Sat-su-ma, designed by Özge Horasan, is a Turkish slow fashion label attuned to nature. Much of its heritage of inviting, vivid colours is owed to natural dyeing, an ancient ritual of treating textiles with organic plant dyes. Natural and cold dyeing are the core traditional methods the brand has adapted to keep alive more purposeful production and unique, atmospheric presentation. The dyes, ranging from indigo blue to burnt pomegranate red, are giving its light fabrics an earthly and mythical, story-telling feel, and bring a dose of flow to fabric's movement. Sat-su-ma, inspired by the regional richness of Izmir, Turkey, makes you long for the milieu of Eastern summer nights and seek the ever-present tranquility and long-gone romance of Aegean lifestyle.
Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant
What's your manifesto and social mission with Sat-su-ma?
I always think that we're not the owners or the rulers of this beautiful planet. We’re just a part of it, like other inhabitants, who are all equally precious with us. I feel that we can’t be reckless with our actions because they affect everyone. It’s our social mission to remind this when it comes to clothes: ‘Reconnect with Earth and dress yourself in a more refined and responsible manner’.
What is the most important thing you have learned about sustainable clothing industry since you started participating with your own brand?
I learned that good and clean materials always come with a price. Therefore, human labour is not and should not be cheap. These are the things I’ve always known as a consumer, before I actually myself became a producer, too. But, after I’ve started participating in the industry with Sat-su-ma, it became more apparent. For example, it reflects in numbers. If you are after making huge and short-term profits, then sustainability is not your thing. It’s simply impossible.
How does your own mission tie with it?
My aspiration has always been about creating a business that does not depend on cheap materials and cheap labour. I want to prove that a clean, conscious and sustainable business model can survive, too. Fashion industry doesn’t really support such endeavours yet. It has its own harsh rules based on making the most out of anything, no matter what it costs. If you think it’s not right, you have to hold onto your own codes that you believe in, and hope they'll make a difference eventually. On the contrary, doing it differently doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. You probably have to remind it to yourself every day, if you work with sustainable clothing or any other sustainable industry.
"The main reason of garment waste is ‘window dressing’. You are glamoured by a look at first, but it feels neither glamorous, nor comfortable at all when you start wearing it."
Where does your next collection take us with its colours, cuts and inspiration?
Although I have plenty in mind for my future creations, I haven’t framed the next collection yet. But I can at least say that I’m thinking to add pinks, greens and purples to my natural colour palette. Also, I would like to work with some new innovative sustainable fabrics, such as bamboo, tencel, as well as good old linen. Cuts will be simple again, but I’m thinking to add some statement pieces, too.
Are there any very strict principles you always try to follow when you create. Or are you more fluid and spontaneous with your designs?
My inspiration comes from a simple lifestyle in harmony with nature. I’m exploring the needs of a woman who has an active daily life. Not only, or necessarily, in a social way, but especially physically. It’s really important for me to make clothes that make you feel confident and at ease at the same time. The main reason of garment waste is ‘window dressing’. You are glamoured by a look at first, but it feels neither glamorous, nor comfortable at all when you start wearing it. Then it stays untouched in your wardrobe for ages, or goes to the landfill. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m sure you’ve been in this situation several times. We all have. So, my only strict principle is to make down-to-earth designs. The garments to keep, garments that you wear until they shred. The rest is left for imagination and research.
Turkey is known as a land of rich textiles and low production costs. But does being based in Turkey set limits to the way you create? How could you inspire others in the region to switch to greener consumption and production habits?
Well, in my case, it’s an advantage to be here. Turkey has been ranked in the top four in terms of organic cotton yield per year around the world since mid 2000s. Many sustainable brands I know are supplying their textiles from Turkey. To inspire individuals to be more conscious consumers, I run workshops in my studio about sustainable and slow fashion, sewing garments and natural dyeing.
I was allured by this excerpt on your web, where you mention you started "experimenting with natural dyes and getting to know the alchemy behind this artisanship". What should we know about natural and organic dyes?
Natural dyeing is one of the oldest crafts of humankind. Up until synthetic dyes were invented a century ago from today, the nature was our only source of colour. Throughout the ages, we have mastered on this artisanship and obtained a large spectrum of remarkably vivid colours from plants, fungi, lichens, invertebrates and minerals. My speciality is working with plant dyes. The process is basically obtaining the pigment from the natural source, in most cases by just infusing it in water and binding it to natural fibres, such as cotton, wool, silk, linen... you name it. In order to achieve it, a chemical binder called ‘mordant’ is usually used. It can be a natural derived salt, such as alum, or a toxic one, like chromium salts. I've only used alum so far. The fabric is boiled in the dye solution and the heat energy makes dye molecules bind to fabric. It’s a very slow process. It takes days to dye a small batch of fabric. It needs serious commitment to understand the process and be able to control the dynamics of it. Because it’s pretty complicated until you start to see the patterns. It’s highly experimental and intuitive.
"Doing it differently doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. You probably have to remind it to yourself every day, if you work with sustainable clothing or any other sustainable industry."
What is cold dyeing? How much or little is it to do with actual alchemy?
Cold dyeing, on the other hand, is a modernised patented process, originally invented by an Indian company. I have switched to their method from the traditional one and have been dyeing Sat-su-ma pieces with it since last year. It doesn’t involve boiling and the whole process lasts for only a couple of hours, which makes it more sustainable and more suitable for large amounts of production. In the traditional method, mordants are used to fix the colour on the fabric, whereas in cold dyeing organic polymers involve. Results are slightly different, but still beautiful. I can say that traditional natural dyeing is a work of art, on the other hand, cold dyeing with plant dyes is for making products. So, I keep them separate in my practice of natural dyeing.
How connected are you with the Earth in your everyday? How conscious are your own everyday choices and belief system?
For the sake of creating and running a sustainable business, I’m not practically as connected with the Earth as I would love to be. I mean, I have to spend some serious time in front of my laptop, for instance. But I see it as a kind of sacrifice in order to create a solution for an issue. So, I’m trying to achieve a balance between my time spent with the business and its extremely materialistic aspects, and my time spent in nature and with myself. I often travel to places that are not or are very little affected by human activity. But these are getting harder and harder to find, I must say. I live in a small district in İzmir, in the beautiful region of the Aegean Sea. I share a co-living house with three friends, all of whom are doing creative jobs. We have both our studios and living spaces in the same building, which I believe is a sustainable lifestyle. For my daily needs, I can find many local businesses making or growing their own products, because this is a small district and villagers still make their own stuff here. I try to avoid shopping from chain stores in order to keep it local. Also, I’ve been building my own sustainable wardrobe for a while, but it takes time. You can’t just dump all of your clothes and buy new sustainable ones. I re-evaluate every piece I have. Then either I decide to keep it, or find a way to reuse, recycle or donate. And replace them with a new one that meets at least a sustainability criteria and I’m completely comfortable with.
"You can’t just dump all of your clothes and buy new sustainable ones. I re-evaluate every piece I have. Then either I decide to keep it, or find a way to reuse, recycle or donate."
What are your hopes for sustainable fashion industry for the following years? What should still be improved relating to the shift towards greener consumption?
The thing that needs to be improved is human conscience. Being able to distinguish our greed from our true needs is a good start for it. When we buy a thing, we pay for it, we approve it and it continues to exist on the shelves. So, the consumer shapes the industry. I’ve been observing a rapid improvement in fashion industry towards sustainability for the last four years, which is when I started Sat-su-ma. Because consumers start to ask questions and demand transparency. So, let’s keep up the good work and create a more fair and greener environment for our clothes. Because we love to wear them and I don’t think this will ever change.