Zofi’ was founded in December 2021 by Zsofi Szabo, 3 months after moving from her birthplace, Budapest, Hungary to the beautiful city of Paris. Aspiring to represent people of all genders, sexual orientations, body types and personal histories, ‘zofi’ aims to make you fall in love with your imperfections and live a fulfilling life with your own unique, personal approach.

Sara Otero: What motivated you to start this project and create your own brand? 

Zofi Szabo: So many things, I don’t even know where to start. First of all, I was pissed off by how the fashion world looked; I perceived it as a very cruel industry filled mostly with over-privileged people, strategically making money based on exploitation of workers, our environment and vulnerable people desperately trying to constitute their identity through their style. I started because I wanted to make a change, but a real one, not something pretentious. Bring real diversity, transparency, responsible development processes, and most importantly, some really fucking cool clothing people can wear and feel like themselves, therefore lose their desire to look like any other person. A safe space in a troubled world, that’s how I can describe it the best.

SO: Do you think that the idea of starting your own business is too idealized? 

ZS: Definitely. I think it mostly comes from ignorance, people not knowing what it really means to take on such a responsibility. The romanticization of the ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘small business owner’ figure on social media also doesn’t help much. I find it damaging that not many people keep it real when it comes to how their business is really going. I have to add, transparency might be one of the most important things I want to get better too. I want to contribute to a safer, more honest space in the world, but find it hard to reveal painful or awkward aspects of the process. Currently working on finding the courage to be vulnerable about negative experiences that are happening with me.

SO: What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far? 

ZS: There are about a million challenges, but if I had to pick one, it would honestly be my imposter syndrome. I just can’t feel proud of myself, on the contrary, I constantly feel embarrassed and deeply scared by how the brand is going. Always questioning myself, but in a toxic and self-destructive way. I always say, yes of course the industry is hard, but in fact it is really me who stresses the hell out of myself every single day.

SO: What attracts you the most about working in the world of fashion? 

ZS: The people. The people on the streets, on the metro, everywhere. I find humanity fascinating. Also, there is nothing that brings as much joy and fulfillment into my life than the pure magic of working with people, bringing them into our community, opening up and getting to know each other.

SO: Where do you usually find inspiration? 

ZS: Anywhere and everywhere. Everything is inspiring for me, even though I don’t really like that word, it’s too simple to describe such a fascinating and complicated notion. Anything can touch me, at any time. There is not a day in my life when I don’t feel overwhelmed by the impact the world has on me. I am hypersensitive, easily overstimulated, filled with emotions, living life with a very critical and detail-oriented eye. So yeah, I feel like going crazy all the time – I wish I was exaggerating.

SO: The universe of your brand is very personal and special. Where did all the creative idea  that defines the brand come from? 

ZS: From somewhere very deep and dark, deeply hidden in me. My ideas come rushing towards me constantly. There is also a very intentional and independent approach to my studies too that I love to keep up. I find such joy from learning and discovering new things, and it feels very exciting to know there is still so much left to learn about the world and design in every possible way. Learning is what gives me drive, motivation, and fulfillment also.

SO: What do you hope to transmit to people with your way of understanding and making  clothes? 

ZS: That you don’t have to resemble anyone, only your most authentic and emancipated self. Also that there is such power in being vulnerable about what is going on with you. I make clothing to express the reality of being a human, showing all the ups and downs without filters. This is where the notion of asymmetry and deconstruction comes to me when I develop the pieces. I hope people find power when showing up wearing zofi, using the clothing as a statement saying: actually, there is a lot of shit going on in my life, but I am a human being, and I am strong enough to get through it all. Maybe it’s a too romanticized or abstract idea.

SO: You always emphasize the idea of exploring new identities to break your own fears and  work on self-acceptance. Do you think that the fashion sector today follows this mantra  too? 

