Radiant; Porto’s Fashion Looking Up

By Jo Phillips

It’s one of those things I remind myself to do when I’m in a city that is not my home. Looking up, and by doing so lets me see what I can from this elevated eyeline; views so often missed when we forget to take in the whole of a city. Take the beautiful city of Porto as an example where you should always elevate your site.

The second-largest city in Portugal, situated on the northwest of the country by the sea is a picturesque town built on hills and is dotted with the most stunning tile clad buildings, from rich cathedrals and churches to apartments and shops. Look up and see ceramic tiles of the most beautiful designs and cladding apartment with wrought iron Juliet balconies. Utterly picturesque.

But don’t be fooled into thinking looking up is all Porto is about. There is a whole lot more going on. Within a 50 mile radius, the whole of Portugal’s fashion industry is situated and Porto is its centre. Within this radius fabrics, manufacturing, treads and machinery are all located. This means that every part of the fashion circle from literally the fabrics, twine, thread and even skilled manpower is on tap. But Porto in other ways is about looking up. Here may be slightly more metaphorically speaking. Because Porto is fast gaining a reputation for green fashion. 

At the recent Modtissimo fashion fair, nearly every brand on show had a green offering. From ethically produced fabrics to recycled yarns (many from waste plastics from the sea), threads to construct with and padding for clothes, alongside homewares such as towels and carpets!

There were recycled fabrics and eco-cotton on sale, circular economy offerings, as well as much talk of how technology can save the environment. Nothing was not available and open in this marketplace, despite being, probably, part of the industry least expected to respond to our global crisis.

So yes. Things are looking up in Porto at the Modtissimo fair. This small area is fighting to clarify its position as leaders in our fight for a better world. The show is very much about fabrics and white goods companies (those that produce clothes for big brands). There is great technical know-how on show, new technologies, as well as craft makers with skills, passed down from generation to generation.

Think things like cork makers. The cork industry has been in decline in many countries but it is a skill treasured here and utilized for many materials within fashion, shoe and bag making. By its very nature, cork is generally considered a green eco-friendly sustainable material.

There was also a handful of young designers on show. There are several schools of fashion in Portugal and so it is now beginning to breed its own family of young creatives. Interestingly most are utilizing local eco-friendly green fabrics, after all, there is so much on offer. They are also, thankfully, looking to embed in their work the skills handed down from generation to generation like cork making into their designs. On top of that, there are new developments like fabrics with CBD integrated within it (Adalberto) and materials made from nettles (fifitex.pt). Also, let us not forget, the thread used for constructing garments with Lipaco, offering one thread that is green but looking to bring all their treads into green production within the next six months. Similarly, don’t forget shoes and bags, something Portugal is very famous for. And, yes, there were green products available, such as vegan shoes and bags from people like Marta Moreno.

Talking with several students (there were so many encouraged to visit the show), it seemed they are proud to use the materials on offer. Like so many around the globe of their generation, being aware of these environmental issues we all face, there is no option but to utilise green materials, circular ways of manufacturing, as well as every green option available. Not seen as a choice by these young Turks but as a must.

Interestingly at the fair, there was a feel slightly of the United Nations, afoot with fabric buyers and journalists from the UK, Germany, Spain but also as far-flung as Japan. The reputation of the show and its place in the market has grown over the past few seasons as it looks forward to new ways to work in fashion with a green footprint.

And it’s reputation is all about looking up, looking forward not gazing into the future but driving us steadily there. Building a reputation carefully curated to be the greenest fashion fair in the world. On top of that, unlike other fashion fairs where buyers and designers go for just fabrics or for buying just clothing, this fair contains it all. From raw materials via production to finished garments the fair can offer not just some but the whole of the fashion process from cloth production to makers of zips, buttons, and trims, to fully finished garments. Alongside this, it is offering realistic green circular economic solutions and green manufacturing. This is a country carving out for itself a brighter, greener, far more unique place for itself within an industry that by and large is burying its head in the sand when it comes to how we consume fashion within the modern world.

Even when some of the big French and Italian fashion groups are talking of zero-carbon emissions it’s just not enough. The fashion industry needs to also look at its supply chain and its constant reaping of natural resources like water wastage and its use of harmful dyes (Porto fair had fabrics coloured with natural dyes). Porto is just maybe making that big step forward fashion needs to take.

Quite frankly there is no excuse anymore for not doing so. Many internationally renowned brands already work with Porto for manufacturing. Companies like Louis Vuitton and Gucci groups already manufacture in the city but do not officially talk about it. So one must ask why are they not talking about it? Why are they not buying fabrics from there? And if they are, why are they not sharing this information, after all, today’s shoppers want to know.

