photos from giu giu
Meet Giuliana Leila Raggiani, the founder and creative vision behind the cult ribbed knitwear label, giu giu (joo joo). Established in 2013 in Los Angeles, giu giu works with family-run factories based in Hong Kong and China to create knit garments designed to mold to their wearers and last lifetimes. With a nostalgic point of view, giu giu has evolved into a product of a unique and mindful lifestyle bound by simplicity; a reflection conveying the playful humour and offbeat freedom that life should embody, with no limitation to age or gender. In this interview, we get the opportunity to chat with Giuliana about giu giu's beginnings and fashion philosophy, who inspired giu giu's signature NONNA knitwear pieces, why she chooses to work with China-based small factories to create giu giu's pieces, and how she keeps herself grounded amidst the noise of the fashion industry.
Who is Giuliana Leila Raggiani?
She is many things, but to keep it simple, she is a Boston-born half Italian/half Tunisian woman that lives in Paris & Los Angeles.
Can you tell us about giu giu’s beginnings and how the brand has since evolved?
giu giu started almost “accidentally” in 2013, consisting of an intimate group of four handmade textural sweaters, and 9 years later has evolved into a full collection embodying a special lifestyle or “world.” Though the core intention of bringing joy and freedom has remained the same.
What is giu giu’s fashion philosophy?
That fashion should be freeing and approachable… A positive experience for people to find a sense of comfort and nostalgia, through the clothing. Instead of having a brand dictate or control what type of person you are, or “label” you, giu giu’s philosophy is letting the clothing assist in your natural expression as a human. Clothing that allows you to move and connect with your body, which is important to me personally, coming from a background in dance. The world needs a lot of healing these days, so I try my best to have fashion be a source of light through the clothing.
What does slow fashion mean to you? How do these principles shape giu giu as a brand and business?
From the design and development process, carefully selected resources, minimal production seasons, and craftsmanship, giu giu is completely rooted in the foundation of slow fashion, and it has been that way since the beginning. For one, the craft of knitwear in general is an aspect that is timeless, and quality means everything to me. Collecting pieces you can cherish and pass down for generations is so special. There is a great responsibility in being a creator and business-owner, and the world doesn’t need more “stuff,” so implementing these mindful practices and supporting the slow fashion movement is something I consciously do through giu giu.
In the near future, what are you looking forward to most?
Opening our first flagship store / retail experience, GIU GIU House いえ in Japan would be wonderful. It’s a dream of mine to have a space there that will merge all my interests in one little creative portal, to connect with our customers and the community. A place for people to gather & heal. A refuge & sanctuary for harmony, self-expression, and sharing.
What are life’s small pleasures for you right now?
Waking up to the smell of salty ocean air, feeling my pup’s tiny heartbeat while cuddled in bed, the comfort of my morning coffee.
What do you imagine the future of fashion to look like? How does Giu Giu fit into this vision?
I’m no psychic, but I can be idealistic ;) It would be nice if everyone could just take a deep exhale. If people would take a pause on the overconsumption and overproduction. If the strict fashion calendar could soften and loosen a bit. For brands to respect each other’s authenticity; collaborate instead of compete. For its stigma to transform from cold intimidation to a warm & easy playfulness. It’s my mission and drive for giu giu, so I hope it sets us into gear towards that direction.
The greatest lesson you’ve learned since starting giu giu?
The beauty of slowness and patience. My grandfather always said “Piano, piano” which means “slowly, slowly” in Italian. Since I was a kid, I’ve been a pretty fiery / impatient person, (living in NY for years did not help with that!) so I would go through serious moments of doubt & despair, as I went through many years of working so hard without seeing many results. I now see that everything is set on Divine Timing (as much as we like to plan), and lasting things are truly built with time.
What are some of the barriers you’ve encountered while running a socially-conscious business?
Covid itself was a big one for me on many levels. I work with small factories that can only produce a certain amount of units at a time. And the lock-down caused a lot of delays. I encountered issues with some retailers that were not so understanding in that process, caught in the pressures to make certain deadlines, even during a Global pandemic. It was eye-opening to see the sad truth that most of the world doesn’t operate in a socially conscious way. So it was disheartening to see the lack of empathy and understanding in such a business driven world.
Is there a who, what or where that inspired giu giu’s NONNA line?
