Karina Zabihi founder of Karo Lifestyle

September 9, 2019

I first came across Karina Zabihi and her sustainable fashion brand Wardobe by Karo Lifestyle a few weeks ago when Georgia Miles of The Sussex Flower School invited me to a fashion show. I followed the links to Karina’s website and loved what I saw. Clean lines, simple, understated elegance and a passion for sustainability combine to create a clothing label really worth knowing about.

I decided to make contact with founder, Karina, and I’m so glad I did. I was struck by the story behind Karina’s business – a journey from interior architect to sustainable fashion designer. It’s easy to see how Karina’s love of architectural clean lines has inspired her clothing collection. I love how she designs for the female form, adding grace, movement and pleasure for the wearer. So I asked Karina to share a little of her story as well as one or two inspirations, favourite makers and tips for creating a long-lasting capsule wardrobe. Hope you enjoy! X

Please describe what you do and a little bit about the story behind your business

I am a fashion designer and my label is called Wardrobe by Karo Lifestyle. It is a relatively new label; I had my debut fashion show in 2107. Wardrobe by Karo Lifestyle began with the gift of a traditional tailor’s dummy in a room in my sister’s house in Bath. I have always loved being creative and moving into making sustainable clothes seemed a natural progression in my design career.

Please share a little about your inspirations and your ethos

I love making women feel beautiful and confident. Having worked as an interior architect for many years, I love working with all elements of design; space, movement and good materials. Above all Wardrobe by Karo Lifestyle is about non-disposable fashion; making clothes that stand the test of time and that you can wear year in, year out. I use a very neutral palette which means the collections are not marked by seasonal trends.

I also love including as many of the senses as I can in my design process; sight, obviously for how both the clothes and the women who wear them look, sound – what I call the ‘swish factor’ – that lovely rustle when you move! Touch – the feel of the fabric against your skin…

Among my best sellers are my trousers. What I realised (a lightbulb moment, if you like) is that no matter what a woman’s figure is like, a zip at the front of trousers creates a ‘bulge’; all my trousers have the zip or buttons at the back or at the sides. This is incredibly flattering on any women, regardless of size.

Please can you talk us through your creative process?

Truly anything can inspire me – whether it is a painting, nature, architecture, sculpture.  My starting point is always with the senses. How will this outfit drape the body? How will it feel to wear it? The clothes should be a natural extension of the myriad ways in which we are different. They should never be fussy. I want women to feel fabulous in my clothes.

Why are you passionate about sustainable fashion?

I hate waste in any form, and the fashion industry, unfortunately, is one of the biggest polluters on our planet. Rather than buying clothes because they are cheap, I would like to see people investing in clothes that can be worn for many years.

What’s your approach to fabric choice, laundry habits and clothing longevity?

Wherever possible, I use organic, sustainable and biodegradable materials – this also applies to the thread I use in the sewing process. The fabrics have to be easy to care for and for this reason, I prefer fabrics that can be washed on a cold cycle.

What’s the secret to creating the perfect capsule wardrobe?

Adaptability and comfort are key for me. A white shirt is a must, hand knitted sweaters for that sensuous feel and layering! Clothes that can take you from day right through to the evening and from a warm day to a cool evening.

Favourite fabrics?

I love organic linens and cottons. Crisp linen looks and feels fabulous when new but equally I like the ‘lived in’ feel of a well-worn linen.

Top tips for prolonging the life of our clothes?

Invest in a washing machine with eco-cycles and use ecological laundry detergent. I always use a cold wash cycle and a good steam iron.

Any tips for how women of all ages can feel good in the clothes they wear ?

I do tend to live by the Japanese aesthetic – wabi sabi – finding the beauty in the imperfect. As we age, there are parts of all our bodies we might not want to have on show. However, this also means celebrating what we do have. I, personally, love a woman’s back and I try and show this off as much as possible in my designs. I do spend a long time thinking about how to make the most of what we have and accentuating the positive…

What’s in your own capsule wardrobe?

I still have a dress I wore when I was 21 years old – that was quite a few years ago now! But its simplicity and elegance have never dated. Along with crisp white shirts, there are also my floating, ephemeral dresses that are like poetry in motion…

This photo of me aged 11 is the first dress I ever made. I sewed it on my mother’s Singer sewing machine with some amazing 70s satin fabric. I knew it had to have movement and be short to match my newly cropped hair that I’d proudly cut myself! I am not sure why I decided to add lace to the sleeves, but there are some things we happily grow out of…

Favourite way to start the day?

