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Will Latin America Join The Sustainable Fashion Revolt?

04/10/2016 14:21

2016-09-30-1475274873-505044-DSCN6151.jpg Ethipop (pop-up sale of sustainable brands in Paris during Fashion Revolution week)

It is undeniable, a revolution has started, slow but steady. Consumer demand has pushed the market to become more "sustainable", or at least has forced it to try. The organic food, the up-cycled clothing, the compost/recycling, the sharing economy... it has all been proven to be more than a hipster trend (though the jokes about them are still rather funny).

Among all of these new green practices, probably the one that is the toughest to integrate into our "conscious consumer mode" is fashion. Why would that be? Well, fashion as we have always known is still there and, though the fast-fashion model dominates the market, we now hear about other choices like ethical fashion, vegan fashion, zero-waste fashion... so many labels! I understand why people get confused.

In simple terms, this new model of making fashion integrates social and environmental values into their business structure. Then, the "new" is just a way to put it, for ethical fashion activists it has meant at least a decade of work to get to this point.

As it usually happens, this business shift started out in developed markets. Why? Because educated consumers can drive change, no matter how big the industry. Proof of that? Fast-fashion giants bringing out "conscious" collections; whether you find it to be logical or not, they are out.

As small sustainable brands were gaining popularity, as consumers started asking who made their clothes and re-thinking their purchases... major brands had no choice but to align or face public rejection. Whatever reason, awareness is growing and the future looks bright for sustainable fashion.

If you are a resident in Australia, Europe or the U.S. you have probably seen this happening. You may even have several choices when it comes to local brands that work with organic wool from Argentina, organic cotton from India or wild rubber from Brazil. Whether the manufacture is being held locally or in a developing country, they are supporting organic production. They offer creative products on high-quality & low-impact materials, with a transparent production chain and a cool story behind. I think it's amazing, what's not to love?

2016-09-30-1475275050-7989872-muestracorte.jpg Upcycling workshop among the Fashion Revolution activities in Paris

At the same time, being a South American expat in Europe, I couldn't help but to wonder, where does Latin America fit in all of this? If we naturally grow the raw materials other continents crave for, if we have the manufacture know-how, why is this movement taking so long to kick-in? Crazy as it may sound, I did not learn about sustainable fashion until I set foot in Europe, though I was aware of the organic fruits and beans that grew in my home region (intended for foreign markets), when it came to cleaner fashion alternatives... I just had no idea, and I was already working in the fashion field.

Fashion as a work generator and as a motor of social development we know, it's hard to ignore the weaving and artisan tradition that spreads all throughout the continent. We, as Hispanics, know it is highly valued abroad and we are taught to respect and appreciate our heritage. At the same time, though it seems like a paradox, we have a preference on what comes from abroad, I think this is it just human nature.

To be honest, I see nothing wrong with that. This is the base of international trading, we export what we do best and we import whatever we want. But, taking a look into the fashion scenario in Latin America ... something in this exchange is not looking right.

Due to the economic growth big brands started arriving in the last decade, some of them luxury but most of it fast retailers. Later than in other regions of the world, fast-fashion installed and started thriving; at about the same time we started importing large quantities of less expensive fabric alternatives all the way from Asia. This cheaper choice allowed local brands to stay competitive by replacing natural fibers with acrylic wool and synthetic fabrics. Industry itself is not being hurt, in fact is still growing, manufacturers still have jobs due to local and foreign demand, we continue to produce organic fibers for external demand, and consumers get more fashion and all the recent trends. Money is moving, there is not a problem with the fashion business, but there is problem with the quality of it.

I just don't see how this was fair to consumers or how are we able to accept it. I consider it a shame all high-quality/ low-impact fabric sent abroad while we are stuck with low quality trendy items. If only they were cheap! But have you seen the prices of Zara in Latin America? I'll tell you it's no bargain. What I think is even sadder, is that our local brands are developing within this context of low quality fabrics because of price competition.

2016-09-30-1475275348-4989476-white.jpg Organic Pima cotton grown and woven in Peru

All of this eventually led me to create La Petite Mort, a sustainable brand that develops between Peru (home country) and Europe. Inspired by the principles of circular economy, this project is rather simple and has two goals only: To raise awareness on sustainable practices in fashion, with a particular effort in Latin America. As I said, all we need to change the industry is educated consumers asking for it. Then, to put out an option of basic organic clothing, so people may have at least the liberty of a choice. This is (naturally) also my way to respond to my heritage, by showing the world what Latin America is made of, as they say: our products are our way to communicate with the world.

Certainly, I'm not alone in this; in the last couple of years of traveling back and forth I've met and connected with amazing projects aiming to raise the value of our industry. Each small on our own and potentially amazing together, working for a revolution of values.

*Pictures taken by: La Petite Mort

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