Sustainable fashion, the MUB capsule collection and the Greenwashing effect with Svetlana Petrova from Empty Your Wardrobe
Eco-friendly lifestyles and sustainable business practices are becoming a major goal of more and more manufacturers today. And while some big fashion brands are just blinding our eyes with seemingly sustainable collections, other designers are investing all their passion in creating clothes that fully comply with the concept of eco-friendliness and zero waste.
Today we will tell you first hand about MUB - a sustainable, capsule collection of clothes, which was created in collaboration between Svetlana Petrova from Empty Your Wardrobe and two other designers from abroad. The fashion items are made entirely of recycled textiles on the principle of the circular economy and dyed by special technology with dyes from entirely plant sources. Svetlana Petrova, Dalia Rodriguez and Marta Sieteglesias Avila tell us how the idea came about, whether it was difficult to implement and why it is important to rely on sustainable fashion.
Most recently, you realized a capsule collection of clothes created from recycled textiles using special craft technology. How did the inspiration for this project come from?
Svetlana: Make Your Bed (MUB) is a joint venture project started by Marta Sieteiglesias Ávila for Warm & Wild studio based in Madrid, Dahlia Rodríguez for DsR Atelier (Portugal), and Svetlana Petrova for Empty Your Wardrobe (Bulgaria). Through the Worth Partnership Project I was able to connect with technical and creative artists such as Marta and Dahlia, and receive the support to bring this idea into a reality.
Myself, as a representative of Empty Your Wardrobe, was in search of a passionate craft maker who possesses a sustainable mindset and similar philosophy: to create concerning nature, to protect our heritage, to transform what is considered as waste into beautiful products, to give a new life to old, unwanted fabrics and garments.
Since the founding of EYW in 2015, the team has been trying to close the loop, to prolong the life cycle of the clothes that are collected or exchanged through swap markets. We did a couple of swap events here in Bulgaria, and also developed ЗОВВ collection and then the process moved to Denmark, due to my Master Studies there.
Tell us more about the craft technology. What is it and is it practiced in Bulgaria?
Svetlana: We use natural dyeing techniques to give a new life to those fabrics collected. Warm and Wild has been in charge of manipulating fabrics collected and coordinating the whole natural dyeing process using non-toxic sustainable dyes such as plants, flowers, and food waste – a technique emphasizing our commitment to zero-waste and circular economy values.
The Capsule Collection has been designed and manufactured by Dahlia Rodríguez using minimal waste pattern design, traditional dressmaking, and artisan techniques to avoid scraps production.
The capsule collection was designed and manufactured by Dahlia Rodríguez, on the principle of minimal waste, traditional sewing and handicraft techniques to avoid waste production.
Due to the specifics of the competition in which I participated, I had to choose partners from other countries. But I believe that in Bulgaria there are many artists who use different techniques, apply old crafts in a new form. With several of them, we cooperated in creating the 3OBB collection.
Was the process difficult and how much time did it took?
Svetlana: The process of developing the capsule collection has been a challenge by itself because it included different but complementary steps that needed joint efforts and the best from each of us.
Namely, the concept of the capsule collection, the sourcing of swapped and discarded home clothing and garments, the application of a natural dyeing process, the design of the collection, and its manufacturing taking into account the characteristics of the fabrics collected.
With all the challenges we have faced, new opportunities have been discovered. At the level of collecting and sourcing the raw materials for the collection, EYW had to be innovative and cope with Covid-19 health restrictions which strongly impacted our plans for the organization of swap markets and events.
Fortunately, through partnership and cooperation, Empty Your Wardrobe succeeded in organizing 3 swap markets (May-August 2020) in Denmark. People were invited to bring bed linen & cotton fabrics and received extra coupons: Wastecoins. These coins can be exchanged in the future for shopping MUB products. The events were visited by more than 500 people who experienced the vibe of sustainable culture. At the end of Sept 2020 a new Swap Spot (a physical dynamic wardrobe for secondhand clothes exchange) in Kolding (DK) to serve as a sourcing spot for the MUB Collection was launched. In addition, it was extremely difficult to source garments made of natural fibers in the swap markets and spot.