ZS: Hard to say. The fashion world is huge, and there are many different parts of it. I think there are numerous mostly younger designers that rely on this idea, but there seems to be even more brands that are still projecting you an elevated and curated self as a goal to achieve with the use of carefully fabricated marketing campaigns and over-idealized images. I am here to question the accuracy of this ‘strategy’ might I say. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I believe it can be toxic to believe it does. At zofi, we keep things real.

SO: What do you think is the first thing that has to change in the fashion sector? 

ZS: Inclusivity. More people of dramatically different backgrounds, more designers from different upbringings, to create more opportunities for people to be heard. I also think we need more support that enables upcoming designers from modest financial positions to succeed. Also more diversity in physical appearance of course, but not in a forced way. I like to believe that what I stand for is an inclusive approach that is natural and based on my real interest and relationship with the people I work with. It all comes from a genuine and honest place in my heart, filled with the pure fascination towards people’s journeys and point of views on the world.

SO: You always opt and support circular and responsible production, what future do you  think upcycling has? Is it just a trend or will it settle? 

ZS: I mean, there is no other way for me. I would feel sick in my heart if I didn’t do my best developing environmentally conscious pieces. It is my responsibility, and there is no way around it. It saddens me that there are so many obstacles when trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ sustainable piece, but every single effort matters, and I hope other companies that do mass-production etc. know this and will make the necessary changes to improve their way of production. If we want to have an Earth to live and breathe on, we have to find ways to not to exploit our natural resources. It is that simple.

SO: How do you make fashion and sustainability go hand in hand in your project? 

ZS: As I said, being conscious of the impact of our processes is non-negotiable for me. The pieces are made from fabric that has been left over, originally used for other purposes, or vintage pieces I break down then reconstruct. During the whole process of construction we keep a zero-waste approach when using up these fabrics. All of these ideas have been crucial when working on our silhouettes, and have become the basis of our aesthetic as a brand. Asymmetrical cuts and deconstructed forms all the way.

SO: “Searching for authenticity” is the first thing we see when we enter the Zofi website, do  you think that nowadays it is much more difficult to stand out from the crowd? 

ZS: Speaking as someone who has crippling anxiety from the undeniable oversaturation of the world of clothing design, my answer is yes. But at the end of the day, if you work harder than most people, and never lose sight of who you are and where you are coming from, you won’t lose your core strength as a designer, which is the fact that there is only one of you and your way of self-expression can’t be replaced. Also with the help of social media, if you learn to use it in a healthy way, there is a chance you will be just fine over time. I like to say, ‘don’t look at the people who are ahead of you, but look at the people who are next to you’. Negative comparison can kill your drive, so we should keep supporting others and find joy in other people’s successes. Such a cliche, but I find it true.

SO: What do you think is the main difference between the designers of past generations and  you? 

ZS: We are more critical, more aware of the consequences of our actions, also less afraid to break down norms and challenge toxic beliefs. At least that’s how I see myself as a designer, that’s how I aspire to be.

SO: How do you see the future of fashion? Do you think there will be more and more room  for projects like yours? 

ZS: Yes I certainly hope so. It brings me comfort to know that more and more people are becoming quite well educated about all things sustainability, therefore supporting small businesses as an attempt to break down the capitalist system. I think we have come a long way when looking at consumer habits, but it still worries me when we will achieve a truly harmless way of existence as humans. I think our future is figuring that out, and making this collective effort to protect our environment stronger than everything else.

SO: If you had to define your brand in three words, what would they be? 

ZS: Joyously refusing conventions.

SO: What do you think has been your greatest achievement since you started? 

ZS: That I didn’t give up when it seemed impossible to continue. I am glad I’m crazy enough to believe in my wildest dreams, and being as stubborn as I am, would never give up on my vision.

SO: And finally, any celebrity that you were particularly excited about wearing a piece by  Zofi?

ZS: The one and only Madelline @i.am.madelline. I am such a huge fan of her music, and will never wrap my head around the amazement of seeing her wearing zofi.

words: @helernarnalmartin