Interview with CHATTY

“Clothes will never make you a better person.”

Before there was Czech fashion, there was CHATTY. Over the following pages Radka Sirková and Anna Tušková discuss their journey as Czech fashion pioneers. They take on Czech fashion scene and today’s “Instagram-driven” fashion industry.

Interview by Pavel Mühlheim

 

Radka Sirková and Anna Tušková, Photo Marek Mičánek

Radka Sirková and Anna Tušková, Photo Marek Mičánek

 

We met in Prague 2 months after their presentation of the Fall Winter 2019/2020 collection in Budapest and more or less 3 months before the next collection would be shown. Fashion is a fast moving industry and it seems like there is no today. Certainly, there is the past, and the future. Designers are permanently working on new collections a long time ahead while the old ones get simply old (sometimes even before they hit the stores). And so we talked about the past and the future. And as it often happens in fashion, time was precious…

 

CHATTY SS19 | Photo MBPFW

CHATTY SS19, Photo MBPFW

 

Designers must be always a few steps ahead, balancing with one foot in the future. When we met, Anna and Radka were already working on Spring Summer 2020 collection yet did not want to say much about what was to come: “Probably we will present the next collection in Prague and probably we will not present it in a classical way, but that is all I can say at the moment,” revealed Radka. Undoubtedly, the collection will be reflecting their own vision of modern femininity and as such will implement male elements into their traditionally elegant female clothing. Seeking inspiration in men’s fashion is characteristic for all collections as Radka points out: “We believe that a woman is not necessarily sexy only in a short skirt but we think that also basic elements of menswear may – used in the right way – have the same role in women’s wardrobes and communicate the same message as for example the short skirt.” “We like our collections to be playful. We usually add some kind of a joke or a hyperbole. And we work with our own original print,” describes Anna. “What is also characteristic for each collection is that we use subtle sports elements and we always try to add a hyperbole; either by using fresh combination of materials or by using materials that tent to be used in a certain way but we intentionally used them in another way,” adds Radka. And because Radka and Anna did not want to share much about the future, we looked back at the past.

 

CHATTY SS19 | Photo MBPFW

CHATTY SS19, Photo MBPFW

 

Radka Sirková and Anna Tušková founded CHATTY back in 2005 and were the first modern Czech fashion label on the local market. They started with custom made denim that constitutes the core of their business to this day. And as it happens, the starting point was hard. “Our beginnings were very punk. We started our business in times when it was impossible to study fashion marketing in the Czech Republic and fashion was seen as a purely artistic field and nobody prepared us for selling it. Almost nobody knew how to sell fashion in the Czech Republic anyhow. And so we started at these times and had to learn everything ourselves while already running the label,” describes the first years of their business Radka. Anna says the start was extremely challenging because they had to teach people to trust and respect a local fashion brand: “There was a time when we struggled with the fact that if a brand hadn’t been recognised abroad, it wasn’t considered cool on the Czech market and we had to compete with an immense influx of big international brands that immediately gained a big popularity here.” Radka further expands on the phenomenon: “I think it goes together with our Czech mentality and the non-existing self-confidence. That’s why I think people buy well-known fashion labels to help themselves to boost the self-confidence. The labels may be produced in China with margin of 1000% but it is a social status for the people. Through the brands people try to communicate that they are better people, but as we know clothes will never make you a better person. Our clients are little bit more self-confident I believe and that is why they do not mind wearing clothes that is not mainstream, clothes that they do not see in every fashion magazine. And I think it all was caused by the Communist era. The totalitarian regime ruined the healthy Czechoslovak society and we must build it again. And honestly, it has not been so long to build the trust in us and to realise that what is Czech is good. It is a complex socio-psychological problem.” And even though the situation has got much better and Chatty is well established brand presenting its collections regularly at Prague Fashion Week or abroad e.g. in Berlin and Kiev and Budapest, Czech people are still learning. “It is becoming to be better but the understanding of fashion is still not at the quite level as abroad. It is still about how much people are willing to invest into fashion and whether they realise what they are investing in; whether they are paying for a big marketing budget of a commercial brand or if they pay for quality,” explains Radka.

