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How one designer used TikTok to help her create the world’s smartest fabric | #BehindTheIdea

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A former investment banker and serial entrepreneur, Ifigeneia "Fi" Paziana has always loved fashion. Frustrated by the lack of choice for stylish, high-quality, functional yet affordable clothing, in her spare time Fi would hand-craft bespoke items for personal wear. Following multiple requests for her designs, Fi built up a roster of exclusive clients resulting in her fashion house, Fi Milano.

During the global pandemic, Fi became concerned about a lack of Vitamin D. Combining her expertise as a fashion designer with an active interest in science and health alongside rigorous academic research, Fi developed prototypes for a fabric that enables wearers to go out in the sun and absorb a safe and healthy amount of UV rays to boost physical and mental wellness whilst protecting their skin.

We caught up with Fi to ask how she did it and how she used social media to help cement her ideas.

What was the brief?

In a nutshell, the brief was to create a smart fabric that would enable people to gain all the benefits of exposure to the sun - especially the creation of Vitamin D - whilst protecting their skin. However, the brief quickly expanded as the possibilities of who the resulting fabric could help and the problems it could solve are almost limitless. 

How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?

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The project has been two years in the making. The first stage of the process involved less creativity and more fact-finding. To better understand the problem at hand - Vitamin D deficiency - I delved into academic papers and testing results.

I knew Vitamin D was an essential hormone however my research highlighted just how critical it is to our mental and physical wellbeing. Convinced I was on the right path, I then combined these insights with my love for fashion design and technical fabrics. From there on, it was a process of creating and testing until I found the magic combination. 

What was the process behind ideating the concept?

Practically, it was combining data and fabric technology to create timeless, sustainable fashion pieces. However, I weaved in consumer insights with a unique approach of embracing the power of social media.

I started creating TikTok videos to share my ideas and determine consumer appetite and needs. My third video went viral amassing 1.2m views. It was at this point; I knew I was onto something.

Throughout the process, the amazing community on social media has been integral to the development of the collection. For example, because of their engagement, feedback and support, one of my first designs will be a hijab. 

What was the production process like?

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Every stage of this process has been iterative. However, production has involved a huge amount of trial and error. And more than anything, investing time in networking and getting to know suppliers and understand their values, capacity and capabilities.

At times it has been like a game of Tetris trying to piece together each element of sourcing, design, production, development, logistics and so on. But I can safely say, it’s the people I have met during this process that have been integral to the capsule collection due to be launched.

What was the biggest challenge during production? How did you overcome it?

Throughout this process, I have learnt how critical communication is. Not only for the success of a project but also for your time and headspace. There are many layers to communication and ultimately it’s about finding the right people around that understand what you're trying to build. 

When you have your own business, you outsource to people who have the skills and expertise you don’t. The advantage this creates in terms of protecting your time and delivering something you can’t is very quickly lost if you don’t share the same vision or understanding however much you communicate.

To overcome this, I have not been afraid to invest time in finding the right people that are on the same page as me. I consider passion, vision and understanding to be more important than experience. At the end of the day, if you find someone with experience quickly but then spend all your time trying to re-communicate with them on what you were hoping to achieve then it’s valuable time lost. 

What is one funny or notable thing that happened during production?

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I can laugh now, but at the time this incident made my heart stop momentarily. In a nutshell, despite having had multiple lab test results back proving Vylet’s technical performance, I received an email out of the blue saying the latest fabric I had submitted did not deliver. That sinking feeling washed over my whole body. I was in a state of shock.

The very same bit of fabric had been tested elsewhere and had the correct performance, so how could it now be so wrong? As I pieced the messages together, it was evident that the supplier had messaged me about an entirely different fabric that wasn’t mine. Relief flooded over me. 

What’s the main message of this project and why does it matter?

Vylet itself is about enabling people to do more of what they want safely. For example, spending time outside in the sun and reaping the benefits of their body creating Vitamin D whilst protecting their skin. Or, being able to go out in the sun without using sunscreen which they are allergic to and would normally have to avoid enjoying spending time outside. 

More than anything, I want to create a community that removes barriers. One of connection and a collective spirit. Through TikTok, I have been able to meet a wonderful group of people who have been generous enough to share their lived experiences with me. They have inspired the collections I am designing, for example modesty wear. 

I hope to grow this community and expand the conversation, resources, advice, insight and experiences we all share to support one another through health, wellbeing and understanding of different cultures and ways of life.

How long did it take from inception to delivery?

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At the point of launch, Vylet will have been in development for just over two years. The project has been the true definition of a journey. There has been tears, joy, late nights, early mornings, resilience, calm and everything in between. More than anything else, people have been integral in getting Vylet to where it is today. 

What do you hope it achieves for the brand?

I really truly hope and believe that our launch is the catalyst for the brand. I want social media to be flooded with people wearing and loving our designs, and more importantly feeling the benefits of improved health and wellbeing through increased Vitamin D absorption.

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