Nicole Hardt, Lead Art Director at C&A, and one of our Spotlight Awards judges in the Fashion category, talked to us about her career path, the relationship and compatibility between sustainability and fashion, and more. Read the interview to get more insights!

Production Paradise: What are your expectations of being part of the jury of the Spotlight Awards?

Nicole Hardt: The Spotlight Awards brings professionals from different corners of the creative world together. As an Art Director, I can take advantage of this event to network with agents, production agencies, and other key players. In our digital era, the value of in-person meetings has significantly increased and makes this occasion very valuable.

As a jury member, I have the opportunity to take some dedicated time to meet with agents, review and evaluate their portfolios. By being part of this I have access to a wide range of innovative work. This means for me that I always have a source of inspiration that provides important insights into the latest trends and development in fashion photography.

Production Paradise: In your opinion, what makes an image award-worthy?

Nicole Hardt: An image becomes award-worthy when it delivers a certain quality of the concept that makes it stand out and resonates with the viewer. It needs to demonstrate a unique and fresh perspective within the trend of the fashion industry and challenge conventions. Besides that, I see technical aspects such as lighting and composing, and postproduction as important as the impact of the image. An award-worthy image evokes emotions and engages the viewer on different levels.

Production Paradise: Can you tell us a little bit about your career? How did you end up at C&A as Lead Art Director?

Nicole Hardt: I began my career as a fashion design student at the UdK in Berlin, where I had the opportunity to learn under the guidance of the renowned Vivienne Westwood. After completing my studies, I started to work as a stylist, and soon after I published my own magazine together with my former partner Axl Jansen. This is the beginning of my art direction journey. Through my work on the magazine, I established a lot of connections with PR offices, very talented photographers and stylists. In 2005 I moved to Paris and extended my expertise by working for other magazines and consulting for fashion clients. After spending eight years in Paris, I made the decision to return to Berlin having the opportunity to work on the rebranding for Zalando and developing the new picture language. During this period, I started to work more and more on projects dedicated to promoting sustainable practices within the fashion industry.

My most recent project is 'Made-in', which was established to document diverse craft techniques and extend support to craft communities. The primary objective of Made-in is to safeguard traditional textile crafts, which are increasingly vulnerable to extinction in today's fast-paced society. By creating partnerships with talented artisans and craft communities, the project is dedicated to celebrating their remarkable skills and ensuring a vibrant future.

All these efforts have become my passion, allowing me to combine my expertise in art direction and fashion with a strong commitment to sustainability. With each project, I aim to make a positive impact on the fashion industry by promoting ethical practices and fostering a greater appreciation for craftsmanship and sustainability.

Now working for C&A, I can combine all my expertise and talents to make a valuable contribution to the company’s mission while aligning with my own goals of promoting sustainability on a large scale.

Production Paradise: Could you tell us what has been your favourite project to work on and why?

Nicole Hardt: With the project Made-in, my project partner Anjana Das and I had the wonderful opportunity to document craft techniques in both, Germany and India. We established meaningful collaborations with skilled artisans and designers, bridging the worlds of craftmanship and fashion design.

The project became a fulfilling endeavour that allowed us to celebrate and preserve the beauty of craft techniques while intertwining our passion for storytelling, creating images and our love for textiles.

Production Paradise: What do you enjoy the most about working in your field?

Nicole Hardt: Every day again I see my passion for my job. After all these years of experience, I still love to research images, to analyse trends in fashion photography, and I am passionate about creating images. But what I love the most about my job is the thrill of encountering new challenges and unique situations that come with every photo production. Working with new teams all the time allows me to experience diverse perspectives and to work collaboratively towards a common goal. It keeps my journey exciting and dynamic. Besides that, I love to travel and be on beautiful locations.

Production Paradise: What tips or advice do you have for aspiring fashion photographers who want to enter the competition?

Nicole Hardt: Competition is huge in fashion photography, and we are having a big flood of images since social media has become an important place in marketing and communication. Besides that, AI made a big step and soon will be able to replace some kinds of photography.

