Angela Luna is the creative force behind ADIFF, a fashion brand that aims to bring circularity to the forefront of the fashion industry, setting an example for upcycling + sustainability. ADIFF develops new products from waste and employs resettled refugees in Athens, Greece. We caught up with Angela to learn more about her creative process and her fashion background.
Tell us about your background, where you grew up, your hobbies, where you went to school, etc.
I was born and raised in Beverly, MA, a small town north of Boston. Both of my parents are architects, so it's safe to say I inherited the design gene! I was interested in the arts from a very young age, specifically fashion - my family can't even remember a time when I wasn't drawing clothing. I went to an incredibly small all girls Catholic high school, where I graduated as valedictorian before attending Parsons School of Design in NY.
What inspired you to start a career in fashion design?
I always knew that I was going to work in fashion, and since I was in 4th grade, I knew I was going to go to Parsons. That said, I never anticipated starting a brand immediately out of college. When I presented my senior thesis, I was overwhelmed by the amount of interest from both the consumer and nonprofit side for the clothes I was creating. Being only 22 at the time, with no experience in running or starting a business, I figured I'd ride the wave and figure it out. And here I am 3 years later, with an international company, still with that same mission of using fashion to create change.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in your career?
There have been countless challenges! Most recently it has been setting up the Greek branch of the company in Athens. Since day one of starting ADIFF, I knew I wanted to employ resettled refugees within our supply chain and have them actually making all the clothes we sold. We were completely taken by surprise with how much red tape there was to formally register the business. In Greece, it's not like things can be submitted electronically for registration - everything needs to be physically signed, stamped, and dropped off in order to be valid. There were some times when it was easier for me to just get on the next flight to Athens to sign the paper than making an appointment at the Embassy in NY. We're out of the woods with all of it now though, but it was incredibly challenging, anxiety-inducing, and time consuming.
Tell us a little bit about your creative process… What inspires you?
I'm typically inspired by problems or design flaws. I go back and forth between flat sketching, illustration, and 3D modeling, basically whatever works to materialize my idea. Of course I'm always pulling inspiration from street style in NYC as well - oftentimes I'll get on the subway and see a really cool pair of pants or jacket and end up drawing up a sketch right then of how I'd reinterpret the style. But usually the pieces I make for ADIFF are designed for a specific purpose or to address a problem. I think collaboration is really important and typically work on something myself, then bring it to my team or friends for feedback.
What is your advice for young people who want to pursue a career in fashion? I think it's really important for you to have other interests beyond just the fashion: whether it's fine art, science, history, culture, or anything. When your interests are limited, that's when what you create can be very one-dimensional. I encourage young designers to look to other areas or issues to be inspired, because that's really where the industry is moving. Also just be open to learn!
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
It's a pretty magical thing to think of something and be able to manifest it in our world. My non-designer friends are always amazed at my ability to go from an idea to prototype to a finished garment within a few hours. I've always enjoyed using both sides of my brain simultaneously, and I get to do that anytime I'm designing.
What are some of your favorite YKK products and why do you choose YKK products?
Zippers, zippers, zippers! ADIFF's function-meets-fashion aesthetic means we looooove our zippers. I love the variety of styles and functions YKK offers, and the quality is always impeccable. We see ourselves as a brand creating high quality pieces, and using the best trims and fasteners really make a difference. When I put anything YKK on our products, I don't need to worry about that piece breaking or damaging over time.
Tell us about what inspired you to start ADIFF and the values the brand stands for.
ADIFF grew out of my senior thesis collection at Parsons, where I was exploring the ability for fashion and clothing to positively assist refugees in Europe. I started developing the concept for the company back in 2015, when the refugee crisis was at its peak in Europe. I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of empathy to help these people, but coming from a background in design, it didn't seem like there was much I could do. I decided to look at the crisis from a designer's perspective and see where clothing wasn't meeting the needs, and learned that not only typical clothes weren't holding up during this strenuous journey, but there were other opportunities or problems it could also respond to. My thesis collection consisted of a series of jackets that could turn into tents, sleeping bags, or backpacks, as well as jackets equipped for carrying children, flotation, and [in]visibility. I launched ADIFF shortly after my graduation with the intention of levering fashion to provide aid to this crisis. We started out with a buy-one-give-one model: selling our tent jackets and matching that with donations to refugees internationally and homeless in the U.S. Since then our mission has shifted to focus on more sustainable, long term impacts for these communities, such as employment and empowerment. We create outerwear and accessories sold within the fashion industry to consumers, that are ethically made by resettled refugees, using upcycled "waste" materials. We're looking to not only directly impact this crisis by providing jobs, but also use fashion as a platform to discuss important global and political issues.Angela was included in the Forbes 30 Under 30 under the Arts & Style list in 2017. In 2019, she was a named a winner of the Elaine Gold Launch Pad by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Read more about some of the YKK® products Angela uses in her designs: https://www.ykkfastening.com/about_ykk/designers/designer4.html