Letting Go Of Fear and Expectations With Après Ski
Today we’re welcoming Lucia Vergara, the Founder of fashion accessories and objects studio Après Ski. Established in Barcelona in 2009, the brand specialises in selling unique items inspired by Lucia’s observations of different cultures and traditions. In this intimate conversation, Lucia discusses the ups and downs of owning an independent fashion label and shares how she found joy in developing Après Ski by listening to her creative and energetic instincts.
Advance Copy: Lucia, welcome to Advance Copy. Would you mind introducing us to who you are and your work with Après Ski?
Lucia Vergara: At the beginning, when I was eighteen, I was completely lost and didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t in the mood to study in my city but with no clear idea about what I would like to do. Every summer I had a little shop with my cousins and I was always really in the mood to sell whatever I was making. I felt like the love for artisanal work and doing things with hands was always in me. But I was a good student and my parents wanted me to study something like engineering, something important. So I decided to study visual communication because I loved cinema and it was something that inspired me. When I started my professional career I really didn’t like it. I was surrounded by so many creative people and always thinking “should I try something [creative]?” but I didn’t have the money to study in a university again. At that moment in my life, I broke up with my boyfriend, left my city and quit my job. I came to Barcelona with the intention to study fashion, by chance I met a fashion designer and we had a strong connection so I started working for her. From the first moment, she was telling me: “I think you will be good at accessories” and she didn’t have an accessories part in her brand so I started to learn organically and naturally. I had to do everything from designing with no idea of how to design, researching all the materials, designing bags, clothes, scarves and jewellery. Learning new things by myself all the time and with the money of the other person is always stressful because you need to be sure that what you are doing is good. It was a different school. I was suffering a lot because I was so young and didn’t know how to do so many things but in a way, I was feeling that it was for me.
In 2008, the [financial] crisis came to Spain and it was a bad moment for the industry. They kicked out almost everyone in our company, I was one of the last ones but in the end, I lost my job. Everyone was telling me to start my own brand but I was feeling so down, with no experience and no money. I was not feeling like life was giving me the chance to set up a business. I was completely not ready to start a brand. But as I needed money I started to do many different things, like being an artistic director, selling fabric stocks from my home and making necklaces for me and my friends. My friends were talking about my necklaces to a few shops and they started to ask me to [make them]. It was growing quickly and with no intention. In fact, I named the brand Après Ski because during my time working for a designer we had a really funny intern and we were sometimes inspired by après ski clothes. She was always joking “when we’ll have a brand we will call it Après Ski.” I never imagined that it would grow and become my life.
Then I moved to London for a year and met a girl from Switzerland. She was really good in terms of organisation and production and started helping me with the brand. I was more chaotic and interested in the creative part. I won a contest from a blog in Paris and the reward was an invitation to a trade show in Paris. In Spain, the economic situation was very bad but as I won that contest I was showing the brand to international customers and in a way it was successful. I started to have more customers from abroad and that allowed me to keep the business.
“If I want to keep my privacy and not cartel fashion then I can do it.”
AC: What kind of materials did you use when making those initial jewellery pieces?
Lucia: I was making a lot of changes. In the beginning, I was painting wood beads by hand, spending hours and hours just painting the beads and I had no time to do creative work. Then I started working with acetate and I think I was one of the first brands to start working with acetate and that grew the name as someone doing something different. Because I never studied fashion I always found new ways to create because nobody was telling me how to make jewellery so I was doing whatever I wanted to wear.
AC: You didn’t plan to start Après Ski, you didn’t follow a structure or write a business strategy. How did you have so much faith and trust in yourself?
Lucia: I didn’t want to have a brand because I worked for a fashion brand and know what it’s like. Now that I have more of a spiritual life I understand that the only way to live is by being in the present. But I never had objectives or plans for the future or goals – I would just do it. Changing and seeing that nothing happens if [something] doesn’t work. Just try to do things as similar to how you think you want to do them, not following how you should do them. In the beginning, I was doing things that I didn’t like to do like posing for portraits. I don’t like people taking pictures of me and I was saying yes because I was feeling like you needed to do it because if you don’t then you are out of everything. Then I realised no, I can do whatever I want, if I want to keep my privacy and not cartel fashion then I can do it. It doesn’t mean that it will not work.
“I said enough of this and decided to make the company smaller…as soon as I said this I felt better.”
AC: When preparing for this conversation I read some of your earlier interviews and every time you would say: “I don’t have a goal in mind, I’m not setting a big strategy.” You don’t hear this very often in fashion, this idea of being free and allowing things to happen.
Lucia: But also because it’s something that I’m doing myself, no one was putting money into the project so I’m completely free. If I’ll want to close the brand tomorrow I could do it and in a way, I would not suffer that much because I’m not really attached. As soon as I think that I need something like really need it, I’m not interested anymore. So I’m always doing the exercise of thinking “will you be able to do something completely different?” and I’m always saying yes. I could close Après Ski tomorrow and I would not feel sadness. You are not closing anything. It’s just something that I am doing now to express the things I enjoy. It’s because of that, that I started to make clothing and because I was already in a crisis before the pandemic following a trip to Senegal.
AC: Could you tell us about the significance of this trip?
