My father is a retired General, I grew up surrounded by soldiers and uniforms until I was 8, and this left an indelible mark on me. Heavy Metal is my passion, I can listen up to 10 hours a day, sometimes even more so it just comes natural to me to design a collection based on this two concepts. It’s a capsule collection I’ll be showing in Mode 360 in Los Angeles on April and as with my last collections I’m focusing on adding and pushing forward what I am able to do in a sustainable manner. I’ve been working with Artesanías de Colombia, running workshops on design with local artisans, so I had the chance to meet women who do incredible work knitting. One of them took me to a neighborhood in Bogotá where they sell cheap fabrics and also dead stock and end-of-roll fabrics. I was in awe, it’s been there for decades but I never knew it existed. Not the place I would go looking for fabrics in my past life. Colombia had a strong tradition making wool fabrics, flannels and tweeds, but the 5 major factories had to close in recent years due to external competition especially from China, and well, they didn’t invest in innovation. I can still find some existing rolls left over, the last ever made in Colombia. Very soon I won´t be able to find them anymore. Although they are not eco in itself, they are a clear evidence of what can happen to factories and employees when there is no product innovation and there is an unfair competition from other countries. I´m still working with a recycled cotton and PET fabric, as it is still the only fabric 100% eco made in Colombia. Zero waste, this is the most challenging issue for me as a designer, as I have to rethink how the garments are constructed. I take zero waste as using the whole width of the fabric, draping it over the mannequin, sometimes cutting into identical rectangles for a better shape. It seems like a lot of ideas for a small collection, but it´s just the drive and the need to push forward that I have as a fashion designer. All of the people who work for me are homeworkers. I recently found this guideline I‘ll have to start following: http://www.ethicaltrade.org/sites/default/files/resources/Homeworker%20guidelines_Retailers_0.pdf
My first sustainable capsule collection has me working with the only sustainable industrial fabric available in Colombia, recycled white cotton and PET from recycled plastic bottles. A first attempt to merge some of my passions: hard rock music and some draping over the body, the Trucker Jacket meets Madame Vionnet.
“To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing – straighten yourself.” Buddha.
Right, this is tougher than you might think, living in a country with no understanding of the relationship between systems and products in fashion and the opportunities each of us has to turn to sustainable practices in our industry and at home. So here’s what I’m doing at home and preaching to others to take action:
- 80% of my clothes are made to measure (of course I’m a Fashion Designer).
- 20% of my clothes I buy, that includes sportswear (I’m just not able to make it better than Nike or Under Armour and I exercise almost every day), polo shirts, underwear and shoes.
- Each time I get a new garment I donate one to charity. That way my closet grows organicly and I’m forced to wear everything I own while extending the lifetime of my clothes. Some pieces I don’t give away, they have an emotional bond with me, but I wear them occasionally.
- Shoes are repaired when they need to. I buy leather shoes so they last longer.
- My new white long sleeve shirts are made from recycled cotton and PET.
80% of the impact a garment has on our planet comes from laundering and drying. So as Mr. Nabeel Hamdi says in his book “Small Change”, “If you want big change you start small, but you start where it counts.” So here’s where I’m making my best effort, having one kid and a new born:
- I laundry with Top Terra www.topterra.com.co the first and only eco detergent in Colombia. Free of phosphate and with a renewable active ingredient that comes from oil palm.
- Washing temperature is 30ºC (86ºF).
- Line drying of small garments.
- When waiting to take a shower and water to be warm, that water is collected on a bucket and used for laundering.
- Recycling of water used for laundering.
- Except for underwear all other clothes are not washed every time I use them.
- The laundry machine is always used at its fullest.
- Except when I have to appear on a public event or someone’s going to take me a picture I don’t iron my shirts or clothes.
That’s it, but I’m sure there’s more I can do. Any ideas?
So it was time to start designing again. The what, how, when and who of designing I already had it figured out, but where to sell my clothes, that was the real challenge. Not in Colombia, that much I knew. Eco Fashion is almost inexistent over here. Where to sell then? The answer came by way of our government: Free Trade Agreements with Canada and the USA were signed last year. Everything started to make sense. If I’m going to design in a sustainable way, then I have to sell to people who understand sustainability and appreciate it.
