Lisbon, a green capital for the fashion sector
“We have spent too many decades living in a linear economy,” says portuguese actress and writer Joana Barrios. It is a statement of intent which marks the start of the latest edition of the Fast Talks, an event organised by ModaLisboa to explore the environmental impact of the fashion industry. On the one hand, a commitment to the Portuguese society, which this month reelected António Costa as prime minister despite a record abstention rate of 45.5%. And on the other, a concern for the Portuguese city, which will hold the European Green Capital title in 2020, after winning an honour that has been historically awarded to cities in northern Europe.
Aware of the responsibility of the title, Eduarda Abbondanza, president of the ModaLisboa Association, underlines the importance of hosting discussions on sustainable development in Lisbon. As such, she invites event visitors to explore the Santa Clara Market, located in the heart of the traditional Alfama neighborhood, which used to be a fishing zone. “It is one of the hallmarks of ModaLisboa: to discover new spaces in the city,” she says.
The power of education and new generations
Behind Abbondanza is an industrial space decorated with green lights and palm trees, where the five protagonists of the event review the industry’s progress and challenges. Sitting to the right is Alfredo Orobio. Clad in a white t-shirt and trainers from French sustainable brand Veja, the 30-year-old designer of Brazilian origin is one of the strongest voices on the Portuguese fashion scene. His collective design platform, Awaytomars, which was launched in 2014, has now more than 15,000 designers from up to 93 countries.
“The rise of fast-fashion is closely linked to our busy generation. We are the ones who invented the idea of mass consumption. Now it's about changing your mindset,” he reflects about his generation’s responsibility in letting mass distribution get out of hands. The only way forward in changing people’s mindset is through communication and education, he thinks - two approaches which have already started bearing fruit. “I think people are increasingly aware of the differences between a mass produced product and their sustainable counterpart. We need consumers to sympathise with these stories, like they did when we eliminated plastic straws from our daily lives,” he continues. “It’s crucial to educate consumers and those leading brands.”
There is definitely a generational element in the transition towards a more sustainable future, thinks Carolina Álvarez-Osorio, who works as a communications director at Spanish sustainable firm Ecoalf. “We need a new generation of designers and artists who believe in responsibility,” she says, adding that “these generations, led by young people like Greta Thunberg, are driving change. As consumers, we have a responsibility to keep pushing for big companies to join this path.” Her line of thought is supported by the message on her Ecoalf t-shirt, which reads: “Because there is no planet B". The brand, founded in 2009, uses recycled materials to manufacture its collections and removes marine debris from the bottom of the oceans with the help of fishermen as part of its Upcycling the Oceans project.
It seems clear then, that one of the key solutions moving forward will be to engage consumers through these initiatives and activate empathy to accelerate change. “The best we can do is to pave the way for something new. We are not going to save the world this instant, but we can inspire people to do it gradually,” said the CEO of Awaytomars.
But who’s to blame?
Slightly more confrontational is Joana Barrios as she highlights the need to “speak the language” of consumers. “I think sustainability can sometimes be alienating. Sometimes, people feel left out. For starters, because they don't know how to read and understand what labels mean. Not to mention certificates, which is a much more complicated matter,” she explains. And she doesn’t hesitate to hold companies and brands accountable: “I think that sometimes there is too much pressure on the consumer.”
But the consumers must also take part. Whilst Carolina Álvarez-Osorio favours the “story doing” of Ecoalf’s projects over “storytelling”, Eva Geraldine Fontanelli, a Vanity Fair Italy editor and co-founder of sustainable e-commerce platform Goooders underlines the need to work on narratives. As a brand consultant, she believes that products need to “be beautiful, share a message and be profitable”.
“In the end, appearance and design are essential at the time of purchase. Brands must be made aware that ‘Good is the new cool’,” she says. But there is a risk brands will use the momentum for their own gains, warns Patrick Duffy, founder of Global Fashion Exchange. “Transparency is an issue with big fast-fashion groups. [Sustainability] is a marketing stunt used by many brands, who create small sustainable collections and then present them as a major change in their business. This is called ‘green washing’,” he notes.
In the face of this issue, transparency and traceability will be key in the coming years, says the representative of Ecoalf, the Spanish brand which was the first one to receive a B Corporation certificate. And, remembering Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s estimates that there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, she adds: “If you are not against the problem, you are part of it.”
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