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Barcelona Supports Sustainable Fashion

23 June, 2014

Into Silver T/H 2014-15 Collection by Del Través.

Around 30 fashion sector professionals and designers, mostly Catalan, are joining together to foster the promotion and sale of sustainable fashion.

“A sustainable fashion product is one where we can speak proudly about knowing who made it, what it was made with, how good it makes you feel to use it and how you can dispose of it when you no longer need it,” explains Fiona Capdevila, the designer behind the firm Del través. Oriol García, creator of the brand Sense Un, concurs. “It’s not just about the material it is made out of but also the whole of the raison d’être of the label that designs it. To talk about sustainable fashion, the firm’s procedures must be sustainable, too. By this I mean not only distributing production throughout the year to guarantee a stable work volume in the workshops or minimising the use of work materials and fabric cut-outs but also the equitable distribution of the work value of each piece in all of the production and sales processes,” he says.

Both Capdevila and García are good examples of the growing number of designers who support sustainable design, particularly in the city of Barcelona, and who are working hard to raise awareness about this new fashion concept.

One way of doing so is the creation of the Barcelona Sustainable Fashion Association (AMSB), which brings together around thirty labels and professionals. “Together we can ensure that our work has more repercussion, organise promotional activities that have a greater impact on society, place joint orders for fabrics and materials to improve margins, and exhibit at fairs together to bring down individual costs,” says Association president Virginia Rondeel. Like Capdevila and García, she also has her own fashion label, where she works with the technique known as upcycling, i.e., designs that involve reusing already existing fabrics and clothes. Today she is sporting a pair of slacks of her own design, made out of two shirts.

“Sustainable fashion is not a trend or an alternative; it is the true essence of fashion and must remain so forever,” Rondeel says. After 21 years working in the industry, getting to know everything there is to know about its production systems and experiencing two off-shoring processes, she decided to change track. “We will never be able to compete with a factory in Bangladesh, but then again we don’t want to. But people can get the wrong idea about the prices of sustainable fashion. If we compare our prices with brand prices – not fast fashion – we are just as competitive,” she says. We ask how much the pants she is wearing today cost and she says they can be bought for eighty euros.

Strong values

Quality, craftsmanship, exclusivity and design are the strong points of the labels that have joined together under the sustainable fashion umbrella. They want end customers to understand that “if they are looking for an alternative to the mass production of the big fashion chains” they need look no further.

“We realise no-one will buy our clothes just because they’re eco-friendly – they’ll only buy them if we offer a good design. Fast-fashion labels can compete on price and speed in getting new trends into the stores, whereas we have to offer design as well as sustainable values,” the AMSB president says. Rondeel also teaches at the Escola d’arts i tècniques de la moda fashion school. “It is very important to make young designers aware of the importance of incorporating sustainability values into their future work and the potential of techniques like upcycling. They must know that you can create patterns without having to make so many cut-outs, how to use fabric remains and what is involved in fair trade. There is a world of possibilities and our responsibility as teachers is to show them what they are,” she says.

The head of the AMSB believes that teaching future designers and boosting market awareness must go hand in hand, and to that end one of the AMSB’s core strategies is to open all of its activities to the general public, as it did with a show at Barcelona’s Palau Robert in April.

United by sustainability

Coinciding with the first anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, when more than 1,000 people, mostly textile sector workers, were killed, the AMSB and dozens of other organisations from 50 countries around the world organised shows and activities to denounce the event and to promote sustainable fashion.

The activity organised in Barcelona drew the participation of firms such as GreenLifeStyle, SylviaCalvo Bcn, Carmela Rodriguez, Clara Mallar, CoShop, Ecoology, Humus and many more, who joined with volunteers to implement all of the logistics needed to put on the show at Palau Robert which was open to everyone who wished to see it. The big public turnout encouraged the Association’s members to stage another event to showcase the organisation’s designs at the end of this year.

“We have had loads of support from the public administrations, which has allowed us to now organise a new activity in the city. We expect it to take place before the end of the year and would like it to coincide with other important events on the fashion calendar,” Rondeel says, without being able to provide more specifics at the moment.

The start of a pattern?

“People are starting to be open to the idea of sustainable fashion. The public is now aware that another approach towards consumption must be taken and that it is important to know the origin of the pieces they wear, how they have been made and who has made them. I think the idea of awareness has taken root, to the benefit of us all. There is no question that the food industry has been a pioneer in this awareness-raising process. I hope it is any group that influences consumption trends from now on,” Oriol García says. 

García, who designs men’s fashion exclusively and has his showroom in Madrid, trusts that the demand for sustainable fashion will continue to rise in order to take  his firm forwards. “If all goes well, maybe by the end of the year I could have a retail space and a workshop on the street”. He says he has a couple of collaborations under way that are in keeping with the firm’s values and which will allow him “to increase the product offer to include, for example, jumpers made from local wool under the label dLana”.

Fiona Capdevila agrees with García’s analysis and also believes that “a collective wake-up call on the Spanish market” is taking place. “All the designers and professionals who work in this sector have striven and will continue to do strive to ensure its future. Other markets have had a head-start of many years on us. In some countries it is just as normal to wear an eco-friendly cotton t-shirt as it is to buy a kilo of organic wholegrain rice! It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore our joint responsibility in the purchasing process and forget that the system behind fast fashion doesn’t charge the real cost of the work and contributes to exploitation and misery in different phases of the production chain,” Capdevila says firmly.

Her company Del través supports upcycling and the recovery of ancient production techniques. “It is a 100% sustainable label, which I use to see whether it really is possible to get fashion to take on more and more values. My work as a designer starts from a highly personal universe and without betraying the foundations of my sensitivity,” says the designer, who is also part of the collective firm made in Purple, a fashion project targeted at empowering and training women.

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