December 10, 2021

How do you create a hint of nothing?

Interview with designer and manufacturer of the zai non-binary mid layer.

How do you create a hint of nothing?

The non-binary mid layer captivates with its simplicity in design and the highest level of functionality. It was designed and produced in collaboration between zai and polychromlab, which is run by Michele Stincho. As a former designer for top brands, he has set up his studio in the mountains at 2000 metres above sea level. He and his team develop innovative design concepts for outdoor and designer clothing. They apply extraordinary processes and use only local and the highest quality materials.  Michele and his partner Elisabeth made the zai ski suit with and for zai. As part of this joint collection, they set themselves another challenge with zai CEO Benedikt Germanier: designing and producing a unique jumper that meets zai’s standards.

Benedikt and Michele, you are two design-oriented entrepreneurs. What made you decide to work together?
BG: We try to merge the essences of our two companies in our collaboration.
MS: We wanted to create something with our expertise that corresponds to the spirit of zai. It’s a great challenge.

How did the idea to create a mid layer come about?
MS: The following zai claim had its influence: “Innovation, design and craftsmanship nourish the brand’s charisma. The love of skis and the search for their own line on the mountain brings zai enthusiasts together. With zai, they transcend boundaries, ski more easily, more joyfully, more perfectly.” It was clear that we had to make a mid layer to complement the zai ski suit. A mid layer is the connection between the bottom layer and the outer layer – the actual ski suit.

What were the main criteria that influenced the implementation?
MS: The pullover had to be warm and block the wind that gets through the first layer, the zai ski suit. We wanted to keep the design language simple, and it had to look as if the garment had always been part of the zai product family. The challenges were limiting, but they also left the room to incorporate high function and style design elements. zai and I wanted to create something aesthetically pleasing that people wear so naturally that it almost seems like it didn’t exist.

How is the non-binary mid layer different from conventional mid layers?
BG: Non-binary is omnipresent and dominant. The combination of the reduced design, the cut and the material technology is unique. It cannot be compared to a regular softshell pullover. Minimalism, the reduction to the essential, is radically implemented in the non-binary. Precision and craftsmanship expertise are not expressed through frills and ad-ons but through the lightness of the deduction.

How would you describe the outcome?
BG: The result is a symbiosis of function and design. Warm and minimalistic. So minimalistic, in fact, that one of my colleagues associated it with the crime novel “The Name of the Rose” when he saw it. The crime novel is set in the Middle Ages in the gloomy libraries and cloisters of medieval monasteries. For me, this shows the bare reduction to the essential.
MS: The zai non-binary mid layer is as if it had always been here. Minimalistic and elegant. The cutting technique used allows the back to fall elegantly downwards and, at the same time, protects the neck area. This forms a unit with the hood and will enable you to put it on with ease. You’re wearing something, but you don’t notice it. You’re warm, but you’re wearing a hint of nothing.

Wouldn’t a knitted fabric be even more “nothing”?
MS: We chose a cashmere fabric because it’s simply warmer! Unlike knitwear, cashmere fabric offers elegant wind protection.
BG: You might think knitwear is lighter. But for us, lightness is not determined by weight. The lightness comes from the shape, making the product feel natural to wear.

Why do you work with Loro Piana fabrics?
MS: Loro Piana only uses the most delicate animal fibres, compressing them to a fabric that intelligently blocks wind. It is the highest quality of fabric you can get.

What are the seams of the zai non-binary made of?
MS: They are threads of yarn sewn with premium sewing machines. Since the zai non-binary has neither pockets nor zips, we could integrate apparent seams into the design.

The end part of the sleeves is distinct – can you explain the shape?
MS: Research has shown that the shape of the cuffs influences the climate inside the jacket. The question was: how can the form of the cuffs help to block the cold?  The shape we used is established in the high-performance sports industry. Usually, jumpers have rounded cuffs – we don’t know why. Because we think the function of the cuff is to keep your hands warm. And that’s what we achieved in the non-binary.

How much does the zai non-binary mid layer cost?
MS: All the elements I mentioned ensure premium quality. But they also have their price. It takes five times as much time to produce a non-binary as it does to make a pullover in the industry. But the time you invest into something also defines the quality.
BG: Loro Piano fabrics are an absolutely top-quality material with its price. But we made a conscious decision to offer our customers a top product that combines our know-how with the highest quality. We have achieved this and can sell it for less than 1000. The non-binary mid layer costs 890 Swiss francs.

How do I wash the mid layer?
BG: Not at all!
MS: The wool cleanses itself, it has an antibacterial effect, and the smell disappears.

What if I have a stain on it?
MS: Hand wash or wool wash at 30 degrees without spinning; otherwise it will mat and become small. If you avoid that, you’ll be able to wear it forever.

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