Neo.Fashion. founder Jens Zander

©Jens Zander
©Jens Zander
As part of the Berlin Fashion Week this September Neo.Fashion. is presenting their new initiatives from 6 to 8 September.

Dear Jens, thank you very much for your time. Would you like to introduce yourself and the concept of Neo.Fashion in a few sentences and how the idea behind it came about?

I am Jens Zander, self-employed since 1996, managing director of the agency S49 and founder and organizer of Neo.Fashion. In the summer of 2016, a conversation with a student at HTW Berlin got the story of Neo.Fashion. rolling. Six years later, we are looking forward to the sixth edition! In the beginning, there was simply the idea of implementing a "graduate show". With the second Neo.Fashion. 2019 and the participation of four universities, the vision grew in me to want to be more than just an event. Together with my team, we have set ourselves the goal of becoming a platform and hub for the best graduates of fashion schools and young designers from Germany. As a new network for the future, we want to offer young aspiring designers a platform for presenting their collections, for further training, for establishing contacts with fashion brands and the industry, and for networking. We want to encourage and challenge the next generation.

It's been exactly one year since the last show. How does it feel to be part of Berlin Fashion Week again this September as a platform and network? What can your audience expect?

It feels great and the anticipation is growing day by day. Above all, we are happy that Neo.Fashion. has become an integral part of Berlin Fashion Week. Over three days (6. - 8. September) the audience can experience a diverse program with 15 fashion shows as well as a showroom with the presentation of current collections of up-and-coming labels from Germany. In addition, we welcome young up-and-coming designers from Ethiopia and Ukraine. 

Whom exactly is your format targetting?

From the very beginning, Neo.Fashion. was interested in welcoming not only trade visitors, representatives of the trade and daily press, industry and politics, but also visitors interested in fashion. This year, of course, is no different.

For the first time, not only graduates will be part of the show, there will also be an additional showroom for young labels and designers as well as two collective shows. How did this expansion of the format come about and what additional opportunities do you hope for participants?

With the edition of Neo.Fashion. 2021, around 400 graduates have participated in the previous shows. Many "alumni" who have started their own labels approached me. The question was whether we as organizers would like to develop a format to give these up-and-coming designers a platform. Asked, done - the new format "Neo.Fashion. presents Aspiring Designers" was born! We are happy to announce that we had over 40 applications for the first edition! A jury then selected 15 participants. In our opinion, the new format fills a gap in the current promotion of young designers and Berlin Fashion Week in a meaningful way. It is our goal to close this gap and to give the participants visibility and media attention with the presentation of their collections in the showroom and the realization of the shows. But we are also concerned with an economically sustainable approach. For most labels, participation in Berlin Fashion Week is a premiere. Through the exchange with our team and later with the visitors, they get important impulses for the development of their brand and gain experience.

You have set yourself the task of creating a Germany-wide network for young designers. What challenges do you face and how do you plan to overcome them?

Looking back, I can say that the biggest challenge was to convince those responsible at the universities, technical colleges and art colleges, on the one hand, and the stakeholders of BFW, on the other, of the idea of Neo.Fashion. We are well on the way here. At the moment, my team and I see the biggest challenge in getting the industry and the trade media excited about the Neo.Fashion. platform. So far, we have not been able to adequately communicate the fact that the three days of Neo.Fashion. bring together the best graduates and a large number of design talents in one place. 

What opportunities does Neo.Fashion offer the young talents?

We offer them a destination. From our conversations with teachers, we have learned that for many students, the expressed goal is to present their final collection in Berlin at Neo.Fashion. We offer them experience. Participating in such a format as Neo.Fashion. is a great experience for everyone. The planning and realization of a show, the backstage area, all the hustle and bustle and the exchange with the other participants is a huge experience from which they benefit. And last but not least, we offer them something lasting. The talents can put their participation in Neo.Fashion. on their CVs. They have photos and videos of their show. In the end, it is a distinction to be among the best graduates of one's year.

What is the reaction of young talent to your format and what is the reaction of the industry?

The reaction of the talents is consistently positive. They are very happy to be part of it, proud of themselves and very grateful to have this opportunity.  There are currently only a few reactions from the industry. I hope to see greater commitment here in the future, especially in times of a shortage of skilled workers.

How do you feel about the general cooperation of young designers / labels? Elbow fight or collective interaction?

