Moda Lisboa, Portugal’s most important annual fashion show, took place last weekend, amid a dazzling shower of stiff-faced, awestruck models, rainbow-colored fabrics, blinding lights, a flurry of cameras flashes and people excited for being able to think and talk about fashion again, and all this collective celebration took me back, all week, to that year of 2014 when, with barely a company, working and sewing at my Lisbon flat that oversaw the Tagus river. I was chosen to present my bags and accessories at the Sangue Novo (New Blood) fashion show, a showcase of Moda Lisboa’s newest fashion designers.
How much have we grown since then with our ideas of sustainable fashion, aesthetics, and as a company! Back then we didn’t even have a full collection of bags; INA KOELLN had been created just a couple of months before, we had no website, no store, and the first prototypes were just rolling out from workshops I’d found cruising through Portugal, searching every hamlet and village behind the steering wheels of cars lend by friends and friends of friends.
Those days, the only promise I had that kept me awake through the week before the fashion show were the mirages of the catwalk lights, the tick, pale fog of makeup enveloping the backstage, the ecstatic, loud clouds of fabrics and the catharsis I’d surely feel when it would be my time to prep my models and usher them to the runway. The idea was, of course, to showcase our bags, but a complete, from head-to-toe Autumn-Winter collection was required for the show, so the trusty pages of my sketchbook turned dark with ink and the sewing machine worked full nights for more than a week to assemble looks that, even back then, already had the respect for nature, sustainability and minimalism that characterizes the INA KOELLN brand.
The day of the show everything looked like a dream. I was half mad with the lack of sleep, ecstatic for the day; Lisbon had that full, white light that would come directly from the sun, shining from a clear sky, bouncing on the cobblestone streets and the Tagus, drowning the city in the most ethereal hues of yellow, orange and pink. The day flashed before my eyes; suddenly it was backstage and model-dressing time and a moment of clarity erupted: there I was, just before my very fashion show, with a surprise visit form my mother directly from Germany, kissing me good luck on the cheeks. The name INA KOELLN was called – and, in five minutes, under a shower of silence, some camera flashed and, finally, applause, it was all over; destiny found me awake again on a restaurant with friends and family, all sitting at a table so big and filled with laughter I almost had to shout so I could talk.
Four years later, though, what I remember the most was a feeling that slowly sprouted from my soul on the days that followed – the realization that what I really wanted to design wasn’t clothes, but bags. Ethically, sustainably-made bags made with the purest, most natural materials and processes. And what I also realized is that true sustainability must blend the concepts of timelessness with minimalism, so that we can strip and take away everything that’s not essential and get a fashion piece that can last a lifetime. True ethics stem from the best products: we all need a bag, a clutch, a backpack, a travel bag, a wallet, a pair of gloves. We strive to make all of this with the idea that the first INA KOELLN backpack or travel bag you buy can, hopefully, be the last backpack or travel bag you’ll ever need. That is what true sustainability is. It took a fashion show, a dream and a couple of sleepless weeks for me to realize that. They shaped our brand into what it is today, and I’ll never forget those moments.