Luckily, Empty Your Wardrobe developed a partnership with a local company, Beirholm, producing bed linen products in order to benefit from discarded products, which did not pass quality controls. We have set an agreement to use the discarded fabrics and EYE visited the factory twice and collected samples for the creation of the MUB Collection – high-quality fabrics that are, however, considered as waste.
During the design and manufacturing process it was important for the collection to embrace minimal waste principles.The making process was challenging and motivating as each fabric had a size and different falling that required a previous analysis of matching between design and fabric.
The clothes in the collection are made mainly of cotton, linen and residual materials from other textiles. To what extent is this process achievable and realistic for the conditions we have here in Bulgaria?
Svetlana: Yes, and an example of this is 3OBB COLLECTION. The model used for the MUB collection is replicable to different contexts, including Bulgaria. Implementing such kinds of partnerships and business models can bring more opportunities to all parties involved.
In the description of the products we see that they are painted in natural dyes. What are they?
Svetlana: Marta is a natural dyer. She uses dyes derived from plants, flowers, and fruits to design textiles, as well as food waste, a technique emphasizing our commitment to zero-waste and circular economy values.
Dyeing with plant-based dyes is always a mystery, as you never know the exact colour you will get. It’s magical to see how a fabric turns from white to a marvelous blush pink just by using avocado stones. And also, some of the smells dyes leave on the clothes are very special. The uniqueness of the colours created by nature is part of what makes the MUB collection so exceptional.
Are there any specifics in the care of this type of clothing, given the natural fabrics and dyes and the technology by which they are created?
Svetlana: All MUB textiles are dyed with natural dyes, therefore the color may vary if the PH changes or if chemical products are used to wash them. To avoid this color change and to damage the material as little as possible, it is advisable to wash the textiles with a neutral PH detergent and by hand.
After multiple washes or after being in direct sunlight for a long time, the color may soften. If the textile dyed with natural dyes are exposed to a sudden change in PH, they will react and change color. Textiles can be ironed, as long as it is done at a low temperature.
Dahlia: We do believe it is important to follow responsible clothing care by washing only when necessary, give cold and short washing cycles and of course, repair and mend clothing when necessary. These are small practices that can have a huge impact.
Why is it so important to use natural materials instead of synthetic ones?
Dahlia: Natural fabrics are environmentally sustainable and renewable. They come from natural fibres such as trees, plants or animals, which can continue to be replaced, raised or regrown.
Unlike many synthetic fabrics, natural textiles are biodegradable and decompose harmlessly. Moreover, synthetic fibres mostly made from chemically manipulated petrochemicals are extremely toxic and liberate harmful microplastics in every washing process. According to a report prepared for the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2017, synthetic textiles produce 35% of the microplastic pollution in the world's oceans and are the largest known source of marine microplastic pollution.
The collection is in collaboration with foreign designers. How did you find yourself in this common mission? Who was the initiator of the idea and is it difficult to find supporters for such a project?
Svetla: Three of us funnily crossed our paths through the Worth Partnership Project’s platform on different occasions before getting successful. Marta always dreamt of having a collection of sustainable clothes created with fabrics dyed by her with plant-based dyes. This was a way to make accessible to people a collection of clothes that shares the principles of zero-waste and sustainability. Without sewing or designing knowledge, Marta thought this dream was hardly impossible to achieve until the opportunity of creating MUB thanks to the Worth Partnership Project made it possible.
From her side, Dahlia Rodriguez was dreaming about making garments reusing old textiles, especially bed linen sheets that she used to collect from flea markets and her grandmother’s house as well as apply craftsmanship techniques to use scraps in the creative process such as patchwork or weaving, both techniques she has been practicing lately.
In 2019, when considering applying again, Svetlana and Dahlia, Marta got in touch and a new team and proposal were born joining the background of the three. Worth Partnership Project happens to appear at the right time offering a great variety of opportunities for the three of us. Looking for the perfect match between craftsmanship, circular economy, and sustainable manufacturing, through the platform we discovered that we have so much in common. That all of us speak the same language despite the fact we originated from different countries.
