For most 19-year-olds, the chapter after your high school graduation is one marked by debaucherous behaviours and frivolity.
However, for Sofia Abel, the next stage of her life will be following in the footsteps of the late, great designer Carla Zampatti AC.
Today, Sofia Abel is recognised as the inaugural winner of the Australian Multicultural Foundation Carla Zampatti Scholarship For Young Women, a newly created yet equally prestigious grant.
Zampatti, who tragically passed away in April last year, was pivotal to the creation of this award.
While she sadly wasn’t alive to see the Bolivian native present her ambitious vision for her environmentally conscious ready-to-wear brand, Cienti The Label, Zampatti’s son Alex Schuman remarks that she embodies the same “vibrant entrepreneurial spirit and unwavering determination” that Zampatti herself was renowned for.
As the winner of the grant, Abel will walk home with $10,000 along with mentoring to support and grow her brand and exemplify Zampatti’s legacy as a young businesswoman from an emerging culturally and linguistically diverse background.
“Carla wasn’t exclusive to fashion, she was a trailblazer in business,” explained Australian Multicultural Foundation’s Executive Director, Dr. Hass Dellal AO, in a press release.
“Through this Scholarship, we want to see more young women from diverse cultures overcome barriers and challenges to achieve their aspirations and in the process, strengthen the future prosperity of multicultural Australia,” they added.
Ahead of the winners ceremony at the Museo Italiano in Melbourne, marie claire Australia caught up with Sofia to discuss the future of Cienti The Label, her passion for sustainable fashion and her experience as an immigrant.
Congratulations on winning the inaugural scholarship prize Sofia! Can you tell us about your journey and how you discovered your love of fashion?
I moved to Australia from Bolivia when I was 8 years old for my dad’s work – coming to Australia was exciting and adventurous. I’ve always had an interest in fashion, but it wasn’t until I was 15 years old, on a holiday to Bolivia I knew I wanted a career in the fashion industry.
My grandma took me to a workplace where I asked for an internship. The atmosphere in the work room was beautiful – creative and filled with passion. They had a mix of designers, pattern makers and sewers constructing collections. I learnt some basic techniques, how to take measurements and importantly to thread a machine. I made my first top there and haven’t stopped since.
What does being the inaugural recipient of the Australian Multicultural Foundation Carla Zampatti Scholarship for Young Women mean to you?
I feel extremely grateful [and] I am so excited for this opportunity from the Australian Multicultural Foundation. I’m looking forward to the journey ahead with guidance from the Australian Multicultural Foundation to use the scholarship money to reinvest in the sustainability arm of my business and increase my financial literacy.
Being the recipient of the Australian Multicultural Foundation scholarship is not only exciting and hugely rewarding for the short term but it is a real opportunity to launch my vision for Cienti and push my brand as much as I can and hopefully set myself up for the future as well.
What made you decide to apply for the scholarship?
When I first read through the scholarship, I instantly connected with not only the requirements but also the values that both the Australian Multicultural Foundation and Carla Zampatti uphold. This really excited me to apply and I felt ready to give my brand a chance and an opportunity to grow.
What about Carla Zampatti, her legacy and her brand inspires you the most?
Carla’s legacy of championing women is what inspires me the most about her. This is also clearly reflected through her elegant and modern designs that make women feel empowered, inspired and beautiful when wearing a Carla Zampatti piece. I hope to integrate some of this to my own brand and make my customers feel confident in my garments.
Who are your heroes in the fashion industry?
I often look up to Jacquemus who launched his brand at 19 and has been developing it ever since. He says, “I don’t do clothes; I do stories.” His designs have a sense of youth and femininity, and are classic yet innovative – I love this.
Tell us about Cienti The Label –What are your inspirations? Who are you designing for?
Cienti The Label is a responsible clothing brand that embodies youth, femininity, and playful simplicity. I want to celebrate the wearer and make my customer feel comfortable, modern, and confident with every piece. I want to blend elegance into quality garments to last through life’s moments with style.
Where do you see Cienti The Label in 5 years’ time?
I want to grow with my brand. In 5 years’ time I see myself delivering capsule collections that represent both my brand and my journey through life. For me, it is important to slow down the fashion industry and produce responsibly whilst creating inspiring fashion statements.
I want to continue limited ranges and expand to create exclusive garments for hire only – already testing this business model! Another goal of mine is to showcase in the Brisbane Fashion Festival and build a small team to power and scale the vision.
What do you love most about Australian fashion? What are the biggest difference between Australian and Bolivian fashion?
I have noticed that Australian fashion has been shifting to incorporate more considered and sustainable options; I love this and I think it is really important for the industry going forward. Bolivia’s traditional fashion is very colorful and implements raw materials like alpaca wool.
Apart from this, it is common for Bolivians to get custom or made to measure garments for special events; the cheap labor over there allows for this option regularly.
What does slow fashion and ethical business mean to you? Why is it something you’re passionate about?
The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluter. 100 billion garments are produced every year and 33% of this goes into landfill within the first year of purchase. That is crazy.
In a world of fast fashion, Cienti strives to strike a balance between maintaining ethical and environmental integrity whilst producing quality garments that will become seasonless in your wardrobe. For me, it is important to be conscious and kind to our planet and also to respect the art of the industry and those who produce our clothes.
What advice would you give any young aspiring fashion designer?
I would say don’t be afraid. Be prepared for setbacks but set yourself up to do what you are passionate about and what makes you feel truly fulfilled. Be ambitious and put yourself out there. And, when it gets hard, learn to rest, not give up. Also, be sure to look out and get involved in great support programs like the one I’ve been afforded by the Australian Multicultural Foundation.