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Not too long ago, underground fashion meant wearing whatever you could find or create with your own two hands. Though that’s still the case in many ways, things have come a long way, with gothic fashion expanding past the edges of second hand stores, shopping malls, and even the cities and countries that contain them. Access to the Internet means access to retailers around the world. Although the Internet changes the face of fashion by fine tuning it, it also leaves plenty of room for true individuals to remain underground.
Popularization also inspires creativity in online retailers, such as Askasu, a post-apocalyptic, bondage-inspired company based out of Warsaw, Poland which sells fashions to individuals not only in its home country, but also throughout Europe and the United States. “I sell and ship to many countries around the world, but I almost never had the chance to travel abroad” designer, Joanna Nowak, explained. “It’s also a lot easier for me, as an individual artist, to do fashion shows here (in Poland) and focus on creating. After all, I’m still shocked by the speed of things happening around my brand since November last year. I have several collaborations planned, with amazing artists from all around Europe.”
Born and raised in Lubin, a city in Lower Silesia, Poland, Nowak spent much of her childhood at the library or wandering through the forest. At 16, she moved to Kraków to study at the High School of Fine Art. Nowak did not receive any formal training in fashion, instead describing her humble beginnings in design as a desire to fulfill her own tastes. “It began with my need to sew for myself in the early teen age. The urge to create came from my taste that didn’t fit what mainstream shops had to offer. Although it wasn’t long ago, online fashion shopping almost didn’t exist back then.” Nowak explained that her excellent skill in sewing took many years to master. “I’ve learned from my mistakes when sewing simple things since I was a teen. I’ve gained professional practice while working in men’s suits. I’ve always been interested in the process of producing garments, so I’ve dismantled them into pieces.” Despite all her dedicated training, she explains that the barrier for entry is rather low. “It’s not hard to obtain theoretical knowledge of how to sew.” She explains. “Just looking at how huge is the fashion industry, you can conclude that the access to learning resources is easy and a degree isn’t necessary for a determined person. Self-education allowed me to save a lot of time. Thanks to that I have already started my own brand.”
Without the overhead of a conventional store to slow her down, the designer behind Askasu manages the workload associated with handmade, quality items. Her decision to also not sell her merchandise wholesale simultaneously assures that her garments will always be reasonably priced as well as exclusive to her site. Despite avoiding the pain of an overbearing rental store space, the financing and obtaining of equipment to start her business wasn’t any easier. Nowak said, “It was all my hard work after hours. I had a responsible, demanding, daily job, so it wasn’t easy. I saved whatever I could for an industry-grade sewing machine, then I risked everything by making the leap and quitting the job.”
Nowak delves into the trajectory of Askasu. “For a year and a half before I started the company, I ran my page on Facebook and, later, on Instagram. I posted every result of a collaboration with Polish photographers and alternative models. I started the fan page by the suggestion of my friend and by my loved one.” Nowak didn’t initially think to start a business. She was simply passionate about turning out the designs in her heart. “For all these years I created from a passion, not thinking too much about the future business.” Her ultimate goal? “I’ve dreamt of being an acclaimed designer.” Wanting to continue the handmade aspect of her company and promote herself as an established designer, Nowak hasn’t yet searched for a business partner or co-designer. “I’d like to hire people to help me with tailoring,” she explains, “so that I can keep on offering handmade.” This, however, isn’t a pressing decision she will be making soon, but an option that is in the back of her head.
Askasu sells mostly harness-type bodies behind long, chiffon gowns and skirts. The piece that made the biggest breakthrough in her popularity was the Lace Strips Lingerie, while the one that is most often asked about was the Dark Elf Dress. The two main materials – cotton and chiffon – are very common and comfortable. Customers do not complain about how seamlessly the fabrics integrate with their lifestyles and are uncomplicated to put on, take off, and clean. Gothic designers often use lace in their designs, especially lace in combination with chiffon. Nowak felt otherwise. “I was afraid to introduce lace into my designs, as one can easily fall into clichés or kitsch by using it. The keys to my unique design are frequent juxtapositions and choice of lace shapes.” She describes her style as a “delicate effect of laces and translucent fabrics contrasted with sharp lines provided by strips. It’s my personal, ongoing endeavor. It borders on goth, though not to fit the subculture, but to bring something new, a bit extravagant, to women.”
Her items are not popular with just ordinary women. Since she has been doing many collaborations in Poland for some years, her network of people to wear her designs has increased. “Musicians often contact me first!” she remarked. “I happened to work with a vocalist from a young band As Night Falls. I’d like to undertake such collaborations in the future, though I think I need someone to help me with sewing first. Another great form of cooperation was music that accompanied my fashion shows, mixed live by DJs from Thecompressjah. The dark, intense electronic music was something refreshing, as it might seem that such sound doesn’t fit fashion shows.”
Since it has been creatives such as musicians, costume designers, and other artists that have popularized gothic clothing, inspiration knocks from many unexpected corners. “I’m equally inspired by the work of great fashion designers and by what happens in the alternative scene. These are earlier collections of Givenchy, Iris Van Herpen, the unforgettable Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Yiqing Yin. There are at least twenty designers I follow on Instagram. Every kind of art that moves my aesthetic sense can be a valuable impulse to create. An inexhaustible source of inspiration is collaboration with models and photographers, every one of which has their own sense of beauty. Seeing the effort they put into their work, I feel admiration and I know they constantly work on themselves.”
Askasu also joins the growing group of online retailers that are focused on promoting longevity and sustainability in fashion. “My approach to longevity is based on several elements” Nowak explains “The most important one is the quality of my garments. I also don’t aim for seasonal fashion nor hitting a transitory trend. I’m sure that my clients will be able to wear these clothes several years from now. I strive for sustainability by having handmade as the foundation of my business. The fabrics are also chosen by me in person, from trusted shops.” Despite the hardships of running a small company, Nowak is still determined to keep prices reasonable. “I don’t want to transfer the costs of quality to customers. I try to keep the prices on such level that my designs are affordable for a lot of people.”
Nowak still remains humble. She plans on staying strong in, what can be perceived to be, an often overly saturated, apocalyptic market. “I’m not going to stop where I am now. I will continue on developing. The harness theme is just a supplement to the style that is in the core of all I do. I don’t treat it like a closed item, but like one of the forms that this style can be expressed by. That’s why I won’t be worried if the fashion for any particular element fades.”
Even as a motivated businesswoman, she continues to be sweet and gracious: “I would like to thank every fan and friend who supports me in what I do. Without you, I wouldn’t be where I am today!”
To see more of Askasu Designs, visit http://askasudesign.com