12 Feb 2018
Pardes-Hanna, Israel
Sustainable Textiles & Clothing

Nina Skibnevsky remembers the first time she laid her hands on a piece of clothing made of hemp fiber. “When I touched this fabric I knew it was something new and special, and I definitely wanted to work with the material,” she recalls.

In 2016, that initial sensation became Haptic Path, a sustainable collection of modern and stylish women and menswear designed by Skibnevsky at her home in Israel.

With hemp as the main fabric in her designs, Skibnevsky has created a lifestyle and business that couples her personal and professional values: “Everything was a puzzle that came together: my love of fashion, my special relationship with this fabric, and the ecological point of trying to be as green as possible.”

Highlighting hemp fabric:

Hemp is regarded as one of the world’s most sustainable fabrics, and its use is increasing worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the market for hemp-based products is estimated to reach $1.8 billion by 2020, with textiles making up 12% of the total use.

“The plant uses less water, grows faster than conventional cotton, and doesn’t need pesticides,” explains Skibnevsky of its environmental appeal. The fabric itself is created by taking the fibrous outer bits of the plant, cleaning, matting, and baling the fiber in a process similar to the production of linen.

Hemp fabric has long been used around the world, and so it is perhaps appropriate that it was Skibnevsky’s international travels that inspired her designs. Haptic Path’s current collection draws from the traditional Japanese attire, a culture Skibnevsky learned about from her grandmother who did scientific research about Japan, China, and Taiwan.

The resulting collection gracefully adopts the minimalist style of traditional Samurai wear. And while you might associate hemp with the strong fiber used in sailing ropes and burlap bags, Skibnevsky takes pride in creating pieces that are modern and stylish, without compromising softness and comfort. Haptic is, after all, a synonym for tactile, and Skibnevsky wants to emphasize how important touch and feel are in her designs.

“For many years I did yoga, improvisation, and dancing. I really want my clothing to be comfortable for all these kinds of movements,” says Skibnevsky of her loose fitting but well-tailored designs. “When I would tell people about comfortable clothing, they thought sports clothing. This is not like that, it is beautiful while also allowing us to dance and travel.”

Hemp fabric is also ideal for warmer climates, and is known for being breathable and lightweight like linen, ideal for the hot and humid summers faced by Tel Aviv residents. “It’s cooling in hot weather, and warming in the cold — it’s a magical fabric!” Skibnevsky says. “It also provides 90% UV protection which is really important for sunny places.”

“My clothing is for independent people who love nature, but live in cities. The slogan of my brand is ‘free motion in body and mind’ and the people who love my clothes want to choose something bright in this grey world,” says Skibnevsky of her customers. “You feel the touch of the hemp fabric and you feel reconnected with nature.”

The rise of natural fabrics in Israel:

Industry experts say the demand for sustainably sourced materials and means of production is growing among Israeli designers.

“Today, a lot of people are asking where they can get sustainable fabrics — even large companies approach me and ask if we can find them sustainable manufacturers,” says Alex Fridman, the CEO of the Israel Fashion and Textile Association (IFT). Fridman contrasts this with five years ago when there was only one Israeli designer working with this environmental mindset. “Unfortunately for us, most of the local textile industry has moved abroad, and so it’s not as easy to buy natural fabrics that are manufactured in Israel,” she adds.

Skibnevsky has also encountered supply challenges in her business. She currently gets her hemp and bamboo fabrics from a manufacturer in China, where she says there is a long history of producing the fine hemp that makes for softer clothing.

“It is hard for a small business owner to reach a high level of sustainability,” Skibnevsky says, acknowledging that her material comes from across the world. “Every time I can choose a greener and ethical practice, I choose it, but sometimes I also have to reduce my costs until I have the scale, or more money to invest. Hemp by itself is sustainable, but I always have ideas on how to be greener. For example, I would love to have my packaging and business cards made of hemp, too.”

While styles are designed in Israel, Haptic Path’s clothing is produced in Russia, where Skibnevsky grew up. There, she works with a women’s cooperative in Moscow, empowering single mothers like herself to earn money to support their families. “This isn’t connected to the environment as much, but it’s another point I find very important,” she says.

Small quantities of clothing are produced in advance at the cooperative to keep costs low and prevent extra stock from going to waste.

Seeking sustainable fashion support abroad:

One of Skibnevsky’s goals in the coming months is to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and designers across Israel and the world. “My passion is to meet other designers and to feel like I’m not alone in running a sustainable business,” she says. “We don’t have so much ethical fashion in Israel, and so this is still pretty new.”

With that in mind, Skibnevsky attended the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin in January 2018. The event provided a valuable opportunity to network with more than 100 fashion designers, buyers, and style bloggers from across Europe. Despite being the only Israeli brand in attendance, it showed Skibnevsky that some of the challenges she faced were universal in nature.

For example, many designers agreed that a main challenge of ethical fashion is marketing, because the designs cannot ever be really cheap. “For people to choose our brand over another brand, they have to be highly educated on the subject of fair trade and sustainable business,” explains Skibnevsky. “Through talking to other designers, I realized that ethical fashion designers have to make compromises in choosing fabrics and suppliers in order to still be profitable. It’s much more complicated than to be just a fashion designer.”

Overall, the event was a positive experience. “After that, I really felt like it was possible to go down this path,” Skibnevsky says of her experience as a fashion designer and entrepreneur. “Before, I could really only read on the internet about what was happening, and I didn’t feel that support. I’m more connected now.”

One connection down, many more to go: while most of Haptic Path’s customers are currently courted in person at markets across Israel, Skibnevsky wants to improve her e-commerce presence to sell online. “I’m sure there are lots of people who would love my products, I just need to build this bridge,” she says of her online marketing efforts.

And while people are more likely to buy her clothes because they are stylish and comfortable, Skibnevsky says they are still part of the slow fashion shift. “Even if they don’t care about ecology, there is a chance to teach them about sustainable fashion. They’re still making a better choice.”

Haptic Path can be found through their website, Etsy, and Facebook.

Photos: Courtesy of Haptic Path.

Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
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Haptic Path Sustainable Textiles & Clothing
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