 

CHATTY SS19 | Photo MBPFW

CHATTY SS19, Photo MBPFW

 

Why did you decide to present your last collection at Budapest Fashion Week instead of in Prague?

Radka: I think it is mainly because we are not satisfied with the conditions of presentation here in Prague at the Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week. We have been fighting the situation for years now, trying to change it but as it seems we haven’t succeed. And so we made a choice that the creative freedom and an overall good spirit are much more important to us than to present where for example maybe the public think we should. And we chose Budapest. Well, they chose us because they approached us themselves. And because it all is happening in Central Europe, we don’t find the reach to be that distant and we expected the reach to be more or less the same for us. And the truth to be told, we were very satisfied with the Budapest Fashion Week.

 

CHATTY FW19/20 | Photo BCEFW

CHATTY FW19/20, Photo BCEFW

 

How did the Budapest fashion event differ from the one in Prague?

Anna: Altogether, the standard of the Budapest Fashion Week, regarding the list of invitees, how the brands are presented and what impression the event makes on customers and the guests is much higher. There are many more people and of a different professional level than here in Prague. Overall, different people are invited to the shows. Since it was our first time we cannot say it was absolutely superb because we did not manage to get in touch with all people we wanted to talk to but indeed this is the way we are trying and certainly it is something we could make work and benefit from in the future.

 

Why do you think Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week does not fulfil its role in these aspects?

Anna: We have such an experience with it. Prague fashion week doesn’t live up to basic standards of a fashion week. We set the presentation of our brand at certain level and over a long period of time we struggled with the fact that the level of presentation here in Prague doesn’t fulfil our requirements. And the guests that are invited to such an event here – it is great – but neither it brings any added value nor a foreign impact for the brands.

Radka: Personally, I think that to suppose that somebody from central Europe will get a higher awareness thanks to a fashion week is a utopia. These days thousands of brands are presented at showrooms in Paris every year where the focus from all the buyers from around the world is. And so I don’t understand the logics that a buyer would be intrigued enough by a single collection presented at a local fashion week to take the risk and order it and sell it in any kind of a concept store.

 

 CHATTY FW19/20 | Photo BCEFW

CHATTY FW19/20, Photo BCEFW

 

What is the role of the smaller fashion weeks then if you say there is no impact for the brands?

Anna: A presentation of the collections you make a few times a year is very important and the fashion week in Prague is of course the best place where you can present your brand. However, you cannot really compare it to other fashion weeks, and now I don’t think of the big ones like Paris or Milan but for example the one in Kyiv, because the standards are very different. We believe that fashion weeks should be mainly about the designers not about the programme around. It should be all about the presentation so that the brands have the chance to professionally show their new collections. And we have an impression that here in Prague the designer is only a small element of it all…

Radka: Only as a complementary programme!

Anna: And this is also why we present our collections abroad where the designer is the main reason why the fashion week is happening rather than being more of a social event for the invitees.

 

When you turn back into 2005 when you founded CHATTY, how much did the brand change over the years?

Radka: I think that when you look at any kind of a brand, either high end or a small independent one, naturally each of them changes in the course of 15 years because the world is changing, the technologies change and of course the creative vision of the designers changes as well.  And honestly, at first our design was a bit different because we were 15 years younger and so also we dressed differently back then than we do now. And over the years there are clients that grow and change with us because they like our direction but also as we change there are new clients coming to us.

 

How did it all start? And what was the Czech fashion scene like back then?

Anna: All the process of our career was pretty gradual and it all started because of the lack of products on the Czech market. We were missing good jeans and original-design-clothes. At first, it was more of a student project and later on it all started to scale up. People liked our clothes and started buying it. At the beginning we were making just some extra money with it but gradually it became our full time job. We definitely didn’t have any business plan or anything. We didn’t do any research or a market analyses it was more a spontaneous project that began out of our passion.

Radka: There was no real Czech fashion when we started. There were few old-fashioned Czech brands or fashion salons but we wanted to come up with something different. The core of our business was not to be us standing in a salon full of beautiful gowns.

 CHATTY FW19/20 | Photo BCEFW

CHATTY FW19/20, Photo BCEFW

 

What was the reaction of your family and friends when you started your own fashion label on a market where original local fashion basically did not exist?