Lucia: Africa connects you to something so strong and powerful. I went to Senegal in December (2019) with my family and after that, I was crying every day for ten days. I was feeling a kind of sadness and thinking “what am I doing? I am losing the essential way to live that I had.” I was feeling hooked to the fashion industry: I need to launch a new collection every six months, I need to go to trade shows. I don’t like going to trade shows, I would like to explore another material but I’m afraid to do it because if it doesn’t work I have a team and they work because of me. But I said enough of this and decided to make the company smaller, I would keep one person and I was thinking about not selling to shops any more. As soon as I said this I felt better, feeling a lot of freedom and relief like “okay I can do this and it doesn’t matter if I can’t give work to twenty people.” You feel selfish but if you are not happy then it doesn’t make sense. I was deciding this and starting the textiles part of Après Ski which is something that I was always interested in. I had this feeling of enjoying my work again: a new process, something that I never did before. Every piece that I’m doing now has a bit of creativity.
“If I’m not doing something that helps in a social way at least doing something that makes me happy helps others, it’s an energy.”
AC: It’s wonderful to hear what you’ve done because at one point, you were not happy and you decided to listen to that feeling and to make a change. It doesn’t matter if your business is doing well because if it’s not bringing you joy that goes down to your employees and to the objects you are creating.
Lucia: In the end, you are doing something that is not necessary – it’s not like bread. So I was always feeling like if I’m not doing something that helps in a social way at least doing something that makes me happy helps others, it’s an energy. You can feel it in a jacket or in a necklace. It is in the thing. Every time someone comes to my studio shop the first thing they say is “wow it has a really good energy.” I don’t want anything else but this. It’s the only way I feel like I am doing something for the world.
AC: And if you have an independent brand, in a way, it is there to channel your personality and energy.
Lucia: When I go to historical museums and I see simple objects, like pottery or clothes, I’m always thinking about how it has been a necessity for people for so long to be dressed in things that represent [them]. I don’t like manufactured things, I want every piece that I have at home to be related to something that I love, a memory or an emotion. I think there are too many options and, in the end, it’s about finding yours. All these big companies are okay to me if you want to buy in Zara – which I don’t like at all – but if you prefer it and you don’t give importance to this, I don’t want to become a snob and tell people how they need to consume. Everything is okay, there is no good or bad – what do you want for you? You will never hear me say “support small brands”, support what you want to support. For me, it’s super nice that you are supporting me but I don’t feel I am anyone to tell others what they should do. Find your way to discover what is important to you.
“When you are stuck in something it’s because you have fear of not being successful.”
AC: You can only do your best to be conscious, be a good person and try not to harm anything or anyone else on the way. Now that we have a better idea about you, I’d love to know about the current structure of Après Ski. What does the brand look like now and how much has it changed since the beginning?
Lucia: In the beginning, I was doing almost only unique pieces with vintage materials and beads which I was painting. But then I went to a tradeshow and started getting orders from shops and doing collections. We were producing in our studio because we were painting all the beads ourselves. There was always between two to three people working for me, depending on the time. Until two years ago, I was producing and designing. When I started to work with Turkish artisans, we didn’t have such a big need in the studio to produce the manual part. So, now I have Tirsa de Parga who is in charge of press and wholesale and Mar Ordonez who photographs our campaigns. I’ve skipped acetate jewellery because I don’t like to work with it any more and decided to keep just the gold-plated jewellery which is produced in Turkey. My idea is to do more creative work with textiles, experiment with dying techniques and mixing with vintage textiles.
AC: You’ve managed to stay versatile, to always experiment and not to put yourself in a box of only being a jewellery designer or fashion designer.
Lucia: That’s related to fear. When you are stuck in something it’s because you have fear of not being successful. I was launching clothes and I didn’t even have a tag or a logo for the brand. I was taking the pictures with my phone because we were at home in lockdown. But that kind of freedom – doing things with no fear of being judged and just being you – if I was selling to stores, I would be thinking about needing a tag and being professional. Enough of taking everything so seriously. People will understand the way I want to express myself and it’s nice to see that it’s possible. You can do it. There will always be a small part of the people who will understand you. And again, listen to the energy. When I started textiles it so happened that every person that came into my life was related to this and was offering me ways to help. Listen to that energy, if it’s working – let’s go. Try to see what is there. If something is stuck and it’s not flowing then stop it but at least try and allow yourself to see what it is.
“People will understand the way I want to express myself and it’s nice to see that it’s possible. You can do it.”
AC: I think a lot of our readers are still in the process of getting over the changes that happened in 2020 and I’d love to hear how last year felt to you. What changed, what have you learnt?
Lucia: For me, it started before March 2020. You know when you’re feeling the energy of the planet and the feeling that something is wrong, at least now I know what is happening. In the end, you need to be more flexible and not control things and don’t think that you have the power, that you know what will be next. That connected me to that power of living in the present. I was spending the quarantine alone so I had too much time to think and, in the end, I didn’t want to think about myself any more, I felt like I’ve already done the work. Because I was reading a lot, doing therapy and taking a lot of time to go deep in myself. In a way I was feeling so lucky, even if the company was not really good, my family was okay and nothing bad happened. Just the feeling that maybe I will need to close [Après Ski] because we may not have enough money. I started the textiles part which made me happy, I felt like I learnt a lot and I’m so grateful. Obviously for too many people it’s so hard and that makes you consent that we need to do something. I offered to help on a project with a foundation working in Senegal. They created a school teaching people different ways to develop projects and they’ve asked me to do the textiles part. So, I will study what they can do and develop projects to help sell the textiles they are making all over the world. I’m really into doing these kinds of projects.
AC: We need to show more care for each other, share information and build more meaningful working relationships that contribute to resilient communities.
Lucia: I think ‘community’ is the word for this year.