Going Fashionably Green in Portugal

By Jo Phillips

We are all aware of our needs to be kinder to our home, our planet, our world. But outside of re-using plastic bags, stopping buying plastic bottles and refilling anything, anywhere we can it’s quite hard to understand how we really can help on in other direct ways. The information is not easy to get hold of and then if we manage to, then act on it: We all know that we all need to contribute, but there is the big question of how?

We do look to makers, manufacturers, and distributors in the long line of items we use daily to in many ways, not just lead the way, but to aid us in aiding the planet. Simple information is very important but that is easier said than done.

We really do need to understand how we go about it? How does, for example, the fashion world become a far more green industry? What do they need to do in order to help us make better choices? After all, it is one of the worse polluters on the planet. What they do and they tell us can aid us in buying better and consuming in a greener way, should they choose to get involved with better working practices.

The recent fashion fair Modtissimo in Porto Portugal is one of the greenest fashion fairs about and is really helping to highlight how fashion can play its part.

Portugal is a leader in the green trade, in ecological production. The European brands trust the Portuguese producers”, says Carlos Figueiras, a member of AICEP in Germany. “When they arrive, the first thing they ask is for environmental certifications, such as GOTS”, adds Miguel Porfírio.

Firstly let us start with the basic materials that are used to make clothes. Take our love of denim, sadly a great polluter. This is not just about the production of denim that causes waste or pollution, it is staggering also that it takes a stunning 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of jeans.

So a great solution is repurposed denim that has if you like to put it simply, been up ‘cut-up’ and rewoven to make a recycled denim fabric which can then be made into a new pair of jeans saving us the pollution of growing new cotton.

Nearly every denim producer showing at Modtissiomo fair had recycled denim on offer or at the very least an organic cotton. Organic cotton uses far less water as well as the fact that the crops aren’t treated with pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and Genetically Modified Organisms. These toxins are harmful to farmers and workers, us as consumers, and entire wildlife eco-systems.

At Modtissimo many brands showed recycled or green fabrics of different kinds. Technology has come in to play too. But it’s not just the fabrics that need to be greener but also things like the finishes we use and the items used in the construction of a garment.

Many of the brands at this show have been selling recycled plastic fabrics for several seasons, brands using plastic bottles from the ocean and turning them into materials. But don’t forget you need the thread to sew any garments together.  Lipaco who we met six months ago and had already produced one thread that was green, six months on, and they have six different green options for sustainable threads. But we need to think of everything that is involved, from zips to buttons, padding and trims linings and labels.

The finishes we use are also part of the problem as well as dyes. We want our clothes to feel nice on our skin but we need to start to use natural finishing rather than harsh chemicals and to use natural dyes where possible rather again than man-made ones. There were thankfully many naturally dyes fabrics on show at Modtissiomo alongside a variety of materials on offer

Then there is the waste. Wow, so much waste. And so much waste that is not being recycled or re-appropriated, card boxes, paper, plastic wrapping, let alone waste like off-cuts and deadstock fabrics and end of runs of materials. It is a minefield but meeting manufacturer Daniel Pinto from manufacturer Scoop gave us hope.

When people started to talk about green and sustainable ideals he realised, ‘ohh we are already doing that’!. Because of this, his company was invited by the United Nation Global Impact to be the first Portuguese company to act as an ambassador.

His company is one of the most forward-thinking manufacturers in the world that just happens to be based in Porto. A family-run business for over 25 years he says his mother instilled in him how to behave well. Like many in Portugal manufacturing was passed down a family. Along with that comes a set of values. Treating staff like a family, paying them well and that for Daniel is part and parcel of being a responsible employer.

He talked of a seven-level internationally recognised management system that includes key elements like, environment, innovation, social accountability, transparency, health & safety alongside the three aligned values of the Portuguese system that include social, personal and professional practice with your workers. They also have environmental certifications in place to back up what they do. Overall this means act fairly with your workers, buy fairly, be transparent and as he puts it be real!

Zooming out from there, Daniel says firstly you need to have a Profitable business because without profit there is no business and without a successful company you can’t impact people.

So from buying to production all the way to the end waste what they do in fact, at every step along the way in producing clothes needs to be carefully thought through, as he does in his factory; manage each process as all of it is do-able as long as you have the commitment. He Does.

So starting with the fabric, most of the time his clients will buy their own fabrics for production. However, where Daniel can encourage clients to buy lower impact materials and where this is a ‘like for like’ (same quality and specifications), he pushes them to use the greener option and when he buys materials himself for his own production he always chooses lower impact ones. This would also include organic materials and of course the same goes for threads and other parts of the construction.