I love the ritual of making a pot of delicate Japanese green tea every morning. Presentation is half the enjoyment for me. I tend to ease myself into the day…

What’s your morning routine?

Walking round the garden is my way of saying good morning to the day and appreciating the beauty of nature before going up to my studio to start my design work. This is a small upstairs room. It is bright and airy with light streaming in through the window. There is a wisteria outside and my mannequin stands in the front of the window. I light a scented candle, play music or listen to the radio and prepare everything I need. All my senses are engaged and then I can start work…

Top tips for enabling creativity?

I believe that it is important to vary activities throughout the day. So, I might spend half an hour or an hour working on a design and then move on to something else – maybe cooking or a spot of gardening or drawing.

Favourite season?

It would have to be Spring when everything comes back to life again. I never tire of looking at the wonders of nature and the light is so beautiful. It really is a glorious assault on the senses!

What do you love best about each season?

The changing light and just realising how beautiful our world is. I volunteer as a gardener at a local hospice and that has truly changed the way I engage with nature. Every season brings something new to marvel at and appreciate

What do you do when struggling for creativity/inspiration?

Go for a walk!

What are your greatest simple pleasures and why?

A chilled glass of Chardonnay at the end of a working day!

Any guilty pleasures you’d care to share?

An amaretto biscuit with a double espresso after lunch…

What is your approach to setting and achieving your goals?

I am a great believer in making lists! I also learned something many years ago and that is to have achieved at least one goal every day.

What you like best about your neighbourhood?

We live in a beautiful little village in Wiltshire. I love the quiet but also the constant joy of listening to the sounds of the countryside whether it is the bleating of the sheep in a nearby field, the buzzing of bees while sitting in the garden or going for walks in the area.

Best place to watch the world go by?

Imagine a lovely summer’s evening wearing a little white dress… a chilled glass of Chardonnay in hand, the sound of waves lapping the shore, cicadas or birds creating the music and my husband sitting next to me and that would be it…

Most treasured possession?

This would have to be my collection of sculptural pots from around the world – they are mostly white (my favourite ‘colour’). I love being able to touch things and all these pots are incredibly tactile. The beauty of their form really speaks to me – something I try to bring to my own designs.

What are you passionate about right now?

Saving the planet – a big call, I know but anything we can do to create an ethical world for the next generation is what I truly care about.

Can you sum up your ethos and what inspires you?

The beauty of simplicity which is often very difficult to create. Straight lines, asymmetry and the quality of quietude. I have always loved using a white palette in my designs. For me, white is not an absence of colour, it is an absence of clutter and noise…

What measures do you take to support plastic-free and zero waste?

I make it a rule not to buy anything in plastic unless I know I can recycle it… not throwing away food – instead creating meals from left overs, buying cosmetics in glass bottles, not buying water in plastic bottles and re-using as much as possible. Every time I use something, I think of where it will end up.

Who are your favourite UK makers/producers and why?

Weaver Green is one of my favourite companies. They make gorgeous throws, cushions and bags made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles – genius!

How important is ethical production to you?

Extremely important. It is not only the what but the where and how and by whom something is made.

Best piece of advice you could share?

I lived in south east Asia for many years – in Hong Kong and Singapore. Coming back to the UK was really embracing a completely different way of life. For me, life is always a big adventure. I love experiencing whatever life has to offer. I don’t look back.

Favourite book of all time?

This is such a difficult question, but I think it would have to be Albert Camus’ L’Etranger. Such a powerful novel and I love its minimalism. I admire how such sparse prose can convey such a wealth of emotion.

Secret to being happy?

Not being content! Contentment can be a bit smug whereas happiness is a constant journey…

Your goals for the future?

To have a show at a major Fashion Week and to one day open a salon harking back to the days when women went to a fashion house to select their wardrobes. It is such an intimate experience and I love being able to talk to women about what they want, how they feel and ultimately making an outfit for them that has its own story. This is not fast fashion – instead it is a journey of discovery.



Photo credit: Alistair Guy.

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