Radka: I think that they simply trusted us. They may have though we were a bit crazy but nobody doubted us or said that the direction we were heading was wrong. And maybe also the fact that it all happened while studying helped because maybe our parents though: “Well let them try now they will start doing something else later.” But because our effort started paying off and we found out that suddenly it wasn’t just a project on a side for us but everything else started to feel like that and this project of ours became to be the core of our world both professional and private one, then naturally everything changed and everybody understood this would be our lives…

Anna: It wasn’t out of blue because we both were studying fashion. We both wanted to become fashion designers. So it was really rather a natural development of things. And for both our parents it was logical that we would be doing what we were studying. And it wasn’t the case that we would graduate and be like: “Here we are.” We started during our studies with a big humbleness; we worked hard and focused on the craftsmanship from the beginning and so it all was a very natural and gradual process.

 

During the last 15 years there were other brands born on the Czech fashion scene. Considering the fact that the Czech market is pretty small (for an original fashion), what are the relationships between local designers? Is it rather a competitive environment or more supportive one?

Radka: Considering how many designers there are, the Czech fashion market is quite small. And I think that nobody actually realizes how big the competition is here. And that’s why there is a very friendly atmosphere here. And from our side – and I really wouldn’t like to sound that we think we are better than anybody else – but the thing is that if anybody calls us and thinks that we can help with something, we are always very happy to do so, because we realize how difficult it was for us, all those 15 years when we were learning everything ourselves. And we are two designers but there are many designers that work alone. They don’t have any kind of feedback or they don’t have an experience with communicating with clients or showrooms or anything… And that’s why we say that we are always glad to help.

Anna: The competition is necessary and actually beneficial. Without it you easily rest on one’s laurels as we say. Competition drives you to move forward.

 

What is the dynamics of your work relationship after that many years?

Radka: After those 15 years we know each other very well with Anička but it doesn’t mean that there are no disputes or even conflicts. I think that this is actually what pushes the brand further. Because when you are alone and all your vision is only in your head and you don’t have anyone to discuss it with then it is more difficult to move forward.

Anna: As in any other relationship, communication is the key. And humbleness. At the moment we are actually working on our communication; trying to make it more efficient. The brand is like our baby and everything must work well. And if we want the brand do well we both must get on well together and work like a team. The client in the end doesn’t care if you have any disputes in the backstage.

 

Marketing plays an important role in fashion industry because it helps to create imagery that today’s fashion is all about. How much can an independent brand afford to invest into marketing?

Radka: Nowadays, marketing is important for every brand and I think unless you make for example only handmade tailored shoes you cannot exist without it. You need to communicate with the world to let your clients know who you are and what you are doing. But if we wanted to do marketing we would have founded an advertising agency. For us marketing is little bit less important I would say because our brand is about authenticity. And that’s why we are little bit quieter on our marketing channels. We can afford not to be as bold and loud in our communication as other brands because we know that our customers look for something else. Of course we want to attract new customers as well but even that has to be within the limits of our communication style.

 

Is it the marketing budget that in the end makes the difference between small and big global brands?

Radka: Not only! It is in generally about having big budgets that global brands may afford to invest. But yes, marketing budget plays a big role.

 

 CHATTY FW19/20 | Photo BCEFW

CHATTY FW19/20, Photo BCEFW

 

Lately, Virgil Abloh took over Louis Vuitton Men’s Ready-to-Wear Collection and later on LVMH announced the launch of Rihanna’s new luxurious fashion brand. What do you think of the phenomenon of appointing “famous names” rather than “real designers” as art directors of big fashion houses.

Radka: For me, this is a purely marketing vision because it is appealing to the mass. And today the mass is not concerned about the craftsmanship and quality but only about the visual part of it. We live in a visual time and everything must be instagramable.  And I think we should get back to the craftsmanship and consume less otherwise this planet will be dead soon because I think the way fashion is moving forward isn’t all right. And it loses its value for me it is entertaining but I like to say that it is like watching a series instead of a good quality feature film. And the fact is that there are voices saying that fashion has been dead for the last 10 years and nothing has been really changing since. That shows also the fact that street wear became part of fashion. And everybody is like, “It’s cool cool cool…” but what is behind it? And what will be the next step in fashion if not technologies that have been discussed for the last 10 years and nothing has happened yet, or ecology that inevitably must change it all. And of course, it is fascinating to watch the phenomenon of Off-white but for me that is not fashion, for me it is just better Diesel.