Every time I start a new project I use the “zero base thinking” technique. If I had to start all over again, knowing what I know now, what would I do different? If my long term vision is to develop a lifestyle brand that puts together the hard rock spirit (guess I’ll have to talk about this sooner or later) and sustainability, and I want to distribute in USA and Canada, my first step should be traveling to the other fashion capital, New York. I lived in Milano and Paris, so I’m familiar with them but I had never been to New York. I wanted to know what was happening in sustainable fashion in the capital of the world and had the chance to meet with Kate McGregor from www.kaightshop.com and had an enlightening conversation with her.
To make a long story short, sustainable fashion is not as big as I thought it would be, fashion caught up late in the Eco movement, but I’m positive in a few years it will be as important as it is food right now, just wait and see.
There are not too many fabrics in Colombia that can be considered sustainable. Most of them are artisan made and only one that’s truly made from recycled fibers. Over the years I’ve worked with artisans and I’ve learned it is best to work with the ones who are already organized, like the ones in Cucunubá, a small town 2 hours to the north of Bogotá, who are backed by the Fundación Compartir. Weaving activity in this region goes back to the pre-hispanic era when native Indians worked on a waist loom to make cotton fabrics that they used to make clothes, and which depending on their quality, ornament and construction reflected their social position (not very different from today!).
So I headed to Cucunubá to work with Otoniel Del Río, the artisan in charge of making my black herringbone alpaca fabric. Most artisans from this town are men instead of women, that should make for a nice case study for an anthropologist.
The other fabric I’m currently working with is made from recycled cotton and PET. It’s made in Medellín by Ecohilandes (www.ecohilandes.com) and it’s the first sustainable fabric produced in Colombia. This fabric is not dyed, the color is given by the recycled fibers’ original color.
Sustainability has become a very serious issue for me. I’ve worked closely with Corporación Biocomercio Sostenible (www.biocomerciosostenible.org), a NGO that works in projects related to the sustainable exploitation of natural resources, trying to develop the use of natural dyes in Colombia, with mixed results. A project that took us (supported by UNCTAD and Cluster de la Moda de Bogotá) in late 2011 to Argentina to visit INTI and get to know first hand the progress they’ve made by extracting directly the pigment and freeze-drying it, a process that allows having the dye all year round, in a simple, economic and sustainable way.
The trip to Perú got to show us how Peruvians are working with natural fibers such us Alpaca, organic cotton, Vicuña and with different natural dyes: cochineal, red corn, achiote, red onion and turmeric, and also the different kinds of organic cotton they grow.
A special visit was made to Ecotintes and Bergman Rivera as they have some of the best products for the designer category, and which I hope to work with soon.
Ibagué Maquila & Moda, a local trade show in the city of Ibagué, has invited me for 3 straight years to participate in a panel,where I get to talk, promote and teach about sustainability in fashion and the apparel industry. Special guests in these panels have been Paula Gray Ethical Fashion from Argentina, designers Cristina Balari and Maria Ribeiro from Coletivo Brasil and Eva García from Spain in attempt to show local business that sustainability is something you can start anywhere you can, the most important thing is taking the first step.
Fast forward again to December 2009. I get an invitation to participate with one garment in Eco Chic Geneva (http://redress.com.hk/projects/fashion-shows/ecochic-geneva/). I didn’t have much time to work on it (it was right before Christmas, vacation time in Colombia) so I sent a coat made from ruana.
José Antonio Gómez from www.biocomerciosostenible.org , the person who invited me, mentioned the word Eco Fashion in our first meeting. Images of heavy hemp clothes for late hippies came to mind,
so at first I was reluctant to participate, but went to Google images and discovered all these new eco fashion designers and their amazing collections and then, something clicked in my mind, a rare moment of inspiration, just a few seconds, but it would change my life and career. My son Simón, was already two years old at that time, and with my wife Ximena we had seen Al Gore’s documentary “The Inconvenient Truth” so there was something inside of me bubbling to have a different approach to what I was doing, to make things another way, there had to be something else besides designing, producing and selling clothes, but I didn’t quite know what it was. Suddenly, Eco Fashion seemed the right way, it opened new possibilities and ways of designing while helping some how to make this planet a better place for my kids, and for others. So I bought the books (Kate Fletcher’s), went to all the eco sites, blogs, interviews, videos, etc. to learn and do. Two years later I felt I was ready to start designing once again.