Regarding fabric waste, Daniel says ‘we are able to map out every bit of waste that happens through the production process from fabrics to plastics cardboard and paper’.

He has managed to get his factory to between 90% to 92 % waste efficiency. So it is not just waste thread and fabric reused, but things like paper are all recycled and used to make their own notebooks whilst the plastic is recycled too. No one in his workforce has been allowed for the past six years to use single-use plastic bottles.

They send waste cotton material to Recover company in Spain to remake the leftovers into new threads for sewing and fabrics making it all upcycled. There are recycled and green stretch threads for sewing outwear and sports fabrics too.

Finishes (especially if you work in outerwear as Daniels does ) could be seen as problematic because these can de ‘nasty chemicals’ but again Portugal has companies that are making naturally derived finishes/coatings for outerwear. This adds another process Daniel and his team can tick off

Then there are options to use deadstock. Deadstock and waste leftover materials after production are a massive problem in the fashion industry.

If you are a high-end brand and have an exclusive fabric you have ordered and then have leftover rolls after all your production is made up what can you do? You can’t sell it on or give it away as it will devalue buying it as an exclusive.

Scoop Daniels factory is already working with three young British designers using deadstock for production including Christopher Raeburn. Young brands like Mariah Esa who is actually using deadstock clothing labels to create designer pieces. She uses the backside of the label where all the soft layers of thread sit. She gets the labels from him comes up with a design solution and then he makes up her jackets for her.

Ultimately and just as important, when Daniel goes to look to another supplier he will want to work with he is looking for them to give him an impact report. If they don’t have one yet his team will work with the company to create a system. As he outsources up to 70% of his production he needs to ensure that those he brings in to work with him have the same set of high standards.

As well as this leftover materials and even thread which can be reconstructed back into new threads and materials, there are as mentioned patterns, paper, the plastic that covers rolls of fabric wrapping bolts for materials all this waste Daniel sees as not a circular economy (which reintroduced only) once but a spiral economy so it can get reused and reused and reused. A circle closes but a spiral does not close.

Another amazing solution Daniel has is very much self-activated. With deadstock or when too many pieces are made of production or there is a lot of fabric leftover Daniel and his in house design team have come up with even more solutions

If allowed by the brand who owns this stock, Daniel and his team re-work and re-design pieces that don’t clash with the original clothing of the brand, then going on to sell them as a completely separate collection. Either with the brand (as they have done with Tommy Hilfiger on a sustainable collection) or as a stand-alone collection. With Tommy Hilfiger, it took two years of talks before they were able to sell this specific upcycles collection online. That is dedication and commitment.

These can be small runs and limited edition pieces that can go back to the market. Or daniel and his team can bring two brands together in order to create really unique mini collection as a collaboration between them both. Daniel obviously handles the production should the collaboration go ahead.

Daniel has also used his genius to re-work some World Series jackets (USA Football tournament) which he took six styles of and restyled them into another 6 new designs, all cut up and reworked and sold them as a limited edition collection whilst getting celebrities to wear them

Ultimately Daniels feels designers are beginning to understand the creativity and potentials we have for these kinds of projects. The opportunity to do something golden and clever.

The reality of making says a pair of sustainable/green pajamas for a designer is going to be between 15% and 20% more expensive; not an amount that is an excuse not to do it. Daniel’s goal is ideally to get them at the same price. That way there is no excuse anymore not to produce things that are low impact.

Finally, there is the issue of distribution. All that air freight, sea miles or roads driven, but worry not Daniel has a solution for that too.

He holds clients’ production (mainly new designers) in his own warehouse and from there he ships directly to the consumer, therefore, cutting out two levels of shipping, i.e to the distribution centre and from there to the store or direct to the consumer. This is particularly good for online companies but is a great step to cut out transportation waste

Thinking through clever ideas about waste is as important as thinking about the process of upcycling abilities and green production.

Much of the producers in Porto all make for the highest end of luxury clothing with brands like Burberry LVMH, Gucci group etc all manufacturing goods, so what he does proves all can do the same. From high street to high end there is no longer any reason why being green is not totally doable.

What we need now is for these brands to put labels on their clothes to show what they are doing in ways of sustainable production. That would give us all a far better understanding of not just what is do-able but also choices of who we wish to buy from

We know the world cannot manage 100% sustainability right now but if we can all look to see how we can each and every one of us lessen our impact then this can only be a good thing. Inaction is the most costly route we have right now. Modtissimo is a great example as is daniel of scoop in what is being done right now and a perfect example of moving forward into a kinder world.

Modtissimo trade fair happens twice a year in Porto Portugal

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