The love towards sustainability and protecting nature, converting what is considered as waste into something beautiful, useful – that united us. We came upon the fact that our skills complement each other. However, it was important to find a cohesive image and merge these three personalities into one single concept. It was primarily to build a concept aligned with our aesthetics and values. And finally, to send the right message to our future customers – to buy and wear clothes with stories, clothes that matter.
In the end, this amazing confluence of hopes, ideas, and attempts finally brought MUB to a lovely story! We felt empowered and believed more than ever in the success of MUB Collection – a sustainable capsule collection of garments following the principles of the Circular Economy, a project that was announced as one of the finalists at the 3rd Worth Partnership Call in 2020.
What is your favorite garment from MUB? А коя от дрехите се радва на най-голям интерес?
Svetlana: People prefer warm, earthy colors. We are about to collaborate with a local influencer, in which one of our long shirts will play a major role - follow us on social networks and you will soon learn details!
Dahlia: From my side, I think I would never be able to choose a fav garment. All of them have something special and are unique. The fabrics dyed with natural elements by Marta gave an extraordinary touch to the fabrics.
Are more people willing to buy sustainable products, to invest in sustainable fashion?
Dahlia: There is a rising awareness about the need of being more committed to sustainability and respectful of the planet. People are more concerned about the impact of climate change and want to do their best. Buying fewer clothes, made of natural fibers or supporting small and sustainable businesses is a beautiful way to support change. We do believe more people are willing to support sustainable fashion brands.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the damage that mass clothing brands are doing to nature. Do you accept your project as a mission that fights the consumption of mass production?
Svetlana: Yes, sometimes a little is enough, and that's how we see the world in the future. Technologically, the clothes will undergo a big change. But this is another topic we can talk about a lot. We believe that large manufacturers have the resources to change the status quo, but this will be under consumer pressure and regulations. Fortunately, this is already happening. The little ones are more flexible and can experiment - they can create working, sustainable good practices.
Many well-known brands have begun to create collections of sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. Do you think that these actions are beneficial or are they more about marketing?
Dahlia: I do believe people like our businesses are aware that we do need to act differently. But changing attitudes and sacrificing benefits is extremely challenging. Having said that, I do believe many relevant fashion brands wrongly use sustainability values to promote commitment. Many do Greenwashing. For example, launching collections with natural and organic fabrics but mixed with synthetic ones, supporting huge consumption campaigns like Black Friday, launching several collections per year, or producing much more clothes than needed are strategies that are not being assumed as sustainable . Change is needed but big companies many times misused the term sustainability only for promotional purposes, without actually bringing the needed impact.
What do manufacturers really need to do to embark on the path of sustainable fashion?
Svetlana: Starting with your business and product, start with questions - what sustainable resources could I use, what services with lower pollution effects to introduce, what are the alternatives, in the long run will this have a positive impact - on me, on the environment, on humanity, and on business…
Those who want to transform an already established business need to change their business model again, and this involves additional investments that can be sought from the state, European programs, funds and business angels.
The important thing may be to see more opportunities than obstacles - because the opposite will deny them
You share that the creation of the collection is motivated by over-consumption, depleting resources and global warming. What are the steps we need to take to protect nature as much as possible?
Svetlana: To consume consciously, to inspire, to inform, to be active - not only in stories, but also in actions. Each of us is important, every step is important. It is important to be open to what is happening around us, to be a little older than our own comfort or adversity, so that we can turn to nature and others. You don't have to do great things, you need small steps, but resistant to time. The action is reciprocal. Let's look at the environment as our home - how would we like it to look?
What exactly is the message you want to convey to people through this collection?
Svetlana: Our objective is to address one of the major environmental issues nowadays by jointly giving a new life to would-be-wasted textiles, through design and using artisan techniques and manufacturing. Our vision is to spread our sustainability values and help men & women to buy clothes in a more conscious way, choosing quality and timeless styles that will endure in time.
And how to tell people what is the ecological solution when choosing textile products?
Svetlana: Giving complete information on how these products and services are created, transported and marketed. We need to be more transparent at every stage of the business.
Make up: @cristinalobato_
/Adriana Petrova, Jenite.bg
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