Eleni Bantra is a fashion designer who creates timeless, versatile and unique hand-crafted statement accessories made from high quality textiles. Eleni embodies the very ethos of slow fashion, producing pieces on a made-to-order basis or in minute quantities. All her accessories are digitally printed using dye free inks and are similarly free from any harmful chemicals. Operating a strict zero waste policy with any excess materials being re-used, the labels rigorously sustainable ethos extends to the packaging which is made from recycled materials and is in turn fully recyclable.
Born and raised in Greece, Eleni studied at both the University of Brighton and the Royal College of Arts. These academic, and subsequent work, experiences, have formed the grounding for a unique design aesthetic which marries the worlds of art and science. It’s a design philosophy which takes its inspiration from the beauty of the natural world around us and those glorious, microscopic patterns we can’t see with the naked eye. Elenis creative vision stems from these unseeable organic structures of nature and the geometric shapes of those man-made instruments one needs to see them with. Art and science coalescing with the natural and human worlds to inform and influence the design process.
For her latest “INSECTA” collection, the designer aims to explore the delicate complexity of insects through the microscopic details of their multi-structured forms. Our team were privileged to see it first-hand before it dropped. Chalisa styled the pieces you see in the accompanying shots, while Leigh and Brian sat down with Eleni to discuss the collection, the inspirations that she draws from the seemingly disparate worlds of art and science, and her hopes and aspirations as we move towards 2022.
You marry art with science to create your accessories which may not seem the most obvious combination. What led you to combining what might seem like two very different disciplines as the basis for your work?
As Marie Curie said “I am among those who think that science has a great beauty”. The subject of both my degrees, was the manipulation of pure materials and their methods of transformation into a beautiful and elegant result. Therefore, from the beginning I was taught how to combine art with science in order to bring a final product to life. Specifically, my first degree in Textiles with Business Studies from the University of Brighton, introduced me to the coloration of fabrics, how to recognise, manipulate, and use the many different techniques. A similar approach was taken in my second degree (MA in Jewellery & Metal at the Royal College of Art in London), where metals in their purest form, were transformed into beautiful objects.
It has always been a combination of art and design for me and my work; always a sample sheet with recorded calculations, dosages and exact time that led to a desired result.
I first started looking under the microscope when I was preparing my BA final major project. My idea was to explore patterns further, in a different way, something I could not see with a naked eye. It was sports, which, during that period, helped me get through stress. It took me a while to realise the effort my body was making to go through the day, and so I decided to look at the human body under the microscope. I was curious to explore the sheer and delicate complexity of our bodies’ internal systems. And that was it! Fascinated by the ability to combine nature and technology, I began exploring and developing my original idea further.
How does that translate in practical terms into design development and what role does biomimicry play in both your research and the creative process?
Biomimicry is an approach to the creation of structures and materials that
imitates “nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies”. As much as I am inspired by the subtle and intricate engineered components of nature, I am also fascinated by the technological advancement of the human race. In this way, I try to creatively and equally utilize the factors “nature” and “man”, while at the same time, organically combine art with science, going beyond what is obvious at first sight.
As for the design development, I start by doing research which leads me to the final decision about the “world” I will reveal using the microscope. With the help of field experts, I use the laboratory to observe the slides I need, prepare new ones, if necessary, stain them, photograph them, and at the same time draw the outlined shapes inspired from the equipment I use. Experimentation follows, during which I focus on colours, shapes and textures. The final step is the designs, the “translation” of all the above into final products.
Creating a brand whose main visual characteristics are scientific and not only fashion related, can be very risky, since people may not understand the concept behind the brand at first. However, by creating a unique identity and maintaining it with consistency, you ultimately create a timeless product.
Congratulations on your latest collection “Insecta” which looks to examine the complexity of insects in microscopic detail. What was it that fascinated you about this particular area of the natural world and how did you use the scientific research you conducted when creating the beautiful accessories which form the collection?
Insects are distinguished from other arthropods by their body, they can be deadly and beneficial, as well as valuable objects of study. As humans, we have evolved the fear of insects in order to avoid potentially dangerous encounters with them, when in fact our fear is closely related to the feeling of disgust. Since my goal, when designing, is to go beyond what is obvious at first sight, I decided to go beyond my fear of some insects, forget what I knew before and see them from a different angle. My research for each sample I use helps me understand where it originally comes from, however the beauty of the images one discovers when looking under the microscope completely changes what you know. As a designer, I see the sample of examination differently from a scientist and I transform those into something more artistic. A good example would be a sample of an insect compound eye, which is a dome-shaped transparent membrane that acts as a lens for arthropods, but what I see is a fabric texture, a tulle sample with embroidered pearls and many layers.
Insects are products of nature, and while this collection brings the details of their beauty to life, the truth is that they were, are and will always be there, in this very nature we must respect and protect.
Can you share the range of accessories that are included in the “Insecta” collection with us?
The collection consists of both silk and leather accessories, and most of them are brand new additions compared to the last collection. The silk range includes 90x90cm and 45x45cm scarves, double-sided twillies, as well as skinny and original scrunchies made from the printed excess silk. The leather range includes shoulder bags, bucket bags, cardholders and keyrings with printed details on recycled canvas.
