Although often misunderstood and reduced to the aesthetic alone, fashion can be also important communication tool addressing complex cultural issues and social changes. One of them is gender fluidity that has recently started to pervade our collective consciousness. Dragan Hristov has been using it as a main source of inspiration for years and gradually transformed his brand Ludus to what it is today – agender label with reach far beyond its studio in Skopje, North Macedonia.
Sustainable and unapologetically unisex, Ludus collections walk the line between wearable and sleek avant-garde with monochromatic looks and sculptural silhouettes transcending the gender definitions one piece at a time. And the best part? All the garments are made ethically and sustainably, using natural materials with minimum or no waste in the production cycle.
We talked to Dragan about his design process, gender neutral fashion and his take on sustainability.
This year you are celebrating a decade since Ludus was launched – congratulations! Looking back – what were the biggest challenges and what are you most proud of?
Thank you so much, first of all! These past 10 years seem to me much more than just a decade of work. I don’t have a fashion education background, I studied at the department of Fine Arts at the Academy of Brera in Milan, so I’ve never imagined I would end up in the fashion business even though I’ve always been drawn to the process of making products. So these past 10 years were for me full of learning and growth, personally and technically. I’ve dedicated most of my time to product development and business planning. This was particularly challenging because I’m based in a country were fashion means dress making. I had to find a way do develop a brand that is product-based and probably the biggest challenge was to turn a new leaf and turn down a clientele that was used to see Ludus as a service not a product. Luckily the decision to rebrand Ludus as an agender label that works with natural fabrics turned out to be more successful than anyone imagined.
Staying inspired in an industry that reduces the shelf life of ideas to mere days or weeks can be exhausting. What inspires you?
To me this is not only just a job – that I agree can be exhausting in this fashion climate – but is more of a drive, an instinct that comes from inside of me. A voice that after a long break from my creative world says: “Let’s make something, something nice and beautiful”. So I guess with me it’s more of an inside force that pushes me to work than inspiration itself.
Sustainable and unapologetically unisex, Ludus collections walk the line between wearable and sleek avant-garde with monochromatic, minimal looks and sculptural silhouettes.
Building a collection is a very personal process. What is the favourite piece you’ve ever created?
That’s certainly the wool overcoat from Monoscapes collection and Permanent Black II. It started as an idea to make comfortable and comforting overcoat that functions as cocoon, hence the soft to the touch virgin wool and cotton lining. It was an instinctive design process that was decided at the pattern making to feature elongated proportions, full length, long sleeves and excess of fabric that would be wrapped around the waist with a belt that pulls the sleeves as well, like a kimono, or a monks’ robe. With its double stacked raise collar it has become a very popular style with our clients and a bestseller for two years now.
Throughout the history fashion has been used to change and challenge the limitations of gender. How come you decided to transform Ludus in an agender label? What led you to this decision?
The decision to transform Ludus in an agender label came at a time when I felt I had to make structural changes to the business which coincided with moving in a new studio. This space felt really private and personal and the changes I made for the brand came directly from me. I’ve never worn synthetics because they give me rashes and I’ve never felt comfortable in gendered clothes. A lot of new brands showed up later with similar point of view which was a confirmation I’ve made the right decision.
Do you think that genderless clothing will form a significant part of fashion future?
I hope so. Genderless clothing is a reflection of the recent societal and political shifts, especially in the West. I think it is a new chapter that will endure in the future particularly in societies that are undergoing a significant inclusivity change. I really don’t think the genderless clothing is a part of trend will change rapidly and fade away.
A hot topic right now: sustainability. Do you feel pressure to participate in the discussion and respond to the social and political issues of our time?
I think sustainability is the only way to go. It should be everybody’s responsibility – of businesses as well as individuals. We only get a portion of information how we are irrevocably destroying our planet and only few of us do something about it. Our attitude towards clothes should be just a fraction of the consumer habits we adjust in order to make some serious changes for our future.
All the garments are made ethically and sustainably, using
natural and up-cycled materials with minimum or no waste
in the production cycle.
The word sustainable is such a broad term. How do you integrate sustainability practices into your design, production and business processes?
For the past 5 years we’ve been using exclusively 100% natural fabrics that are easily degradable, carbon free and don’t destroy the environment. Regarding the design and production processes we use a minimum or zero waste policy with most of our styles, which includes a very careful pattern making process. We also don’t overproduce our collections and keep our stock at minimum to ensure a successful management of our business.
Can you please share a bit more about the sourcing of the materials for your collections? How do you go about choosing the materials/suppliers?
To me personally the fabric sourcing is a process of my work that I enjoy very much. I love hunting for fabrics in warehouses in my country, ordering swatches and fabrics online or at fairs abroad. One of our main suppliers for the winter seasons is Teteks, an old factory for suiting and wool that was really well known in the region back in the days of Yugoslavia, that still produces high-quality virgin wool I love working with.
And my last question: what is next for Ludus? What are your plans for the future?
My team is working hard on our digital presence and drop-shipping sales that we plan to grow this year. We are also modestly entering the wholesale business through JOOR and facing a completely new set of challenges and tasks. Seems really overwhelming, confusing and exciting at the same time. And a completely new chapter for Ludus.
Words by Sandra Gubenšek, photos by Lazar Zafirovski for Ludus Agender Label