A long journey ends, another begins
“I was looking for somewhere I could be. And think. And have the facilities to make a large collection in a short space of time. After looking around, I found Building BloQs.”
Zana Agafonva arrived at Building BloQs in spring this year, ahead of her graduate collection fashion show at The Cass.
In a short space of time, her awe-inspiring collection of leather-based fashion has come together and Zana has become part of the fabric at BloQs: an inspiration in our Textile Studio, and a magnetic addition to our community.
More than most, Zana’s journey here has been extraordinary. Her journey to The Cass catwalk began in the former USSR - in Lithuania, making clothes for her dolls.
“My father enjoyed art and tailoring,” says Zana. “He made art from glass, wood and amber. “Sometimes when a child is interested in something like that, parents don't allow them to develop it. But given his interests, my dad was supportive. I think my creative side came from him.”
After high school, Zana studied apparel and technology at college in the late 1980s. She went straight to a job in a mass-production Soviet clothing factory.
“I worked in quality control,” says Zana. “I helped to decide on dividing up tasks, and the best machines for the jobs. All the process tasks would be divided up among the machinist: everyone had their own specific jobs to do along the conveyor built.
“I worked there for some years but I was young, I was hungry, I was angry.”
It was the early 1990s, and Lithuania was one of many Bloc countries drawing away from a crumbling Soviet system. With the rules on privatisation starting to relax, Zana quit her job at the factory to work for a commercial fashion firm; making winter jackets.
Before long she was heading up her own business: a fashion design and boutique tailoring outfit specialising in women’s clothes.
In the name of love, Zana moved to London in the mid noughties. Despite a considerable professional portfolio, she was a latecomer to the English language so struggled for work and met a lot of dead ends.
“I didn't speak English at all when I came here,” says Zana. “I tried to find a job but it wasn't possible. And then there was the people who paid you very little because they know you can't go anywhere else. So it was a tough time.
Undeterred, Zana kept the faith with fashion and set her sights on Croydon College’s Fashion Design and Production course – a composite introduction to all sides of the fashion industry.
Zana switched from Croydon to The Cass in year three to complete a BA (Hons) in Fashion Design. And at the beginning of 2017, she was staring down the herculean task of pulling together a collection for the school’s final show.
That show is today.
“There was big demand on space and machines at The Cass so I started looking at other options,” says Zana. “I was looking for somewhere I could be. And think. And have the facilities to make a large collection in a short space of time. After looking around, I found Building BloQs.”
“At first I thought I could buy a machine and do it at home but I didn't have space. So I phoned a few studios but one was too small; one had only a domestic sewing machine; one wanted wanted me to bring in my own sewing machine; others were fully booked …
“And then I came here. The space is full of creative people which is really nice. People are friendly and happy to help me. It’s fun. It’s a creative environment and people like to see what other people are doing and get involved.
“There’s good machines, including a walking foot sewing machine which is very important. And space. There’s a lot of space.”
In just a few short weeks, Zana has put the facilities at BloQs to good use, compiling an entire 11-piece collection of women’s fashion made almost exclusively of leather.
The designs are beautifully coordinated, provocative, and etched with emotion, particularly the recent loss of a friend who struggled with addiction.
“I wanted to make a collection that resembled an explosion, a dream, an enigma,” she says.
“Salvador Dali always captures the kind of emotion that I want to put across. I’ve made very strong pieces but there’s a playfulness and a lightness to them too. There is a positivity there.”
Like most students, Zana isn’t sure what the future holds beyond her studies but she is planning for two things: one, that she can again run her own business. And two, that she can continue to work out of Building BloQs.
“In here I don’t need to bring machines, I don’t need more space. I don’t have to be here every day,” she says. “I can come only when I need to - and I can pay only when I need it.
“When I’m ready, I know Building BloQs will be ready.”