“If you look at history, only 0,5% of it is recorded about women. We mostly had to express ourselves through cloth and textiles. It’s really interesting that once you start to see these sort of parallels, you understand that basically there are ‘history books’ all-over the world that are under appreciated, because they were the artworks of women. “

Jeanne de Kroon is the founder of Zazi Vintage, an ethical fashion brand that works with women storytellers all over the world. From Amsterdam to the Amazon, she’s experienced how connecting through stories can help us identify our true selves.

Hi Jeanne, great to talk to you. How have you been recently?
Really good actually! At first I felt pretty insecure about this new time, because it has a lot of consequences for the people we work with, but actually everything is running again now. Everyone continues to work from home, both in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan where we work and also India. I’m happy I’ve got a home in The Netherlands now. I’m in Amsterdam Nord, living on a boat surrounded by nature. With all the beautiful sunshine we’ve had recently I’ve re-discovered the Netherlands, it’s like the best present so far.

Looking back, what influenced you to do what you do?
I was born and raised in The Hague, The Netherlands and grew up in a crazy artist’s house. My dad makes movies about the magic of the 17th century and my mum is an art historian / fashion journalist. I grew up with this magical connection to the outside world. My dad would look at a little reflection in the light and say; “Oh my God, Jeanne, this is the most beautiful thing in the world”. I think that really resonated with me as a kid, that sense of wonder and of finding this really beautiful connection to your outside world. That’s something we all have embedded as a human, but at some point, we lose it.

Where does your passion for textiles stem from? 
So I tried searching for that connection I just mentioned, in all parts of my reality, for example in the clothing that I would wear. My parents gave me a sewing machine when I was 14 and with my small amount of pocket money, I always went to charity shops. I looked for curtains or left over fabrics and would make my own clothing. I basically grew up with this really magical sense of fashion as it was always a treasure hunt. I would make something and then have something. It would be completely ridiculous, but really valuable.

Where did it go from there?
I was planning to study law and philosophy, but instead hitchhiked to Paris and started there, at some point got discovered as a model. I ended up in New York and there was this epiphany of all sad things. My idea of New York was just like the 70s, Diana Freeland and this magical wonderland of creativity. The reality however, was me modelling on a polyester webshop for a sad American fast fashion retailer and being sort of bullied by the bookers – having no pocket money when I would gain a centimeter on my hips. I had this clear sense of being in the wrong place; “If I’m supposed to sell this story, but I don’t have anything to do with it, how does that work? What’s the actual story behind fashion?” There was this complete disillusion.

We always look at the magazines and I think this is our problem. We look to the media before we look at garments. If we would really look at clothing, we could recognise where it was from because of the way that it was embroidered, or because of the natural dyes used. We would be able to read textiles, just like history books. Sadly at some point we changed the gaze from the actual story to this weird, glamour model that’s 17 years old and on a fake visa in New York. We look at that story now and think that’s fashion. No wonder we’re so disconnected from our clothing, you can never identify with a story that’s not true. That’s the harsh reality. I think that was mostly the essence of what I was really missing.

What would you say was the turning point for you?
At some point I went to Germany and studied philosophy and political science. I got a lot of freedom to travel and to do projects. So I started travelling and meeting all of these incredible women along the way.  I remember arriving in Nepal and India and the women would show me their ancestral craft or the way to spin the wool from the mountains. I think it was this sort of relationship that I had never really heard about. If you look at history, only 0,5% of it is recorded about women. We mostly had to express ourselves through cloth and textiles. It’s really interesting that once you start to see these sort of parallels, you understand that basically there are ‘history books’ all-over the world that are under appreciated, because they were the artworks of women. As women, we may not have Van Gogh’s, Vermeer’s or Rembrand’s, but we have a complete history of cloth & textiles; like Hindeloopen fabrics from Friesland, a cross stitch from the Lakai ladies in Tajikistan or a spider goddess relationship weave in the deep Amazon. Our relationship to the natural world and our creativity is expressed through cloth.

For me this realisation was a complete eye opener and the world became a treasure hunt again. I would take a 40 hour train to a place where certain textiles originated from and would learn more about them. Through that, I was just surprised on how much knowledge there was out there and how I had never heard of this. How did we get so far removed from reality, that we look at a model or influencer in a polyester top and believe that’s fashion. When did we stop recognising the incredible ancestral craft, wisdom, richness, culture and deep knowledge that is behind textiles and interwoven with our narrative.

