An environmentalist, an emigrant, a war child, Georgian that found fame abroad, the founder of the world-famous brand VETEMENTS – that is Guram Gvasalia, and let me add…Erudite and out of the box thinker and maybe a future president of Georgia, as who knows what comes next?!
Forbes Georgia interviewed Guram Gvasalia, Founder of the perpetually intriguing VETEMENTS. In this interview, Mr. Gvasalia touched upon several topics, including the impact of the global pandemic on the fashion industry, the performance of VETEMENTS during 2020, and running a family business without Demna.
At the moment, I’m seeing Covid-19 statistics more often than VETEMENTS’ new collections. That is why I am going to start our interview with global pandemic and its impact on the fashion industry. Is the industry facing an “existential crisis”, like many experts believe?
Yes and no. In life, many things depend on how you build your fundament. If your house is built well, is planned thoughtfully, and is made out of the right materials, it will sustain any strong wind, even a hurricane. If it is built out of cardboard, it will have little chance of surviving even when the wind does not blow that strongly.
In a world full of waste, many industries, including the fashion industry have been producing more and more, which at the end of the day, no one needed – this was a reality, which you have long objected to. Are you expecting a reduction in overproduction after the pandemic?
No person needs so many clothes as human beings consume today. Most people buy new clothes not because they have nothing to wear or their shoes have holes in them, the reason they buy clothes is psychological.
The clothing industry is very damaging for the environment and is one of the many causes of global warming. However, you need to differentiate between the high-street industry that produces billions of clothing items in places with low wages and bad working conditions, and the luxury industry that makes limited production by highly skilled artisans.
Do we need the high-end clothing in order to survive? For sure not. Will people continue to buy clothing after the current situation in the world has improved? The answer is yes and they will buy even more.
The reason for that is that at the moment people are getting hungry for certain emotions, experiences, and feelings, they will want to compensate those as soon as they can. If you observe well, you will see that after long fasting before Easter, most people will stuff themselves the minute the Easter starts with what they were not permitted to eat during the fasting period. The consumer buying behavior follows the same pattern. In general, fashion works on a very deep psychological level, the level that is usually beyond logical thinking and understanding.
What are the main learnings from Coronavirus for VETEMENTS and the fashion industry overall?
In life, it is always good to be prepared for different scenarios of what could happen. When you play chess, you learn to calculate many possible variables and decide for the comparably best option. We learnt that if you work hard enough, you will always find the right solution. We have adapted our business model, improved our supply chain, and strengthened the relationship with our manufacturers and retail partners. We managed to actually increase our sales and will be finishing the year with substantial growth in comparison to the last years.
How did you run VETEMENTS during the pandemic?
If a machine is well oiled, it will continue to work well. As long as you and your team are dedicated to what you do, have a goal, and truly believe in the same thing, wearing a protective mask and having to stay in the comfort of your own home, have little influence on your work. There is an adaptation you need to go through, but nothing major to be going crazy about. If you hurt your right hand, you can still use the left one until the right one has healed.
Many people especially business representatives believe that restrictions imposed during the global pandemic were human rights abuse. Would you agree?
Life is life, and being a war child, I did see things that were much worse. Spending extra time with your family is a gift. Humans have become so busy without realizing that sometimes doing less is actually doing more. Albert Einstein once said there are two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing was a miracle, the other is as if everything was a miracle. Life is a miracle. Let`s look at everything that comes our way, as such.
You used to insist that you are simply following your instincts and logic as you move your company forward. In which direction are your instincts and logic directing you during the current health crisis?
In life a very useful thing is to switch off your inner voice and follow your heart. Your heart always knows what is the right decision and which direction to go, just often the inner voice is so loud that it doesn`t let you hear a bit of your heart. By switching off the inner voice, you will start seeing the world outside of your head. By learning to see the world outside of your mind, you will better understand yourself.
Try to swim in a river against the direction of the flow. You will probably spend a lot of energy and still not move in the direction you were trying to head to. It is so much better to swim with the flow and gently move with the water.
“I feel that I have accomplished my mission of a conceptualist and design innovator,” was an official statement of Demna when leaving VETEMENTS. What has changed at VETEMENTS since Demna has left you?
Everything has its time. The world of fashion is very exhausting and it sucks out creativity. Every designer has an expiration date working for a company or on a project. Look at Raf Simons, the true icon of our times: he did such an amazing job at Jil Sander, moved to Christian Dior, went to Calvin Klein, and is heading Prada now. All those working experiences were running for a few years. Prada is also probably not his last destination. At a certain point, any designer can end up at Chanel or at Zara. Or anywhere in between. Who knows what comes next?
How did Demna estimate the VETEMENTS’ first show without him, which was held in January 2020?
That is something you might probably need to ask him.
In 2017, you were proud to state that VETEMENTS was a family-run business planning to stay a family-run business. Many things have changed in the last two years. What was your reaction regarding Demna’s decision to leave the company, as a brother and as a CEO?
VETEMENTS started as a collective of different talented people coming together. Everyone brought something to the table. It was important to glue those talents together, some of them became disposable, others still have the vision and are the driving force behind the company.
We work as a family and VETEMENTS is and will remain a family-run business as long as I`m there to take care of it.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a family business?
Trust is the biggest advantage of having a family business, knowing that no matter what, the family is who you can trust the most. In life once you concentrate on the advantages the disadvantages get blurry, fade, and disappear.
Let me ask you about your book ‘Size Zero’, which explains how to go back to a state of zero and how to start living life with zero limitations. Living without limitations sounds good, and it is easy to say, but what about in today’s society?
We are born as part of a society and as long as we live with people surrounding us it will be always a part of our lives. To live life without limitations, it doesn`t mean taking a hammer and going crashing cars outside, it means to live life without limitations in your mind.
When we are born there are programs put in our heads of who we are and how we are supposed to behave. These programs are helpful to be a part of a community, however, they also put limitations on to what one can do in life. There are no bad or good programs. Every program puts a limitation. If you tell your child he or she is smart, you are taking away from them a possibility to become a genius.
Accept people for who they are. Accept yourself for who you are. Accept the society the way it is. And always smile, at least on the inside.
Do you have any plans for your next book?
There will be a next book, probably more than just one. And when its time comes, the book will write itself. Spirituality is a very serious subject and it needs to be approached in a right way. Fashion drags you down in terms of spirituality, as itґs very materialistic and you need to decide when is the time to do what. The now always defines itself.
Did VETEMENTS reach a limit to its growth, which you imposed on your company in order to protect it from growing up as an “ugly duckling”?
We are now wrapping up our teenage years and turning from an ugly duckling into a young adult with strong opinions and a truly clear point of view.
What are your plans for 2021?
We are planning to continue working, further building, and strengthening the brand. In addition to it we are going to introduce a couple of new projects, not related to VETEMENTS.
What would you suggest to those Georgians that wish to achieve success abroad?
Georgian culture is phenomenal but it also makes us more relaxed about many things in life. Maybe because we can always count on our friends and family. The relationship is not something you can count on in Europe, you are on your own and the only thing that can help you is hard work and dedication.
In general, it is very important to have a clear picture of what you want in life. And what you want cannot be a suitcase full of money. Money is just a means to a goal, but should never be a goal itself. Dream about having a nice house, a career. Dream about what you need that money should buy. Gold buried in your backyard is nothing else than stones.
What would your life be like if you would have stayed in Georgia?
I love my country and I`m very proud about where I come from. It gives me a lot of strength and a strong sense of survival. “What if” is never a good question. If something happens, it happens for a reason, as a man proposes and God disposes. However, if I stayed in Georgia, I would probably be running for President.