After ten years of working in the fashion industry, Rafa’s creative director Taghrid Chaaban Zorob acknowledged a deep scarcity in sustainable footwear. A realization that encouraged her to create her own eco-friendly shoe brand and embrace her anti-speciesism beliefs. Rafa also became a way to question fast-fashion, waste and the instant gratification system we all find ourselves caught in. A great look on how slowness can prevent a lot of environmental harm.
Film directed by Kelly Teacher
Where are you from?
I was born in Tripoli, Lebanon. My family moved to Los Angeles, when I was 11 years old.
Can you tell us how you got into fashion?
During my last year of college I found myself looking for creative outlets, things I wanted to do that would satisfy my creative spirit but could somehow down the line turn into a career. I started a fashion blog in 2008, which at the time was a new and raw space. From there different opportunities arose and I eventually ended up working as a Lead Creative at American Apparel for 6 years. I learned A LOT while working there and decided to quit my job and start my own footwear collection.
How did sustainability come into the equation?
To me sustainability is not just a label I like to throw on things to make them trendy or cool, it is a lifestyle that I really try to embody in my personal and business life. We can create beautiful things, and live full and meaningful lives without being so cruel to the environment and animals.
When was RAFA born and how?
I left my day job on a Friday, and the next Monday I started working on establishing my new business. Being completely self-funded it took me a little while to get it off the ground. It was important to me to find the right factory, which would embody the spirit of my brand. When the collection was finally ready and launched in June of 2015, I was 6 months pregnant!
Was your decision to make vegan shoes an answer to an anti-speciesism belief?
Yes, I set out to prove that we can create beautiful shoes without the need to use leathers and things that are traditionally thought of as "luxury" materials. There is nothing interesting to me about leather, especially when technological advancements in the textile industry have already created for us so many alternatives that are not only more durable and beautiful, but good for the environment since they are largely made of recycled materials.
What materials do you work with and why?
We use a material called Ultrasuede, which comes in a gazillion colours and is composed of recycled plastics like PET plastic bottles. We also have experimented using other vintage and dead stock textiles. Our heels are all hand carved out of re-claimed wood.
Do you sense a fashion fatigue and a new demand for sustainability?
There is a definite demand for sustainable fashion, people want things that can be made consciously, that can last a long time, and withstand the test of time. I like the fact that we have a movement of Slow Fashion, but I think eventually people will naturally transition towards this model of consuming goods and we won’t need a label.
Sustainability and slow fashion are often considered as antinomic with our constant search for immediate satisfaction. How do you think we could change that?
Instagram and the Internet as a whole has created this environment of constant consumption. There is no such thing as a "season" anymore. Everything has a very short shelf life, and it's all just being driven by large corporations to get you to buy more and more things that are poorly made that you don’t really want or need. Buy, wear, throw, and repeat. People in general don’t work that way. I have items in my closet that I’ve had, and worn and loved for over 10 years and hope to have them for 10 more.
How do you see RAFA evolve in the coming years?
Our mission is very simple: create beautiful things that are good for people and good for the environment. In the next year I have plans to add on more accessories like belts and handbags, and in the future I hope to roll out a full head to toe collection.
If you could give a piece of advice to a young person who wants to start their own sustainable brand, what would it be?
Don’t take no for an answer, there has been so many instances where I asked my factory to do things in a new way, or use a different material and their first answer is 'no, we cant do it' but with experimentation we’ve learned a lot of new techniques and methods. Also, it is important to keep sustainability on your mind when it comes to all aspects of the business, which includes shipping methods and packaging materials. RAFA has the most unglamorous minimal and recycled packaging around, and I am totally OK with that.
Shop RAFA here