What was it that attracted you to designing accessories and does operating in this area of fashion free you from the seasonal mentality that still permeates the industry?
I grew up in an environment full of aesthetic references where my mother wore beautiful scarves and other accessories as part of her everyday outfits. I always think of a very influential quote by Gianni Versace: “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you. Decide what you are and what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live”. I believe that accessories relieve you from the common “fashion worries” one has; there are no sizes and seasonal restrictions, they can be worn differently and for various purposes, they can be timeless and colourful. My intention is to let the customers choose entirely how to use them as a means of self-expression and self-realisation.
How do you want the person who wears Eleni Bantra to feel about themselves and also about the natural world around them, when they wear one of your creations?
The magic behind the creation of my collections is that I can never predict what I will discover under the microscope. There is nothing to expect, no prejudice and it all depends on the stains used to dye the sample, the magnification and the angle of the microscope lenses. Everything is unique and gives me this “WOW” feeling every time. We, as humans, are also part of nature and everyone of us is different and special in our own way. We have created a world where most of the things have a definition and we tend to look at them from a certain perspective at first, when in fact we can be surprised by the “WOW” things we can find when going beyond what is obvious at first sight.
I want the people who wear my products to feel that “WOW” feeling about themselves and be proud of who they truly are, value the time they have spent to understand themselves and feel good. I want the product to become part of their story and express their individuality. If we all understand our uniqueness, we will eventually look beyond all those things we expect to see and reveal our beautiful and unique patterns we sometimes try so hard to hide in order to blend in.
You are committed to a slow fashion, sustainable and ethical business model. What steps do you take to ensure your supply chains and production process adhere to that philosophy?
When designing an accessory, I always ask myself, in how many ways could someone wear this? Which is the best durable material for this product and what is the best way to create it and still be a responsible brand? I spend a lot of time researching suppliers who are committed to the same ethical philosophy as me and constantly try to find new techniques and ways to become more responsible, including but not limited to high quality textiles, small quantities orders, environmental footprints, chemical free dyes, waste policy and ethical working environments.
The brand’s luxury accessories are made of high quality textiles that can last for generations. The items are either made-to-order or produced in small quantities, aiming to reduce the environmental footprint of production on the planet as much as possible. In addition, all accessories are digitally printed using Azo free or natural dyes and without any harmful chemicals. Furthermore, the brand operates a no waste policy, where no product is discarded or discontinued each season, and all excess fabric is used to make other products, such as scrunchies and mini artworks. Finally, all the packaging is fully recyclable, biodegradable or made from recycled materials.
Being committed to such a business model requires a lot of thought into every decision which can make finding profit margins harder. However, such business model is a way of life for me and I need to stay true to myself and my consumers.
“Greenwashing” remains endemic in the fashion industry with words like “sustainable” and “conscious” being appropriated by brands who know they chime with a certain demographic? What more do you think the industry needs to do to both regulate and educate itself?
Sustainability should not be a trend, but instead an integral part of production to protect our planet. Although the industry has made some great steps over the years, including but not limited to eco fabrications, eco printing and upcycling, there is still a lot of consumption. I believe that the industry should have a 360-degree approach on sustainability; it is after all both a social issue and an environmental one. Combining ethical working standards together with eco-friendly production solutions, there is hope that consumption will be reduced eventually. The rise of rental clothing companies, vintage re-sale, limited quantities and made-to-order brands are encouraging examples of a more sustainable way of living.
In explaining the brands ethos, you quote Albert Einstein who said “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious” As someone who uses scientific research as the genesis for your designs which of nature’s mysteries continue to leave you with a sense of wonder?
The truth is that it is very easy to be carried away with the new things one discovers every day. Although, if I had to pick the one thing that continues to leave me with an incredible sense of wonder and still have not experimented with, I would choose the luminous life in nature. Even though this effect has been explained scientifically, the glowing mystery of bioluminescence remains and continuously surprises scientists with its abilities. This chemistry of light fascinates me not only for its visual effect, but also its scientific capabilities and it would be something that I would like to research further in the future.
Having created this gorgeous second collection “Insecta” what are your hopes and ambitions for the brand as we head towards the end of 2021 and into 2022?
I think the pandemic reminded us that planning our future is very hard, although you cannot stop dreaming. My hope is to build a healthy brand while keeping its unique identity. By embracing new technologies and adapting to consumer lifestyle changes, my goal is to create a “buy less, choose well, make it last” reputation around the brand.
Many thanks to Eleni for giving us such an insightful and informative interview and inviting us to style the pieces.
As the existential climate change crisis focuses us even more concerningly on a natural world that is disappearing with alarming speed, Eleni Bantra uses her latest “INSECTA” collection to highlight the planets insects, who’s very existence is key to our planets survival.
Designing and producing with intention, Eleni Bantra is a consummately authentic slow fashion designer with a commitment to highlighting the beauty of our planet through the beauty of her products. If you are looking for artisanal, ethically produced accessories, Eleni Bantra is a label that definitely deserves your attention.
View the AW21 ‘Insecta Campaign’ below: