Diligent or How to Build a Fashion Brand - Strefa Designu

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“Diligent” means hard-working, meticulous, persistent. Two people who possess these qualities can do anything. For example, they can create a fashion brand. Marta Pospieszna and Szymon Mrózek, graduates of SWPS University’s School of Form did just that. They have developed their own fashion brand Diligent and they won the first edition of Fresh Fashion Awards, a Polish fashion award for innovative designers. 

Marta Nizio, Design Space editor, met with the designers at their studio, in Wilanów district of Warsaw.

Design Space: Marta, you are wearing white and Szymon, you are dressed in black. Was it on purpose to look like yin and yang?

Marta Pospieszna: We didn’t plan it.

Szymon Mrózek: Sometimes we do not register whether an effect is carefully planned or if it happens by chance. We influence each other unconsciously.

Design Space: It seems so. You’ve known each other for a few years now. When did you start your joint adventure?

Szymon: We met in Poznań, at School of Form – the design school. We arrived at the university from different backgrounds and were inspired by different things. For example, I was mostly interested in industrial design due to the family business.

Marta: And I was mainly into fashion design. But it took a long time, before I understood that fashion is my thing and that fashion design can become my profession and not just my passion.

Design Space: Tell me more.

Marta: I started school at the age of five, when the normal school age was seven. In early 1990s, Polish schools were not ready for that type of experiment. Because I was younger than other kids in my class, I had to use a lot of energy to fit in, in the group of children who emotionally were more advanced than I was. This is when my personal life-long race had begun - the race with myself to get top grades and the race with the people around me to gain acceptance and understanding. While I was racing, I zoomed by the most important thing – the understanding of who I wanted to be and what would make me happy. Therefore, I first got a degree in Polish studies and later I studied speech therapy. One day, when I was travelling from Poznań to Zielona Góra, I saw a School of Form advertisement. At the time, I run my own restaurant and my life was pretty organized. I met with a couple of friends and announced to them that I was going back to school. Seeing the glimmer in my eye, they knew that I would succeed, even if I had to turn everything upside down.

Langusta Lips by Diligent
Langusta Lips by Diligent

Photos: Jan Kriwol | Photoby | Collection Langusta Lips by Diligent

Design Space: You were pretty determined!

Marta: Yes. The plus of this situation was that by the time I arrived at School of Form I was more mature than my fellow students.

Szymon: It probably sounds rather banal, but age has nothing do with fundamental things. For example, I am seven years younger than Marta, but sometimes I feel older, when it comes to some aspects of our partnership. I have always been very ambitious and together with my twin brother, we have always wanted to create something that would ensure our independence in life. Our father runs his own business, so we have been growing up in an environment where planning, looking for new inspiration and innovative solutions are the norm. For us, our father’s passion for business has been a tangible proof that you can identify with your work very strongly and that work is very important. So we created Diligent, although at the time, we had a different idea of what we wanted to do. Later, my brother moved to a different country to follow his professional interests and I came to the conclusion that I must fill the gap he had left.

Design Space: And this is when you found Marta.

Szymon: Yes. It took me a long time to convince her, but when she finally agreed, in 2015, we came out from the starting blocks at full speed.

Marta: Yes, it was a difficult time.

Design Space:  I can imagine. You had to juggle your studies with developing your brand.

Marta: Anyone who studied at School of Form knows that studying at a design school requires much more than just coming to classes at 8:00 am and leaving at noon. At School of Form learning never stops. It is not like any other university program, because the student-teacher relationship is based on a partnership and exchange of inspiration. Szymon and I would meet after classes and work on developing our brand Diligent until 4:00 am. It seems that Szymon has imposed on us the diligence that comes with the name of our business. There was a time when we began to feel exhausted. We slept only a few hours a day and we were working constantly, pursuing new inspirations and new solutions. You can’t do it for long. To top it all, we didn’t want to be average and forgettable. We wanted for our work to be meaningful.

Szymon: Yes. We are both perfectionists, which often impacts our wellbeing. We were good students and after classes we would turn into the worst critics of our own projects, in order to become better designers. But perfectionism must leave some room for chaos. Because chaos is conducive to creativity and new ideas.

Langusta Lips by Diligent
Langusta Lips by Diligent

Photos: Jan Kriwol | Photoby | Collection Langusta Lips by Diligent

Design Space: But your hard work has paid off. You won an award, PLN 500K. It’s a great success for a young duo of designers. What have you done with this large sum of money?

Szymon: People think that winning half a million zloty means luxury, but this money was not for our personal use. The award had to be invested in our promotional camping and a photo session with Jan Kriwol, a renowned Polish photographer. Soon, we will be launching our new collection, Langusta Lips. We want to be current and we are trying to take full advantage of our five minutes of fame.

