by Sherry Kallergis / Photography Simon Armstrong
Age may define who you are but it doesn’t define who you can be.
Zuhal Kuvan-Mills is living proof. At 26 she was a veterinarian, 36 a science teacher, 46 an art student and 56 an eco-fashion designer.
I met with her in Vancouver at the end of a whirlwind showing at Vancouver Fashion Week. Born in Turkey, she spent years in England and currently resides in Australia. One may wonder how being a veterinarian could possibly be connected to designing couture fashion, but as Zuhal shares her story, it all falls into line.
One of three children, born in Turkey, she learned to knit and sew at a young age. She always loved color and creating. In Turkey, higher education was provided at no cost, and she chose to be a veterinarian because it was a career out of the ordinary. In her class, she was only one of a few females so she is very familiar with working in a men’s world.
Zuhal is an eco-fashion couture designer with two Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certified lines; Green Embassy and Atelier Zuhal. You may wonder what defines eco-fashion? Zuhal relates it to slow fashion. She does not compete with fast or throwaway fashion that is so prevalent today. Zero-waste is a priority along with ethical production, which is why she makes her own fabrics using alpaca wool from her farm.
Zuhal supports sustainable silk production and embraces ancient textile making techniques. She is cognizant and respectful of Aboriginal cultures and ways of living. When she moved to England, thrift shops were all the rage and she loved creating amazing fashion using her finds. Soon her friends were asking her to re-create looks for them. It wasn’t until much later in her life, though, after marriage, children and long, tiring years in education, she decided to go back to university getting a Visual Art Degree. Then on the move to Australia, designing and eco-fashion fell together.
Zuhal believes fashion is a tool. It opens doors and start conversations. Fashion gets women together and giving back to the community and the environment. It raises awareness of world issues and incites conversations about sustainability and cultural respect.
Each year her collection has a theme. This year it is Empty Oceans. The collection raises our consciousness, if we don’t take care soon, the ocean will be devoid of whales, reefs and fish. Slowly we are killing our oceans with plastic, drift nets and overfishing.
Her use of discarded fishing net as lace, decoration and bow ties were a stunning nod to the underlying theme.
Zuhal and I chatted about aging. It can present a pitfall for many women. One day we wake up to find our career no longer requiring a frenetic pace. Children are on their way to full-fledged adulthood and the identify of mother sidelined. We may find ourselves single by choice or chance. Freedom 55 advertisements may not be a realistic representation of our financial situation.
It is a disquieting feeling. At that point, though women need to be open to change.
Zuhal has a message for women who might be feeling less than beautiful, tired, discouraged, rejected or isolated.
Zuhal knows what she speaks of. A mother of two girls, she at times has felt that way. Every one faces “gray seasons” in life, however, everyone also has something they are good at. Zuhal suggests that is where you should start. Open the door and move through it.
Confidence Brings Your Story To Life
Her advice is to take whatever ability or talent you have and get out into the community. Offer your gifts up to society. Volunteer your time at events, with those less fortunate or at your church. Soon you will be immersed in doing instead of sitting and thinking. The world needs you, and in so many places.
What You Wear Tells Your Story Visually
Zuhal recommends going for colorful, bright colors, even if that is not how you feel. Bold accessories, makeup and a great haircut become brush strokes of the fabulous painting of you.
Any Size Is Gorgeous
Whatever your size, embrace it. She suggests using fashion to lift you up. The wonderful thing about Zuhals’ line is it is designed for all sizes from petite to plus sizes and for any age. Practical, beautiful pieces with unusual accents provide staples in your wardrobe.
What Every Woman Should Know
I had a burning question on my mind and I got up the nerve to ask it just as we were getting ready to leave. What is the secret to walk like a model? And that is the picture of Zuhal I will always carry in my mind. With a charming laugh, she demonstrated; throw back your shoulders, lift your chin, look ahead and pretend you are walking on a piece of rope, one foot placed directly in a line in front of the other.
Who knew? It is true, your hips will sashay at any age. I am practicing, after all, it’s not every day you have the tutelage of a haute couture designer. Thanks Zuhal.
Zuhal is organizing an International Eco Fashion Week Australia in Perth in November 2017.
Any women over 45 who wishes to be part of it, can join her by hitting the “Volunteering” button at www.ecofashionweekaustralia.com or following #ecofashionweekaustralia.