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Life and Work with Aiste Zitnikaite

Today we’d like to introduce you to Aiste Zitnikaite.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Aiste. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born in Lithuania (which at the time was still part of the Soviet Union) and immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1990 when I was 12 years old. When I was growing up, you couldn’t really go shopping for clothes. There wasn’t much available in Soviet Lithuania and what was available was not very desirable. So, most people made their own clothes – my mom and aunts used to sew and knit often and even did it to make some extra money. That encouraged us to be creative with our clothing and to hold onto it. Though when I moved to Canada, I quickly learned people had a more relaxed approach to clothing.
In my early twenties, I was really into making outfits from vintage and thrift store purchases and realized that I wanted to explore this creative endeavor. I pursued my studies in Fashion design at Lasalle College in Montreal and went on to work for several apparel companies based there.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to go at it on my own. Mostly because I was all too aware of the more unsavory practices in the industry and believed that it should be done differently. Also, as more and more companies were outsourcing their production overseas, I realized that the industry itself has changed. It favored fast consumption over quality and profits over ethics. We, as a society, started to lose the connection to the stuff we consume. Having been raised in a world in which a lot of things were hard to come by, I realized that, back then, we valued and rarely disposed of the things we consumed – probably because, often, we personally knew who grew our food, who made our clothes or who built our houses. My mission was to build back that type of personal connection that we ought to have with our clothes right here in North America. I knew that my creations were different from big chain stores because I designed and created them myself locally, mindful of the fabrics I use (organic and/or sustainable), and mindful of keeping wastefulness to a minimum. I encourage my customers to have clothing custom made for them since we are all different shapes and sizes (and standardized sizing causes us to have skewed opinions of our bodies). When you have an item made for you, it does feel more special and more valuable. The Fashion Revolution movement is gaining ground and fast fashion is appearing not to be a viable alternative in a much too wasteful world. I am proud to be part of a healthier alternative.

A few years ago, I moved to Cape Cod with my husband to start making clothing full time. I was amazed at the wonderful community that I met here. I found a lot of support and interest in what I do. I started working with some local ladies who are huge champions of all things local and was fortunate to have them invite me to be part of their mission. Now, we run a collective space in Hyannis called The love Local collective where we have combined 5 women run businesses under one roof. Our space offers local art, house goods, eco clothing, local food and juice bar. I love being part of this local community. It allows me to meet and have a close relationship with my clients and be inspired by my colleagues.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Fashion is not an easy industry and by no means glamorous as it tends to have an image to be. It is one of the largest industries out there and competition is fierce. The biggest challenge is educating the public about the negative impact fast fashion has on our planet and people employed in the industry, why eco fashion is important and explaining why responsible fashion has more worth both ethically and materially. Another challenge is standing out in a sea of so much clothing that is out there. And finally, as an eco designer, having to design with the limitations of fabrics and materials that are not harmful. Although, the market is shifting now and more textiles are now available but as a small designer who can not buy large quantities of fabric, it is still limiting. I do like a good challenge, and I have learned to enjoy making new collections out of essentially the same fabrics season after season. I have learned to embrace it and now it is actually easier for branding my design image for Devinto.

As for the first two struggles, the key is to essentially really understand your niche, your message, and your true image. That’s my advice to anyone starting out – figure out your true message, what makes you different from the rest. Like for me, when I first wanted to create an eco-fashion brand, I could not find anything that was eco-friendly that satisfied my aesthetic. I’m a girl that likes to dress up but I wasn’t finding that among the eco-brands at the time. Most of it was either pretty casual or athletic/yoga wear. So, that really became my calling – making eco-friendly fashion more glamorous. The other advice I would give to anyone starting on this journey is to find your community. No one can do this alone. It is so helpful to find like-minded people who understand and support what you do. It’s the best way to grow and build your dream.

Please tell us about Devinto.
So, essentially, I am a one-woman show. I design, pattern, cut and sew all my designs in my shop. My goal was to create an eco-friendly brand using natural and sustainable textiles; an eco-friendly clothing brand that has a classic chic aesthetic – a dressy glamourous look that has longevity and won’t look outdated in a few years. Devinto is a small batch design company. Everything is made in house and made to order. There aren’t many of us left doing this these days, but I am hoping there will be more in the future. Because I do not outsource my production or mass production, I am able to do a lot of customized pieces. I actually encourage this among my customers because I do believe that my customers will value those pieces more and keep them for longer. Also, because I do not mass produce, I am very proud that I am able to minimize waste (a huge problem in the fashion industry). I actually use my small fabric ends to make underwear and children’s items. I am most proud of creating one on one relationships with my customers and creating unique pieces that were meant just for them.

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
Although I think that the fashion industry is one of the few workplaces where women have been able to thrive, I think we still have quite a few challenges. A lot of large fashion houses are still run by men at the top and as in most work environments, the hardest pressures for women to rise to leadership positions comes from juggling family life with their professional life. The other, which I think is quite unfortunate is that society still views women as overly emotional and sees this as a weakness for leadership roles. I think this view is ridiculous. In my view, women tend to be more emotionally aware which is actually an asset in leadership roles. I think we need leaders who are not just well informed but also kind and caring more than ever these days.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Luana Sam, Azur Mele (just the black and white striped dress shot), Myke Yeager (runway shots)

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