Marta: Our project has been recognized for the idea, the message and the quality. Szymon and I are responsible for different aspects of our collections. Szymon focuses on the form, shape, and the constructions, while I concentrate on colors, patterns, and fabrics. I cannot imagine running this type of business alone. You mentioned yin and yang - we really complete each other.

Design Space: And where do you find inspiration?

Marta: Everywhere. We are inspired by contemporary art, the street, and social issues. We follow trends in the fashion industry, read fashion magazines and observe people around us. We are interested not only in fashion, but also in clothes for the mass market. We are not forgetting that there is a difference between these two categories and our collections reflect that. The garments we design for models are different from the clothes we design for individual clients.

Szymon: We are inspired by the street, pop-culture, and discussions about social issues in the media. Everything and anything can spark an idea for a new unique project. I think a designer is a humanist with a piece of paper and a pencil. And an entrepreneurial streak is a great asset.

Design Space: It seems so. You can be the best and have the greatest ideas, but if you do not take care of your business, you may never be noticed.

Szymon: Exactly. Marta and I are aware that we can design anything, but not everything we design will be viable businesswise. I had studied at the Academy of Art and Design in Wrocław, but I quickly understood that art for art’s sake was not how I wanted to conquer the world.

Marta: Therefore, we try to adjust the high fashion from the catwalks to mass produced everyday clothing. We are realists. We believe that fashion should combine art with utilitarianism.

Langusta Lips by Diligent
Langusta Lips by Diligent

Photos: Jan Kriwol | Photoby | Collection Langusta Lips by Diligent

Design Space: Duality seems to be a recurring theme in your relationship. Perhaps it stems from your personal lives. Szymon, you have a twin brother and Marta, due to your early school experiences, you have always needed a confirmation from another person that you are doing well.

Marta: You might be right. Partially we thrive on the duality, but at the same time we want to break out of this dichotomy. It is a bit like a cat and mouse game with the audience and our clients. The moment they want to define us, we jump ahead. Hide and seek. Have you noticed that we do not specify gender in our fashion collections? However, there is a clear division into men’s and women’s clothing in our product lines made for the mass market. Our latest collection, Langusta Lips (Lobster Lips), has a double meaning. Literally it refers to the anatomy of a lobster, its relatively large middle section and its color, and metaphorically it refers to covering deformities of the body and to a body image. We just like the transformation phase and all the possibilities that it implies.

Szymon: However, we do try to align this duality with reality. We design differently for men and women, taking into consideration the proportions of the male and the female body. But we keep the same esthetics for both. Duality - yes, artificiality - no. And I completely agree with Marta: the notion of transformation is a true source of inspiration for us. We are fascinated by metamorphosis. Our Langusta Lips collection includes deformed faces and body parts put together in unexpected ways, resembling a reflection in a distorting mirror that shows new weird silhouettes. This multilayered expression has allowed us to create a collection, which is balanced with respect to the two genders.

Langusta Lips by Diligent
Langusta Lips by Diligent

Photos: Jan Kriwol | Photoby | Collection Langusta Lips by Diligent

Design Space: It seems that you always think through your projects and you know what you want. What are your future plans?

Szymon: Continuous development.

Marta: Yes, for sure we want to keep developing and we also want to see tangible benefits resulting from our hard work. There is ample room for maneuver in Poland and we are in the center of things. We are proud of our achievements. We have some international successes under our belts, such as: sessions in the Italian issue of Vogue, the Polish edition of Elle, and in Kultbult - a German fashion magazine as well as a brand presentation on i-D - a global platform for emerging talent. We were the finalists at the Young Fashion Awards in Łódź and we won at the Fresh Fashion Awards. It is important to stay enthusiastic and keep the pace. By any means, we are not resting on our laurels!

Design Space: One more question. Looking from the perspective of a few years in business, what can ensure success in the fashion industry?

Marta: Determination, enthusiasm and ideas. And a lot of energy, because it is the driving force of the whole enterprise. You have to be well organized and very disciplined. And, I think, it is very important to have a great partner, who has your back.

Szymon: I agree one hundred percent.

 

Designers

diligent oni

Szymon Mrózek and Marta Pospieszna - graduates of Fashion Design at SWPS University's School of Form and owners of Diligent fashion brand. Winners of the first edition of Fresh Fashion Awards 2017. They received PLN 500K for a promotional campaign and a photo session with a renowned photographer Jan Kriwol. The jury of Fresh Fashion Awards highlighted the courage, individualism and originality of Diligent designs.