If you are what you wear, then Chantal Brocca knows exactly what she’s about. The Italian-Sri Lankan wears many chic hats: entrepreneur, stylist, creative director, fashion critic, and most importantly, passionate writer.
As a young creative, she finds herself in a constant state of adaptability like many in her generation. Raised in Dubai, she was a professional dancer growing up, which she says saved her and gave her confidence but at the same time sapped all of her energy and creativity.
Today, she works as a stylist for Ounass, and through her website immaterials.net, shares her illuminating perspectives on society, culture, and the propaganda machine that is the fast fashion industry.
Chantal argues in one of her essays that back in the day, fashion used to hold true meaning to people; a piece of clothing felt like an extension of ones’ own identity, and so clothes were well kept and respected.
“This is one of the fundamental ills of the fast fashion model: styles come cheap, fast and uninterruptedly,” she writes. “…what we are left with is a perpetual flow of empty, impulsive desires which we immediately proceed to satisfy. This is not fashion, and, to use a modern buzzword, this is not consciousness.”
While pursuing her masters, her thesis was grounded in consumer culture, which led her to lingerie and the underlying societal ideologies that evolved (or devolved) the industry.
“I looked into the meaning of lingerie, how it came about, why it evolved, and what were the perceptions of women in society at the time. It made me fall in love with it,” she says.
While researching the lingerie industry, she realized that it was stagnant, and so in 2018, she co-founded Studio Asanawa, an ethically handcrafted, multi-label luxury lingerie brand that focuses on conscious consumerism and preserving heritage while connecting to the modern feminine identity.
Chantal traveled to Europe to source the lingerie, meeting with emerging designers and ateliers to understand how they worked, where they worked, and how they kept their brands ethical. The lingerie is made of delicate, handcrafted embroidery and refined, locally sourced fabrics in small batches by talented women, adhering to traditional values of luxury and quality.
“For us, it was about being a bit more lenient because while it’s admirable to try being 100 percent sustainable, people don’t realize that it’s expensive as hell, especially when you’re a startup, to tick all of those boxes…you’re dead before you start,” she says, explaining why they allowed the brands to place themselves between fully sustainable, high-end brands to ethical, more affordable labels.
While juggling entrepreneurship, however, Chantal was also writing as a freelancer. “I saw my dad doing this as well, where he had different fingers in all the honey pots, and even though it was amazing, the issue is maintaining how you segregate and give everything the time it deserves to be the best version of it that it could be.”
Her journey to fashion activism really began when she worked as an event organizer with the non-profit Fashion Revolution, which is a global movement that creates awareness of the devastating environmental and human rights violations that occur within the fashion industry.
The insights she was gaining into the industry were nothing short of outrageous and she wanted to speak out. “Anger fuels a lot of my writing, even though it’s not the best motivator. When I see an injustice or something doesn’t make sense, I write about it,” she says.
In her work, she often sheds light on how the structure of the fashion industry makes it inherently manipulative. “It’s built-in obsolescence; it’s what the seasons are all about. Before there were only two collections, winter and summer, but now? There’s like 52 collections a year, how is that feasible?” she questions.
“Everything is built with overproduction at its core. Even luxury companies do this and burn a ton of material or lock it up in a vault so that they create this illusion of scarcity to make you believe that they are handcrafted and expensive,” she says.
There is no balance to be found in wanting to buy en masse and sustainably too, but there is a relief in narrowing down the causes you would like to fight for. “It has to be a notion of I buy less, but I buy well,” says Chantal, who personally lets vintage fashion shape her approach as well as supporting artisans or dwindling industries in certain countries.
“I scoured the markets of cities I traveled to for pieces that really screamed to me, I had adventures looking for hidden gems and discussed at length with vintage sellers to hear their stories – and, best of all, I fell in love with my aunt’s and mother’s old clothes, because it became a way for me to carry them with me. And as I did those things, I found I got to know myself too,” she writes.
Recently, her focus has turned to the creative freelancer struggle, and she’s working towards a digital event that can bring together creative freelancers, agencies, and unions to discuss the lack of regulation. “Figuring out your worth and tying a monetary value to an intangible [element] is the biggest hurdle creatives have. It’s a subjective process,” she stresses.
Through her many talents, Chantal is determined to spread ideas that shatter carefully crafted illusions and systems of injustice that have hijacked authenticity so that we can keep rediscovering the deep genius of humankind.
Follow Chantal on Instagram @chantalbrocca @material.immaterials