Michael Michalsky
Society
17Academy spoke with the German designer about sustainable fashion, his successful collaborations with Adidas and Y-3, and why his friends don't work in fashion.
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Alexander S. Wolf: He’s the pope of German fashion, the godfather of German fashion designers.

Michael Michalsky is here. Hello, Michael.

Michael Michalsky: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Alexander S. Wolf: Let's skip the small talk and just dive into it.

We're both Berliners. We don't have to be friendly. We have to be efficient.

First of all, when I think fashion design, I don’t think sustainability.

But you have shown that you can do fashion and sustainable.

Can you give us a few examples what you already did to help this world?

MM: I've been working in fashion for almost 30 years.

During my time as a designer, when I first started something like fast fashion, these chain stores didn’t really exist.

They kind of developed along the lines of democratizing fashion and style for everybody.

We’ve come now to a situation where there are some brands that offer new collections every two weeks.

I noticed this and said about seven years ago, this is really wrong.

I think, people are being made to buy things that they really don't need when they go into these shops.

They’re just enticed by the cheap price of the stuff they see.

As a designer, I want to do the complete opposite.

I want to do haute couture, which is made to measure where I can be as creative as I want to be because none of the garments, the clothes that I design, have to be reproduced in huge quantities.

I started setting up a network with local craftsmen like tailors, hat makers, all these types of people.

And now I make clothes to reflect what I'm feeling and to express what I think is creatively right.

These things are quite expensive compared to a T-shirt or jeans for 9.99.

Michael Michalsky: It's about being different, while purchasing or buying in a more thoughtful way than before.

Alexander S. Wolf: So you're promoting a completely new attitude towards fashion.

But coming from fashion to collaborations and partnerships: you are known for building partnerships.

You do networks.

And this is special because in the fashion industry many people have a very big ego and low level of collaboration skills.

With you, it's different.

You just mentioned the network of craftsmen.What's different? What do you do differently from others in that scene?

MM: Well, first of all, I've been working as a designer for almost 30 years, very successfully, because I'm always interested in the present and the future, never really in the past.

That's why I don't really like talking so much about what I've done so far.

When I started at Adidas, I didn't start because Adidas was the most successful supplier of sneakers for the Olympic Games or football world championships.

I went there because I was in London when the second Summer of Love started.

Something had changed.

The year before, when you used to go to clubs, you used to wear designer clothes head to toe, and they had bouncers and pictures that would tell you “no sneakers”.

But when these warehouse parties were taking part, you saw people wearing sneakers.

At the time, these big sports companies didn’t realize it, although if you're honest, it had already happened before in the late seventies, when hip hop and rap started.

They were the first youth culture.

They were the first youth culture to wear sneakers out of context, not for their function, but as a fashion statement.

Michael Michalsky: Then I was thinking, what's going to be the next level?

I decided that if Adidas wants to play in another league and reach different consumers, then it is only going to happen with somebody who is different.

And that's when I started working with Yohji Yamamoto.

I worked with Yohji because he is very, very, very, very different.

But at the same time, he was very much the same. Yohji doesn't care about trends.

He's Yohji Yamamoto and his clothes are all about movement.

Alexander S. Wolf: So you already told me what we can take from this.

If I'm running an NGO and fighting for the Sustainable Development Goals, people tend to always align with people who are similar to them.

They always try to find the same people.

Michael Michalsky: Well, I personally think hanging with the same people is really, really, boring.

That's why, for example, in my circle of friends, there's nobody that works in fashion because I find it much more interesting to learn from other people or to hear stories from other people, and the more opposite they are to myself, the more interesting it gets because if you hang with the same type of people, you will always hear the same types of stories, the same types of solutions, the same types of problems.

But if you work with people or get together with people that are the complete opposite of you, and it's a lot of fun, it can be very hard and difficult, but it will be very rewarding.

ASW: But let's come to the hard and difficult part because working with people who are completely different means conflicts and collisions.

So how to deal with that?

If you have people completely different from you, how do you bring them together, how do you manage these conflicts?

MM: Well, the first thing needs to be that everybody has the same aim.

Otherwise, you're not going to have a win-win situation.

But how you get to that win-win situation differs from both sides, each of the sides along the process will listen and hear thoughts, ideas that the other side would never be able to come up with

Michael Michalsky: because everybody lives in their own little bubble, in their business bubble or in their thinking bubble.

You have to really want to do it. It's not going to help if you are forced to do it.

ASW: Michael, I think perhaps you should consider changing your job from fashion designer to philosopher.

MM: I'm really flattered.

Thank God this is a podcast and nobody can see me because I'm getting bright red.

I love fashion and I know people do love fashion. I try to make this world a little bit better, even with very, very small steps.

Alexander S. Wolf: If we have enough people taking enough small steps, we're going to achieve great things. Thanks for doing that. Bye Bye.

Michael Michalsky: Thank you bye.

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This article is part of our 17Academy "Xperts" podcast series.

17Academy is a training platform for collaboration and peacebuilding by the AusserGewöhnlich Berlin foundation.

To learn more, visit our website: www.17academy.org

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Whether it's 10€ or 10,000, every donation makes you a partner in a beautiful cause that does good.

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As a sustaining member with a regular contribution you become part of our network.

SUBSCRIPTION

Further education with a good feeling: With your paid subscription we finance about 3 free subscriptions for NGOs. This way your head and your heart benefit.