The fashion industry needs to be far more transparent about their processes, as well as actually truly engaging with the green options that Porto has to offer. After all, this is the future we all need that is if we want some kind of happy and healthy sustainable world going forward.

As well as the fair of fabrics, materials and makers on show, on the second floor Modtissimo had a hall of see now buy now. Some of the brands were small makers like Vintage for a Cause, who use deadstock to make new clothes with local makers and small runs only or New York-based label Ampersand Heart who do the same and get some of their deadstock from Portugal.

On the second floor, there was also a hand full of makers and fashion designers but most interesting was the centrepiece: an actual market of clothes collected by Portugal’s most famous fashion bloggers. All of whom were selling vintage upcycled clothes. Big names in the country like Debora Sa, Barbara Taborda Sofia Novais, Dew Paula, Sara Salgado, Claudia Jacques, Barabara Ines, Rita Matos, Beatriz Bettencourt, Ines Gutierrez and more, all had items for sale from their curated rails. What a lovely surprise. Interesting to see these star bloggers in Portugal are all about the eco-friendly upcycling of clothes. A trend we can only hope and pray will spread amongst some of the biggest bloggers around the world.

So as much as Porto fashion is looking upwards and onwards it also has a keen eye for future talent. The first gallery on entering the fair on the ground floor was filled with designs from some of those on show in the main fair. The most interesting part of this presentation was simply that everything on show had a list of green credentials with it and not just one technique but a list, as well as showing off new technical innovations all available at the fair. From fashion to homewares the lists of fabric production, dying, traceability was all listed literally per mannequin. This shows exactly what can be done to make the clothes we wear and the fabrics we all have around our homes greener. This is no longer the technology of the future, it is the here and now and is very easy to work with.

The Modtissimo fair in October is held in a beautiful location of the old Customs building of Porto the Alfândega do Porto. At the back of the building is the most stunning view of the Douro River. Grab a bite from one of the food vendors at the show, sit outside and enjoy not just the sunshine but the view across the river to the typical higgledy-piggledy streets strewn with houses and apartments built centuries ago in the traditional style of the area. The city, after all, has sections that are world heritage status.

These style homes (as above) are places the local community live in. Not an area exploited by property developers as is the global trend for large cities. They are so obviously lived in by locals, evident by the washing hanging from the balconies and the odd avó (grandma) seen shaking out her duster. This makes the experience of the city real and grounded. Which is very much the cornerstone of the Modtissimo fair. Real options for change, real opportunities to make the world greener safer and better for all by simply using technology and human endeavour to create better fashion options. Options that combat the destruction, not only of the environment but also of one’s own heritage.

In the city centre, as the area is quite hilly, stand at the bottom of any main street and look up to see beautiful architecture. The city has much on offer for those that want to meander, stunning cobbled streets with stores passed down the family, and there are simple easy (and very new) metros that can take you to most areas quickly and cheaply. There is a divine old tram that covers part of the city and if you are a regular Uber user it’s great to know that your app will work there too.

As for the food? Cod is everything here. In fact, it’s of course, a big fish city. But cod is the most devoured of sea ingredients. There are a plethora of local bars and restaurants but there are also new places popping up. For example places like Tascö’, where once only locals went but the reputation is so good that tourists are now finding their way there too. Funnily enough early evening is full of those people used to eating an evening meal relatively early and then later (after 9) expect to see the locals used to eating at a much later hour. The interior is playfully peppered with personality in the form of a logs wall decoration and a huge blackboard for scrawling messages and a musical playlist.

The food is steeped in Portuguese classics but presented with a modern twist. Ask what is good and they will not only explain but also tell you what is popular with locals, should you want a more authentic experience. Try the excellent codfish fritter and tomato rice which can’t be more local if you tried.

Across the road from Tascö’ is a superbly unexpected find. Raul Sousa a Mid-century modern furniture store with some quite remarkable pieces. Some have been reconditioned with the help of local craftspeople after all Portugal is known the world over for its work with leather but there are also pieces in their original form. An expertly curated shop with extremely beautiful examples of mid-century modern homewares and furniture. The store does give a glimpse of the fact that the city has been growing in its international reputation.

There are famous sites that should be visited like the deco restaurant Majestic Cafe which, although a slight tourist trap, is a stunningly well-kept deco cafe complete with white livery jacketed waiting staff.

The São Bento railway station in the Oporto is also a great place to visit. The vestibule is framed by pilasters, covered in the blue and white tiles typical of the area. The edge of the ceiling is lined with a blue and gold frieze. There is also another frieze, evoking the history of life on the road in Portugal. Below these friezes are large tiled “paintings” representing historical events in Portuguese history. The station is also still a working building, so see the life of Porto pass through their city.

Look up, look down, look around because only then can you see, really see, what is going on. Because let’s face it, in Porto things really are looking up!


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