make the designs modern and relevant to today. Each jacket is conceived from stories written by Susan inspired by her time in different parts of the world. Although it was never Susan’s plan to create clothing while living abroad, her need to immerse herself into these new cultures and become part of them lead to the SuKaz brand.
Creative, inspiring and a force to be reckoned with, we spent some time with Susan to find out more…
Tell us about the journey that led you to launching Sukaz…
I was born and raised in the Southern United States, but my husband’s career led us to live internationally for 20 years. Throughout multiple relocations and work-related travel destinations, the people and places I found the most intriguing were in countries which were by no means typical tourist destinations. I felt an immediate connection to and fascination for the chaos and clamour of the streets and bazaars which, for me, were the essence and spirit of the national cultural heritage. I haunted the bazaars, gathered bits and pieces to take away with me, and eventually reimagined my impressions in the form of jackets.
Where did you first discover your love for fashion design?
To be honest, I really don’t consider myself to be a “Fashion Designer”, rather more of a “Cultural Storyteller”. Any training I’ve had has been hands-on or short-course study targeting particular areas of interest. My latest obsession is bead weaving, which I’m learning for an upcoming project. While in London I studied pattern making and learned to make patterns and garments in quarter scale to fit a doll which we each crafted from wire, fluff and tape during our course. I never set out to be a designer but followed a compulsion to share my take on cultural tradition in the realm of fiber art. Each of my jackets showcases a unique story of cultural art and tradition passed down through generations of families and societies with passion and love.
Travel is a huge part of SuKaz, tell us more about that…
If you are willing to step off the beaten path in an unfamiliar environment your mind will open itself to new perspectives and interpretations. A notion I feel is shared with the likes of Cond é Nast Traveller, which we have been in recently. You have to take a big step outside of your comfort zone to experience travel at its fullest – the more you engage, the greater your rewards. For me, this quest for alternative perspectives is the heart and soul of each SuKaz jacket.
How often do you release new collections?
My collections are more about emotional expression, not something I can sit down and call up in schedule. They are born of inspiration, often random and just as often catch me unawares – sunlight transforming my daily walk into something new, an old song reheard 20 years on, or a surprise call from a friend and artist with a new idea. The creativity in my collections is nurtured by the creativity of others and the world around me when I open my mind and listen.
Talk us through the process when creating a new design…
Chaos …… fabric in piles on the floor for each jacket, my dog, Mischka, rolling and digging through each pile, while I hopscotch over them from one end of the room to the other. But that’s the final stage. The earlier phases are much more civilized and involve discussions – animated would be an understatement – with the individual artists involved about the direction we are going. The end goals for the various artists and their art mediums are established when we first meet – our visions and interpretations of those visions are discussed and established, and sometimes refined after the initial creation. This is true not only for the fiber or metal artist but also the pattern maker and seamstress. Once our processes and parameters are in sync, I am happy for the artist to follow their own creativity and would never dream of interfering with that artistic process.
What has been the biggest learning curve since launching the business?
Probably the biggest curve was realizing that what started as a creative outlet had taken on a life of its own. I never meant to start a business, and had a product before establishing an actual business plan. Building the team to bring all of the moving parts together has been equally challenging — a genuine understanding and belief in the processes key to the creation of every jacket is essential and not something that can be taught. The SuKaz team members are all rockstars!
You have a lot of skills, what is the one thing you do that makes you feel the most alive?
Always and forever the next jacket, collection or project – set it in motion, nurture it through but keep moving forward to the next new thing.
Looking back since launching the brand, is there anything you would do differently?
Every mistake is a learning experience – which ultimately has led me to where I am today. I don’t believe in regrets, you just have to get on with things and move forward and never look back.
How do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
A difficult question and probably better answered by anyone but me. I compare them to jelly beans – I always want the red ones, but someone else might go for the green ones. The jackets are very subjective and elicit individual responses and interpretations. They need to be seen and touched – I would invite you to try them yourselves and hear how they make you feel.
Talk us through an average day in your life…
It would surprise me to know that anyone would actually care about my average day! My trip today to my local bead store was very exciting for me, something I’ve looked forward to all week – pretty sure that says it all about the excitement level in my life! In terms of structure, I always start my day with a walk. It is probably the most important part of my day when I have some of my most creative moments. I plan my day, correspond with my team, and work through problems in my head and via internet through my phone – yes, I can walk and write and research all at the same time, and often compose jacket stories as I go. It is a good time to make overseas calls before it becomes too late in later time zones. I go to a Pilates class three times each week which takes care of stretching and socialisation, then head home to work, communicating via phone calls, FaceTime and Zoom. Whatever I’m doing shuts down no later than 7:00 pm for family time, a little conversation and wine, then dinner.
What is your go-to quote when lacking motivation?
“Start off as you mean to go on”
How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
The biggest change has been the restriction on physical movement and socialisation. Before the pandemic I had multiple projects in the works such as fashion shows, exhibits, and interaction with my artisans/seamstresses that all had to be halted. Overall, in a perverse way, the societal restrictions have had a positive effect on our outlook and direction as we have become much more creative in our marketing and utilise technology to collaborate virtually. My jackets are all about creative collaboration and I feel as if we have been able to grow as a team. The lockdown has provided the opportunity to renew relationships with artisans who before the pandemic were engaged in other projects. These renewed relationships are building the foundation for future collections, which is very motivating and energising.
What does self care mean to you?
My daily walk, as I mentioned earlier, is as essential to my mental and creative health as it is to my physical health. I attend Pilates three times a week and find that it clears my head so I can work. I am very zealous about my daily routine and structure and a little grumpy if it is interrupted.
SuKaz is a slow fashion brand, tell us more.
SuKaz has operated as a slow fashion brand from its inception as each of my jackets is created, not manufactured. An individual piece passes through the hands of each artist who contributes to it which adds a new dimension to the design. Each artisan works independently and is always given credit for their work which is central to the heart and soul of SuKaz. I have a core of fabrics that have been totally crafted by hand on manually operated looms not requiring fuel or electricity. I also utilise all of my fabrications and selectively use remnants creatively in future jackets, which prevents waste and adds to the integrity of the piece. Each jacket offers a new challenge and is truly one of a kind wearable art that will never be duplicated. There are no size runs, so once a jacket is sold there will not be another like it. I know that sustainable practices are becoming a new standard in the fashion world, but I have never known any other way of operating.
Where can people find out more?
Pop over and say hi!