The only way to find a place in the industry is to find your inner urge and create what personally matters. This is what makes a photographer unique. Take risks.

Production Paradise: Sustainability is an important topic for you, which can be seen, among other things, in the fact that you volunteered at Eco City.  How important is it to you that fashion and sustainability are in harmony? And how would you define this connection?

Nicole Hardt: I have been working on many sustainability projects during my past years, mostly in the fashion industry. The Eco City was my first project where I had to look at the whole circle of life and got a lot of insights into our interwoven structure and how one affects the other.

When we hear 'fashion and sustainability' most people have in mind that these two are not going together. I do not think that this is right. Fashion is reinventing itself now and it is great to see how many new approaches come up. In the past years, there has been a growing movement towards sustainable fashion with increasing awareness about the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry.

There are many ways in which fashion can embrace sustainability. Creating a circular economy is key. Embracing ethical production systems, fostering conscious consumption habits, and implementing rental systems…all progressive ideas that are becoming more important and do not cut off the joy of dressing in a fashionable way. Many brands are now offering fashionable clothing without compromising sustainability.

Production Paradise: What do you think are the most important aspects of sustainability in the fashion industry?

Nicole Hardt: Sustainability in the textile industry is such a complex topic. Transparency is a crucial element in promoting sustainability and responsible practices throughout the entire textile production chain. When brands are transparent about their processes, materials, and production methods, it empowers the customer to make more informed choices. Knowledge fosters a sense of connection and responsibility, leading to increased appreciation and value for the garment and the material it is made of. By recognising materials as valuable resources rather than disposable waste, a fundamental shift in mindset occurs: seeing material as a source of potential rather than waste encourages a reimagination of how products are designed, produced, and used. It fosters a culture of innovation and respect driving us towards a more circular fashion system.

Production Paradise: How can fashion photography and visuals help convey the message of sustainability? What styles or concepts could effectively convey this message?

Nicole Hardt: Fashion Photography and visuals have a profound impact on sustainability communication.

In today’s digital age where information is consumed through quick scrolls and visual impressions, purposeful imagery becomes a powerful tool for showing complex ideas and inspiring content at the same time.

Production Paradise: What changes would you like to see in the fashion industry to better integrate sustainability?

Nicole Hardt: Implementing governmental control over production and enforcing social standards throughout the entire production chain are crucial steps. Additionally, a circular design approach where products are designed to go back to the circle is essential for achieving a more sustainable future.

These efforts will lead to a more responsible fashion ecosystem where garments are valued for their quality, longevity, and positive contribution to the circular economy.

Production Paradise: Do you think sustainability in the fashion industry has an impact on aesthetic standards? How can the balance between sustainability and creative expression be achieved?

Nicole Hardt: As human beings, expressing individuality is fundamental for us. Creative expression can be achieved in many ways without consuming fast fashion and creating waste. Creative expression happens a lot on digital platforms. If you have a look at the fashion week and AI, it is amazing how designers have a space to create without limitations that is different than the one we are having with physical fashion. By embracing digital spaces designers can experiment, innovate, and push boundaries in ways that are not only sustainable but also democratise creativity.

To know more about sustainable projects:

Lasting collective – Blog about sustainable brands with a modern design language (Founder and Creative directors: Nicole Hardt and Leonie von Lieres).

Fair Fashion Guide – Inspirational fashion magazine, exploring sustainable topics. (Founders, Concept and Creative directors: Nicole Hardt and Friederike von Wedel-Parlow).

Norlha – Rebranding (Sustainable Brand on the Tibetan plateau) Creative Direction: Nicole Hardt.

Made-in – Platform on documenting textile craft techniques with the goal of preserving and innovating the know-how. (Founders, Concept and creative directors: Nicole Hardt and Anjana Das) (Funded by the foreign ministry).

Eco City – a school, laboratory, and model for the city of the future: cellular, sustainable and climate-neutral. By living, learning and working on the campus (Board Member: Nicole Hardt).