 

 

CHATTY SS19 Campaign, Photo Filip Kartous

 

Speaking of marketing, is sustainability in fashion just another marketing tool, a way to sell, or is anything really changing?

Anna: I think that fashion industry isn’t principally sustainable and we all should be concerned with what has already been produced rather than producing more and more (even if so called eco) clothes.

Radka: I think we all must realize that wasting is the core problem that the society needs to deal with. People have a feeling that if they buy recycled clothes it is without the remains and so they can simply buy thousands of pieces but it is not true. When we go to the fabric fairs it is unbelievable how many chemical materials are still being sold. You can find some recycled ones but it is very marginal and in the end you find out that there is still 50% of polyester in it anyway. That’s why I think that really a big part of the sustainability movement is still about marketing. And I believe that a part of the fashion industry is truly concerned but it is not supported enough. There are many misleading information as well, like for example eco-leather because there is not such a thing, it is not vegan leather it is synthetically produced leather. That’s why I started to be interested in what Stella McCartney does. Not necessarily in terms of her aesthetics but I like the concept. I like the way she thinks about fashion. Her vision is about innovation. Lately for example she started processing spider silk that I find fascinating.

 

How important are incomes from side projects (e.g. designing uniforms for commercial clients) for an independent brand? Is it possible to rely only on individual customers for a small brand such as yours?

Radka: I think that such incomes – well, I don’t say they are absolutely necessary but if you get a contract from a big commercial client once a year or even more it does help a lot. It brings you a freedom because you have a budget that you can easily invest into the next collections and also it gives a mental piece. We have such projects here but it depends what company stands behind them. We still get proposals from companies that think such collaboration is a good promotion for us and don’t offer any thing else in return. And I don’t think this is all right after being 15 years on the market. And lately we were working on a big project for a large commercial client. Everything seemed to be working well but in the end they wanted to use us for marketing purposes. We agreed under certain conditions but they didn’t want to abide by them. And we were pretty shocked that the company acted like we could be just glad. And of course we are very glad for offers like this but it doesn’t mean we sell out our 15-year-old kid for 5 CZK and a marketing impact.

 

Your collections somehow often if not always work with men’s garments; have you ever though of creating a men’s collection?

Radka: Yes, we certainly have. The fact is that a half of our customers are men for whom we do bespoke denim. And actually we did make a men’s collection once but our experience was that there were women buying it. And we have also created a unisex collection that is available up to now but still we consider ourselves as a women’s label.

 

Photo Filip Kartous

CHATTY SS19 Campaign, Photo Filip Kartous

 

Where do you see yourselves and your brand in 10 years?

Radka: Certainly we are keen to grow, not necessarily in terms of the size of our company, but we want to constantly evolve. At the moment, the most important things for us are to keep our creative freedom and to find a meaning for our label and ourselves within the entire fashion business that we are part of. To know exactly what we do and why we do it; why we run another fashion label that produces another clothes filling this planet that is already overloaded by it. I believe it comes with age and how our priorities are changing. Years ago we wanted to conquer the world, to sell our clothes all over the world. Not anymore. That has changed and our vision is different now.

Anna: It is funny, the timing of this interview because we have just reached a point where we are re-evaluating and looking for a new direction of our label. Truly, we have been trough a strange quarter of a year full of odd experiences and collaborations and collisions that drove us to the point of re-thinking how to continue the business not to get mad out of it. Because, after all, those 14 years of creating a collection after a collection and many presentations abroad and taking parts of showrooms and constantly trying to move forward have been extremely challenging. And it is almost impossible to take a break. It is a 24-hour-long job and there is not enough time to even get everything done on time. So we found ourselves in this moment when we want to keep going and evolving but also we are looking for new ways how to make things more efficient not to burn out. Maybe we need to step back a bit for a while to see more clearly the future.