It's been a long time since we did an interview. So much the better that we recently had the chance to talk to Nele Gerlach, who is behind the Münster-based label isarti. Among other things, Nele worked with our Re-Woven in Navy and made a gorgeous dress out of it. You can find the fabric here and a detailed article about the material and how to care for it here.
Hello Nele! Would you introduce yourself briefly?
I am Nele Gerlach, 33 years old and the founder of the fair fashion label "isarti". I have found my studio and center of life in Münster. I also grew up here and after graduating from high school I trained as a tailor. After the craft training, I continued my path in fashion and studied in Mönchengladbach at the Fachschule für Gestaltung. In 2015 I graduated there as a state-certified fashion designer.
After that, it was off to bella Italia for me. After a three-month internship at the fashion label "Morfosis" in Rome, I actually made it to the Valentino Garavani haute couture atelier and worked for the fashion house as a couture tailor for two years. In addition to bridal gowns and red carpet looks, I worked in a team of 60 tailors* on the couture gowns for the shows in Paris and got to be there behind the scenes as well.
When was the label founded and what made it happen?
In 2021 I founded the label "isarti" (ital. i sarti = the tailors) in Münster. Self-employment was always a goal in front of my eyes, which I wanted to achieve and implement. It is especially important to me to keep the tailoring craft and the appreciation of clothing in focus and to produce as locally and sustainably as possible. During my studies, I had intensively dealt with the negative effects and conditions in the textile industry and it was clear to me that I did not want to be part of this machinery with my work. As a tailor and fashion designer, with isarti I can pass on my values and my attitude towards the fashion industry to my customers and revive the appreciation for local craftsmanship and design.
Pictures: Franca Hengstermann
Do you sell your pieces more online or can you also be found offline - at markets, in stores or with your own store?
Currently I sell mainly through markets and exhibitions (pop-up stores, trade fair visits, etc.). Experience so far shows that I can communicate my products and work very well through direct contact with customers. In the long run, I would like to push the isarti online store and sell significantly more online as well. So, be sure to check out my website www.isarti.de and discover the sustainable casual business styles there.
How is the sustainable fashion world in your home country or where you work? Can you see a shift towards more sustainability, both in terms of purchases and public conversations about it?
Münster is not known as the fashion capital, yet there is a strong buying power here and people are open to good design and fair, local products... but please not too "experimental" ;) In Münster there are a handful of retailers that specialize in fair fashion and the range of secondhand clothing is also visibly growing here. However, the range in the sustainable fashion sector is mainly limited to basic and simple everyday fashion. I see a strong potential to also offer high fashion and more exclusive designs as sustainable and fair products. Fair fashion should be fun and not impose restrictions on style and design.
In general, I think that due to the migration of the textile industry to low-wage countries, a large part of the appreciation of clothing in our society has been lost. People have become accustomed to new clothing always being cheap and readily available. The work and development that go into a finished textile are no longer visible to consumers. It will probably take a long time to bring back this awareness and understanding.
What difficulties do you always face, and more importantly, how do you solve them?
Getting the visibility my work deserves. As a solo self-employed person, I handle product development, manufacturing, marketing, sales, etc. Some things work out more or less well. The presence on social media often overwhelms me and I am unsure if this is really the right platform for my label. At trade fairs and exhibitions I succeed very well in getting in touch with people and I always get direct feedback from the customers.
In terms of producing sustainable clothing, material sourcing is a challenge for me. In the basic area, I think the supply is quite large, but I lack innovations and more exclusive materials that give me creative freedom as a designer and do not limit my designs. Here I have developed the solution for me that I first look at what I find in fabrics and materials and then work out the designs for my collection pieces. I also find the range of deadstock fabrics very exciting. Even though the materials are often not sustainably produced, the processing of deadstock fabrics offers a greater variety of fancy materials and prevents the disposal of unused remnants.
What does sustainability mean to you - at work, but also in your private life?
Sustainability is not a fixed term. Everyone can interpret sustainability in their own personal context. For my private life, I define sustainability like this: Sustainability refers to the ability to lead a lifestyle that protects and preserves the environment, promotes social justice without compromising the needs of future generations.
To me, sustainability means first and foremost promoting and living a conscious use of resources and our environment. I am constantly questioning my needs and making conscious decisions about the need for action. I can apply these reflections to my consumption, to entrepreneurial actions, as well as to my social environment.
In terms of my label isarti, I want to promote conscious purchasing decisions with "on demand" production and create a real sense of anticipation for the garment. Hopefully, this will also increase the appreciation and longevity of the clothing by the wearers. For the fast consuming customers, I always have a selected collection of upcycled unique items in stock, from scrunchies made from ties, to cuffs made from remnants, to upgraded secondhand clothing.