There is, and her name is Palmira Giglia, my grandmother, or “Nonna.” In August 2014 she passed away due to a battle of Parkinson’s Disease. My simple “homage” to her of recreating her original “Vaccaro” turtleneck in ivory, upon her death led to me discovering stories of past customers, their memories of the garment filling me with inspiration, as I put these bits and pieces of her past together, while slowly expanding this “shrunken ribbed-knit” feature of the line. It was as if she gave me this magical key that unlocked a new dimension to the brand. And voilà, the NONNA collection is now considered the core of giu giu. The genius stitch + yarn combination she developed with her brother (my Godfather, Gino), was just perfection in my eyes, and it’s an honor to carry that aspect of their brand on, and shed light on her story. *That’s the cliff-notes version, and you can read much more in our NONNA Book Vol. 1. We’re currently working on the 2nd Volume, as well, hoping to launch this year.
Your favourite way to wear Giu Giu?
A full monochrome NONNA suit is my go-to (jewel / pants combo).
How do you inform yourself throughout the day? What are you reading, watching, or listening to?
To be honest, I tend to be a bit of a hermit, and stay in my bubble most of the time. Social media & and the news can be really draining for me, but I’ll give myself a few moments each day when I feel it’s necessary to tune in. It’s important to find a healthy balance. Everything is energy, so I try to consume things that are uplifting, and keep my screen time to a minimum. I’m currently on a rotation of 2 books, one being “Women who run with the wolves,” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and have Alice Coltrane on repeat today while I work.
Three things you never leave the house without?
Yoko, phone, water.
As a designer in a world dominated by fast fashion, there’s a sense that you need to be in a constant state of production. How do you keep yourself grounded amidst all this and prevent yourself from burning out?
My daily meditation & yoga practice truly keeps me sane through it all. It constantly allows me to take a step back, breathe, see the humor in it, and resist the toxic grind culture.
Can you tell us a bit about the manufacturers you work with in Hong Kong and China?
We produce the NONNA collections with our factory in Hong Kong & China, who I’ve had a close relationship for years. It’s important for me to shed light on their work, because often times Chinese factories can get overshadowed and discredited (for obvious reasons) by the mass-production, poor conditions, and exploitation of workers, that the true gems get lost. They are a small factory of mostly female knitters that specialize in fine-gauge knitting. Knitting is in their blood and it’s been around for generations. The amount of care and attention to detail that happens there is rare and amazing. My first visit to the factory was a magical experience. When I walked in there were 5 women listening to soft music as the rain fell, with massive windows overlooking the countryside. Each of them totally absorbed by their dedicated task in the process after knitting the panels, and I felt a sense of calm in the room, which coming from the fashion industry in the US, was completely unexpected. Aside from this factory, we also produce our novelty knitwear pieces in Japan, and Madagascar. I feel so grateful to be working with such talented humans, that pour their good energy in the clothing.
What does your creative process look like when designing a collection for Giu Giu?
It usually starts with travel in some form or other. A new experience that throws me into a new frame of thought will inspire the overall concept. From there I usually form the color palette of the collection first, which always comes in an unexpected way. Color is important in my world. Something will strike me randomly, and acts as this little puzzle piece to the bigger picture. From there, I sketch, knit swatches, or work with my hands to create a collage and feel free before the more technical chapter begins. That involves zooming into each piece stitch by stitch, and designing each detail, yarn quality, tension, etc. Knitwear is a super technical craft, and the possibilities are endless. So the process really goes from “macro” to “micro” which I find to be a great balance for my brain.
Something that recently challenged you?
Most recently, having to speak my truth in a painful situation, which was out of my comfort zone. I normally would have stayed silent, but I accepted the challenge. It ended up being a super liberating experience, and a big point of personal growth for me.
If you could see any person in the world wearing Giu Giu, who would that be?
Oo, that’s a tough one. Today, I say Oprah!
What is the legacy you hope to leave on this world? What are you out to accomplish?
“Good giu giu!” No pun intended, I do hope giu giu leaves an imprint of light on the world, that changes the harsh boundaries that have been held for too long. My intention goes beyond clothing. I hope to help people feel understood and accepted. To touch hearts, and connect us back to our inner joy, and deeper into our bodies.