By Emi Yoshida Bevacqua.
Sustainable fashion is a topic that has came up many times within AWC Berlin this year. It was the focus of our Winter fundraiser, a subsequent membership meeting, and now a walking tour. The tour was led by fellow AWC member and Circular Fashion founder, Olga Johnston Antonova, who has been instrumental in each of our sustainability events.
Learning to be Fashion Conscious
Our tour started in a beautiful leafy bit of Mitte in front of ECOALF. ECOALF is a gorgeous new store, just shy of its first birthday. At the back of the store, the employees invited us to relax in a beautiful sitting area, while Olga gave us an overview of sustainable fashion. Olga went straight into the critical juncture we’re at right now: with the United Nations giving us 12 years to ward off climate change catastrophe, and scientists calling Earth’s new Anthropocene era the first in which humans are directly to blame for our own bio, cyber and environmental disasters. It was surprising to hear that the fashion industry is the second highest polluting industry in the world behind the oil industry.
It was hard not feel bad about all the damage our shopping is doing to the world. Olga explained that it takes 2,700 liters (713 gallons) of water to grow enough cotton for one T-shirt… and to dye that T-shirt requires even more water, not to mention all the unhealthy waste from coloring processes. On top of that, there’s the wasted 20% extra fabric that manufacturers regularly order and dispose of, often by burning or dumping. The information was overwhelming, but Olga gave us hope with her motto, “Beauty heals.” She explained that we can combat pollution, waste, and excess by making our fashion purchases the way we’d choose a work of art — researching quality, and selecting only what we need and what works with what we already have.
We also learned about many righteous design initiatives in the fashion industry, including Levi’s, Nudie jeans (lifetime guarantee), and Stella McCartney; and other new high-tech sustainable alternatives, like materials made from brown algae and methane-eating bacteria! There are also companies like Germany’s I:Collect that put bins in H&M stores for customers to leave cast-offs to be re- and up-cycled. Not only is I:Collect making customers aware of environmental concerns, but their research has led to new technology enabling a revolutionary mixed-fiber separation process!
Olga gave us many other tips for changing our habits. She inspired us to buy locally, form relationships with designers, and use the GoodOnYou app to check brands for impact and ethics (you can also use it to find great deals!). She also encouraged us to be willing to spend more on quality items that are produced responsibly and that we will use longer, instead of throw-away fast fashion.
Choosing Conscious Fashion in Berlin
Armed with new perspective, we ran around giddily, and guiltlessly, admiring everything in ECOALF, whose sustainable fashion brand uses coffee grounds, plastic bottles, and reclaimed waste from the oceans in its stylish puffy jackets, tops, pants and shoes. I couldn’t believe how soft the pants were, or how brilliant the large and visible tags on tops declaring, “ECOALF is a brand that uses the highest quality recycled fabrics to create a new generation of eco-friendly products. 235 grams of fishing nets = 1 meter of ECOALF fabric. BECAUSE THERE IS NO PLANET B.”
In Berlin, many responsible vendors are within walking distance of each other. Nearby Filippa K is a Swedish design line that’s been known as “a curious and conscious brand that recognises innovative sustainability as its guide to growth” for 25 years. Everything in this store looks good together, like Garanimals for grownups! They sell outer wear, day wear and accessories too. Gorgeous handbags, scarves, belts. We learned that they use a lot of Tencel in their clothing, which is a sustainable material made from the Eucalyptus plant. The also use a gorgeous recycled polyester, that honestly looks just as pretty as silk.
I noticed that Filippa K also sold everything you need to properly preserve your designer investments, like sweater stones, brushes, and the Guppyfriend wash bag. Olga first told us about Guppyfriends at AWC Berlin’s Sustainable Fashion Show a year ago. Not long after, AWC had another sustainability event, where I outbid everybody else for a Guppyfriend of my very own. I have been proudly saving the planet with it ever since. A sign in the Filippa K store says if you can prolong the life of an article of clothing just, “…3 months longer, you reduce its carbon, water and waste footprint by 5-10%.”
Though it was closed at the time, Olga pointed out Claudia Skoda to us at Mulackstraße 8, and told us about the first knitted piece she personally bought from Claudia decades ago, as a tourist in Berlin! Next we went to see Polish designers at Quadrat, which is all about upcycled designs from up-and-comers in Poland, or as Olga put it, “anti-mass-produced and anti-mall and High Street,” which sounds very cool and anarchy in her Russian accent! While everybody else was trying on metallic necklaces with long dangly fringe tassels, I found a super cool black hooded raincoat for 180 euros that I really want to go back for.
Our last official stop was Konk (which I have to tell you, I am unable to say out loud without cracking up). Konk calls itself a concept store, and carries only local independent Berlin fashion designers, with a scant exception made for some whimsical silken bead jewelry created by a group of newly enfranchised women in India. The store is bright white and the fashions are incredibly colorful. Konk will soon be featuring some photography from the upcoming Berlin photo show.
Going Beyond Sustainable Threads
Not all of our stops were clothing stores. Olga took us to Wheadon, where I would literally love to move into for a few years worth of beauty treatments. The place is filled with Dr. Bronner’s and other skin, hair and body product lines that are wholesome, natural, smell amazing, and make the world a better place. We toured downstairs where men get their hair, head, beard, skin, or nails done in darkened comfort with lots of oriental rugs and sumptuous leather. Next we headed up to view the ladies hair salon, where brows, scalp and hair are colored, cut, treated, and styled. Then we went to a beautiful light and airy space where the magical skin fitness and exclusive cardio-muscular treatments happen for only 35 euros (20 minutes).
Spreading the Word
I love that AWC Berlin has made sustainable fashion a focus this year. It’s important to me, and something I’ve been working on here in Berlin (check out my German-made, locally-purchased blue silk dress above — I’m on the far right). My entire adult life, I’ve been wearing well-preserved hand-me-downs from my fashionable sister. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area, and buys most of her clothes from local designers, second-hand couture shops, and up-cyclers. For years, she has been sharing her smart practices with me; and now I can share Olga’s with her.