I experience a collective interaction within the universities. This was especially evident in the Corona Pandemic. And it is the same now, the planning and preparations for our own "Graduate Show" are being driven forward together. During Neo.Fashion. it is great to observe how the teams grow together and how well the getting to know each other and the exchange between the graduates works. I hear nothing but good things from the young designers. I am optimistic that during Neo.Fashion. it will be more of a togetherness than an antagonism.

What has changed in the last year for you as Neo.Fashion and in your Berlin network? Keyword Ukraine conflict. What changes have you noticed?

In recent years, we have been able to expand our network within the stakeholders of BFW. For example, we work very closely with the Fashion Council Germany. Also this year, the FCG has put together the jury for our Neo.Fashion. Award. The topic of war in Ukraine already came up at the BFW in March. For the September edition, the network here in Berlin quickly agreed to follow up the expressed solidarity with action. Many formats give Ukrainian designers a platform, just like we do.

You are also collaborating with Ukrainien Fashion Week and Kiev University this season - how did the collaboration come about?

In April, we established contact with the Embassy of Ukraine. This resulted in contact with the National University of Technology and Design Kiev. We are happy to present 12 talents in a digital "Graduates Show". And in cooperation with "Ukrainian Fashion Week" six participants and winners of the format "Look into the Future" will also show their collections in a Collective Show. We believe that fashion and creativity need space and freedom. We are full of solidarity and are happy to give a platform to the Ukrainian designers in their current situation. The whole team of Neo.Fashion. would like to express its solidarity to the Ukrainian people.

The Berlin Fashion Week does not exist without the topic "sustainability". Do you see new development in this area? What paths are graduates and young collectives taking regarding sustainable fashion?

The topic of "sustainability" has been an integral part of the training or studies for several years now. The teaching content is also being expanded bit by bit. You can see this again in the current graduation collections. With the award in the category "Best Sustainability Concept" at the Neo.Fashion. Award, we are doing justice to this development. It was also very clear from the applications for the "Aspiring Designers" that all the young labels have strongly addressed the issue of "sustainability". 

Which approaches or innovations from this area do you think we should take a closer look at?

I observe two approaches - one is the topic of "upcycling" and the processing of production surpluses and the topic of "genderfluid". 

For sure there is more than one success story resulting from Neo.Fashion. Do you follow the development of individual labels/designers whose stories have particularly surprised/impressed you? And if so, what makes them so special? 

Yes, there are some success stories. For example, I know of three graduates who are now working successfully in film and theater. And to give a named example, last year Paul Kadjo won at the Neo.Fashion. Award. He's a really great creative young man. Together with a design collective from Senegal, he created the project "Design Up" and this year he is taking part in the "Aspiring Designers" with this project. I am sure we will see and hear a lot more from him.

The Neo.Fashion Award is the highlight of Neo.Fashion - last year the jury was top-class - can you already reveal who will be there this time? In the context of the award, you worked closely with MBFW and the Fashion Council Germany - will this collaboration be continued or even expanded?

The "Neo.Fashion. Award" with the Best Graduates, the essence of the best German graduates from the field of fashion design, nominated by 11 universities, technical colleges and art colleges, is really a highlight. And also this year the jury was put together by the Fashion Council Germany. Among them are:

Claudia Hofmann - Fashion Consultant, Curator and Fashion Stylist

Leyla Piedayesh - CEO LALA Berlin

Neslihan Değerli - Head of Production/Fashion Editor avec nous GmbH and TITLE Magazine

Carina Bischof - Fashion Revolution Germany

Florian Müller - MÜLLER PR & CONSULTING & Fashion Revolution Germany

Timo Wolf - Innovation Lead H&M beyond.

Sebastian Warschow - Chief Communication Officer Haebmau Agency

Due to scheduling reasons, the award show will not take place at MBFW. Together with the organizer, however, it has been agreed that the winner(s) of the awards will be given visibility at next year's Berlin Salon.

What chances do you see for Neo.Fashion. in the future?

Basically, I am optimistic for the future. The challenges, such as the energy crisis, Corona and the uncertain economic situation, must be addressed and overcome with a positive mood. If we do our homework and get the industry on board, for example, nothing should stand in the way of implementing Neo.Fashion. twice a year.

Where else will we see you at the upcoming Berlin Fashion Week?

I've been invited to a few events. Although I have a really great team around me, I won't be able to accept all the invitations. I will definitely go to the FCG networking evening on Monday night though.

Thank you for your time and the interview, dear Jens!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to cover Neo.Fashion.!