I am a Wurlawa.”

Sarah Gwiszcz founded her own fashion label in 2014. The fashion design graduate was born and grew up in the Spree Forest. Given her strong links to Wendish tradition, it was only natural for Sarah Gwiszcz to name her label after the “Wurlawy”. These legendary women of the forest have now been accompanying the Spree Forest native on her entrepreneurial journey for several years – a journey that has led to great success. In her fashion creations, Sarah Gwiszcz combines modern design with the traditional elements of Wendish and Sorbian costumes.

Sarah Gwiszcz

Where do you call home?

Home isn’t a place but a feeling. That’s what they say, but for me, the location plays an essential role too. I live in the village of Ragow near Lübbenau. This is where my roots are; this is my home. I live and work here in the Spree Forest. I was born here, grew up here and went to school here. This entire region is what I call home.

You are Sorbian because …?

Given that I come from Lower Lusatia, I prefer to say that I’m Wendish. Why? Because my great-great-grandmother was fluent in Wendish. Unfortunately, the language no longer played a role in my family – Wendish had been banned by the Nazis. Back then, they even spoke of “traditional Spree Forest dress” in order to avoid mentioning traditional Sorbian or Wendish dress. I now incorporate elements of Sorbian and Wendish traditional dress into my fashion designs, which is my way of reminiscing about my origins.

In what language do you dream?

Like many other Wends, Wendish is no longer a native language for me. I’m currently attending a language course so that I can get a feel for the language again. When I listen to Sorbian radio stations, I can understand roughly what they’re talking about. Maybe I’ll be able to say a couple of sentences somewhere down the line. Wendish can still be seen everywhere thanks to the road signs and place name signs. At present, however, only a handful of people in the Spree Forest actually actively use the language. Maybe this number will increase again. After all, lessons in the language are an option at schools.

What is your favourite Sorbian song?

I don’t have one specific favourite song. I sing a couple of folk songs every now and then, or carols at Christmas. When you live here, you automatically come into contact with various Wendish traditions, for example the “Zapust”, the Wendish Shrovetide. This involves a procession in traditional dress followed by a dance.

How did you become a fashion designer?

I wanted to become an artist from an early age. As I got older, my aspirations became more concrete. I was involved in the punk scene, so had nothing whatsoever to do with traditional Wendish dress. I already started designing my own clothes at secondary school and then moved to Berlin to study fashion design. I was never the kind of person who wanted to explore the big wide world. The fact that Berlin is practically on my doorstep was therefore ideal.

And what about traditional dress?

During my degree in 2010, I participated in the “sorbisch modern” project, in which we designed modern fashion for young Sorbs. It wasn’t until I explored this topic that I realised the huge wealth of Wendish and Sorbian traditional dress. The designs sometimes even vary from one place to the next. Here in the Spree Forest, the giant hoods are particularly characteristic of our festive costumes. I instantly fell in love with the blueprinted designs. I don’t design modern folk costumes but fashion inspired by traditional dress. My idea has always been to incorporate elements of traditional dress into everyday life. Wearers of my designs can always carry a piece of their home with them without being forced to wear festive dress.

Why the Spree Forest?

Where else? It is home to both my roots and the roots of my fashion. I returned to the Spree Forest straight after finishing my degree. I created designs and clothing for a follow-up project to “sorbisch modern” and in doing so, laid the foundation for my own label. I then started up my own business in 2014. After my debut at the Berlin Fashion Week in 2015, my fashion was in high demand. I needed a shop with a studio. And voilà: I’ve now had a shop at the heart of Lübbenau’s historic town centre since 2019. I now even have two employees because I have too many orders to handle them all on my own.

When are you happy?

I am happy in my life. My family and my husband are my main priority, followed by my home and my native region, of course. In terms of business, I would do it all again – just a bit quicker and on a larger scale. I’m just happy that everything has worked out just the way I hoped: my shop is doing well, and I’m earning a living from it.

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