FASHION Wiola Sychowska discovered her love of post-apocalyptic fashion upon attending a festival. Today, she designs for the community who shares her love, as well as cyberpunk and alternative fashion—all while being sustainable with an eye on zero-waste. Jack Yan interviews her
First published in the December 2022 issue of Lucire KSA
Wasted Couture (wastedcouture.net) has been gaining a reputation for its alternative, cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic fashion, designs that might typically be ignored by the mainstream press, but which have strong followings. Based in Poland, the label’s offerings are all hand-made and sustainable, with zero waste.
Wasted Couture is the brainchild of Wiola Sychowska, who founded the label in 2016—arguably the first in Poland specializing in these genres, and certainly the only one Lucire has come across over 25 years who focuses on them. In the past, this publication has looked at elements of cyberpunk, or designers (such as New Zealand’s Nom D) who release moody, deconstructed work, but Wasted is singularly focused on this alternative world.
There are post-apocalyptic festivals inspired by films such as Mad Max and Waterworld, as well as computer games such as Fallout and Wasteland. Look a little more widely and plenty of other films fall into this category: 1973’s Soylent Green (which took place in an overpopulated 2022), 1987’s Cherry 2000 (set in 2017), or even the curious 1994 TV movie spinoff Knight Rider 2010, which bore little resemblance to the 1980s series. Around the world there are pop culture festivals, many of which touch upon the gaming and cosplay worlds. Wasted appeals to this market, which is incredibly sizeable with a global community, and provides outfits and accessories for the music and entertainment industries.
Sychowska notes that the genre is nothing new, with post-apocalyptic imagery appearing in ancient history, though its current form derives from the post-World War II period, ‘inspired by wars, pandemics, and nuclear trials.’ With ecology and climate change now far more at the forefront of news coverage than it ever has been, many might wonder what is on the horizon for humanity. Fears about artificial intelligence add to the concerns. It is a growing area of interest: ‘When a new instalment of any of these [Mad Max, Fallout] or other major titles is published, you can notice an increase in the public’s interest. You could see that very clearly with cyberpunk back in winter 2020.’
Sychowska herself did not consider herself interested in the genre, but her best friend convinced her to go to the Oldtown Festival in 2014. Known as one of post-apocalyptic fashion’s biggest attractions, held in Stargard, Poland, the summer event brings together those who enjoy not just the æsthetic and the film genre, but people who want to have fun and enjoy its concerts. It’s immersive, lasting 100 hours, and attendees can role-play and feel as though they are participating in their own movie.
Sychowska recalls, ‘It was love at first sight. I was charmed with the æsthetic, impressed by the attendees’ creativity in their costumes and vehicles, and absolutely fascinated by the endless design possibilities this genre gives to the creators. It became my new passion, and just a year later I came back with my first handmade accessories for sale.’
She already had an interest in art, and as a child she loved to draw, paint and create. But upon finishing high school, she hit a dilemma. ‘My parents knew I dreamt of being an artist, but they encouraged me to choose a safe, convenient, stable job instead. It was my mom’s idea that I should work in the police, and she was my greatest authority, so as a clueless 19-year-old, I followed her advice and chose the public security studies,’ she says.
Sychowska worked at the police force for seven years, while studying for her master’s degree in political science. Her spare time was dominated with what she wanted to do in her soul: art.
‘My favourite thing to work on was alternative clothing for myself. During weekends, I’d go to festivals and concerts of my beloved music bands. I started hearing positive feedback about the way I dressed. That’s how the whole story started.’
Her label has really resonated with the cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic worlds in its six, nearly seven years, and Sychowska puts her connection to her customers down to sheer hard work.
When prompted, she breaks it down to three factors. ‘First of all, it’s my passion. Wasted Couture is my dream coming true—I do what I love, and, as a result, I am never fed up with my job. There are times when I have to stay at work late hours or over the weekend, and at times like this it can be really exhausting, but the satisfaction makes up for the effort. I also think the customers can see that our products are handmade with love, and they really appreciate that.
‘The second factor is the support of other people. I have an amazing husband who has been backing me up from the very first steps I took into the business. His sister [Jagoda Warych] is my right hand in the company, and she’s the most responsible logistic director I could’ve ever dreamt of. Over the years, I’ve cooperated with lots of amazing people, from talented crafters with whom we’d exchange skills and knowledge, through specialists in marketing, business development, customer service and other aspects, to fantastic models, filmmakers and photographers who created beautiful footage of our designs. There are hundreds of people who’ve left their fingerprints on this project, and I’m sure we wouldn’t have made it so far without their influence.
‘The third factor would be an open mind. You really need to look for opportunities and don’t hesitate to reach out to grasp them. Having a clear vision of the brand, being bold, trying new things, not giving up in case of a failure, never losing sight of the goal.’
Humbly, Sychowska adds ‘a generous dose of luck’ and ‘a pinch of insanity’.
The worlds of Wasted Couture and Lucire intersect through its sustainability goals. Sychowska explains, ‘We strive for sustainability in multiple fields. The fabrics and leathers we use are mostly upcycled—we buy them from thrift stores, get them from friends and family, or collect production leftovers, for example from an upholstery. We also use some very unusual materials, typically considered to be garbage, such as used bike tyres and inner tubes, bottle caps or rusted nails. We take care not to throw materials away, we collect even the smallest scraps and reuse them—our patchwork designs are perfect for this. We’re constantly learning more and more about the zero-waste approach, and we also inspire others to try it during the handicraft workshops we organize.’
Wasted’s top sellers are their hoods made from recycled denim, leather or patchwork. Sychowska describes them as ‘something special that you can’t just get in [a] store.’ Their harnesses are also strong sellers, as they can be added on top of any outfit. Third are their leather gloves, while smaller items have sold in their hundreds. However, their clothing designs are particularly intriguing, especially as each item is unique and made to order.
Being based in Poland keeps costs low, says Sychowska, thanks to a lower cost of living and running a business. The eu also supports growing businesses like hers. However, she says that locally Wasted Couture’s work isn’t as appreciated as it is outside Poland, leading to exports, though things are changing. ‘I think the people here don’t completely understand the value of our work. Recently, though, we gained some attention locally, which also provides us with new opportunities to showcase our work and helps us find new business partners.’
It helps with Wasted’s authenticity that Sychowska is part of the community that she serves, becoming an organizer of the Oldtown Festival herself and finding more inspiration from the event. ‘The amazing, talented, creative people who gather there are a never ending source of inspiration. It’s not the only one, though. I’ve attended multiple post-apocalyptic festivals and events over the years, such as Junktown in Czechia or, just recently, the amazing Wasteland Weekend in California. But the greatest thing about this genre is that you can find new ideas anywhere. A fantasy convention, a sci-fi exhibition or a holiday in Morocco have been major influences for my work over the years.’
Sychowska sees her label’s future as a logical progression of where it is today, and from what Lucire can discern, it’s heading in the right direction. ‘Our dream is to work with the most important companies in the entertainment industry. We also want to see our designs worn by celebrities on the red carpet. It’s an ambitious vision, but as I said before, we work really hard, and step by step, we fulfil all of the goals we set for ourselves. And during the process, we stay true to our passion, we constantly develop new skills, pay an obsessive attention to detail, even in the smallest orders, and take care to deliver a first-grade customer service. With this approach, I believe nothing is impossible.’ •
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