How was Zazi Vintage born?
Slowly all of these families came on my path, like the Afghan family that is based in Kabul. They told me all of these magical stories about the neighbouring tribes, textiles and The Silk Road. At some point I found myself on the Berlin markets, selling these 1960s Gucci dresses that had been made by a nomadic tribe. Random, but that was my interest at the time. I started selling these textiles and was like, “I want people to know more, I want them to feel the same way I do.” I was just so excited by it all and then people started to get excited with me. It was then that I started building my website. My dad always called me Zazi because my second name is Zizi. Coincidently, it turned out that the national embroidery on a dress that I was wearing alot at the time was from the Zazi tribe in Afghanistan. It all matched up together. I named my company Zazi Vintage and it just felt like my calling.

From there, all of the other things happened like working with the United Nations. I’ve got a fashion initiative and am finding all of these amazing, independent, local change makers. With Zazi, of course looking from the outside, it’s expensive, but from the inside I feel like I’m creating this movement of creative storytellers. It’s more about the philosophy behind it. I hope to inspire beyond my commercial goods or social impact, inspire people to connect back to cloth.

There are a lot of sceptical opinions towards sustainability, what are your thoughts about this? 
A lot of the current debate around change can be so preachy. I think that this is the worst mistake that I really see a lot of, either ethical fashion brands, but also vegans and just any person that wants to really bring you to a more positive and conscious lifestyle. They’ll approach you by pointing fingers at what you’re doing wrong, but nobody wants to feel like that and even with veganism or with any other movement towards bettering the world, don’t point fingers. Nobody changes from blame.

So how can we inspire in a more positive way?
I think it’s a really important trick within human psychology -and just in general with humans- to bring something really exciting in a creative way, just like a child. When you say to a child, “Computers are fun, but look how exciting this gardening project is”, then the kid will also see gardening as something exciting. This also applies to Zazi Vintage; when I just started with my activism, I was pointing out a lot of fingers. I felt like blaming both fast fashion and luxury brands and the whole world and basically everybody involved. A little further down the line, I started to realise this was really immature, pubescent-like behaviour towards activism. I believe in the end, the most powerful thing is giving out a hand. Be understanding and share your own excitement with the world around you. People always respond really positively to sparkly eyes, so if you can make people hyper excited about something, then that’s the biggest part in creating a new shared future.

Do you believe we will be able to create a sustainable future for the world at large?
It’s the only thing that we can have trust in and it has to happen. I do really feel like my generation is already searching for so much more purpose and meaning in their jobs. What I believe was really a problem, is that at some point we replaced religion with capital and our parents believed heavily in this. The newer generations ask themselves, “What am I actually really working for? For an extra car or an extra mortgage? I’m stressing myself out, but for what really in life? What really has meaning?” I think we’re starting to really go back to that thing that makes us human, questioning, “What is the meaning behind all of this and what is the purpose of my existence?”

How can we catalyse change on a personal level?
I really feel like this is such a powerful time to reconnect to our hearts. I’m noticing it myself majorly, like, “Why did I travel so much?” I’m looking at what’s really important, the importance of a hug, of being able to cook, all of these most essential human needs seem so obvious now. Having said this, it’s also a time to notice the really uncomfortable emotions within ourselves as well. The first day that it was raining during the lockdown, I noticed I had this deep, heavy feeling on my heart. I never really took the space to dive into those feelings. Normally you wake up a little bit heavy and then you just get on with your day, you never really fully surrender to that feeling. I think there’s that space right now to really breathe and look inside, resolve things and maybe through that feel more connected to yourself. I think a lot of people are going through similar waves right now. On a global scale however, it’s really hard. It’s important to remember that we’re very privileged being in Holland, being well taken care of. The burdens of this crisis are not equally shared. We’re not a factory worker in Bangladesh that just lost our job. Or, like the families that we work with in Afghanistan or in India, they’re going through so many more things right now. I can only really have trust that this space will bring goodness.

UT Final Five…

Won’t travel without?
Tarot card deck.

Most valued item in wardrobe?
My new found vintage Marken rijglijfje!

Person that deserves a shout out? 
Madhu Vaishnav.

Life motto?
Don’t forget to wonder.

Insider’s tip to Amsterdam?
Massage Marin.


Photography: Stefan Dotter

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