Right now, fashion is one of the world’s bad boys. Wasting water, burning clothing to protect the exclusivity of the brand, and paying workers minimal wages are some of the charges of which most of our favorite brands are guilty. When thinking about the realities of the fashion industry in 2018, it’s clear it’s exploitative, not environmentally friendly, and downright wasteful. The concepts of care, conscientiousness, and responsibility don’t come to mind when talking about our modern culture of disposable fast fashion.
In Argentina, however, a regional revolution is underway. Small local businesses and NGOs are on the rise, all looking to make the fashion industry a more fair, eco-conscious, and humane industry. That Argentina is leading the way should come as no surprise. As a country full of regions where local artisans have been making clothing the same way for generations, as well as high quality llama and alpaca wool available on tap, it’s the ideal country for a more ethical and environmentally friendly fashion movement to root itself.
Hecho Por Nosotros, a United Nations-approved NGO founded by Adriana Marina, hopes to promote fair fashion that is compassionate toward people and the planet. For the past ten years, Marina and her team have traveled across Argentina and Latin America delivering seminars and speeches warning of the perils of disposable fashion and encouraging people on how they can still be clothing lovers, just in a more sustainable way. Putting the NGO to one side, Animána is Marina’s clothing brand that incorporates all of the fashion values that Hecho Por Nosotros promotes. With its first shop having opened in Paris (40, Rue Saint Placide) three years ago and a second in Buenos Aires (Thames 1484) in December last year, the brand is keen to spread the message that fashion doesn’t have to be exploitative or so disposable.
You’d be forgiven for thinking taking on a role as an NGO leader and businesswoman would perhaps be a conflicting one, but it’s clear that the well being of workers is Marina’s top priority. When asked about the challenges of keeping a business both ethical and profitable Marina responds that “it’s not just about the financial profit, there’s also a cultural and social profit from the business.”
At heart, both the NGO and Animána are about understanding and creating products that fit the demands of the consumer while being fair to those producing the garments. “Making profits from the almost slave-like conditions fashion brands often enforce on workers as well as destroying the planet, is not how we operate at Animána,” says Marina, completing the picture that her brand doesn’t just focus on monetary profit.
With production largely based in the Argentine, Chilean, and Bolivian Andes, manufacturers make the bespoke designs by hand, using techniques passed down through generations. “We wanted to make sure that the techniques, materials, and designs used are all in keeping with the indigenous cultures of the Andean regions,” says Marina. Crossing the borders of all three countries, there is however a distinctive Argentine feel to the clothing, noticeable in the gaucho-style poncho lines that are regularly featured in the collections.
When asked about the challenges of working so closely with the artisans, Marina responds that “when it comes to scaling up the production it can be complicated since hand making items and using traditional techniques takes more time with many of the cooperatives not being used to producing set quantities.”
Bringing business and employment to some very rural areas, the company has always aimed to develop employable skills and provide ongoing work for these artisan industries which in recent decades have been in decline. Marina explains that this cross-cultural and border style of set up allows for an interchange of skills and knowledge: “We can learn manufacturing processes from Peru but here in Buenos Aires we have a lot to offer as well in terms of technology and business to the artisans.”
A successful union of both traditional handcraft and 21st-century business, Marina explains that between the NGO and clothing brand, they wanted to ensure that these valuable skills didn’t die out and could somehow be transformed into creating a style-conscious brand, where fashionistas both in Buenos Aires and beyond would feel excited to shop.
Clothing which is in the mid- to high-end price bracket, (a sweater costs about US $90) is designed to be casual, wearable, and most importantly, durable. Not subscribing to often whimsical and changeable fashion trends, Animána comprises a core collection that changes subtly with each season. “We prefer to focus on products that do not go out of style quickly and that grow on you the longer you own them,” says Marina “We don’t want to make clothing that by the end of the year looks out of fashion because the color is wrong; we want the buyer to love their purchase even more in six years’ time!”
Marina understands that the brand is not financially accessible to all, but that brings up a broader question in the fashion industry that no one has yet managed to fully answer, one that pertains to the price/eco-friendliness relationship in these sorts of initiatives. “It is an on-going process and learning experience and a situation that won’t just change overnight” she says. Marina is also keen to mention that many mainstream certifications that big international brands use, like proclaiming the use of organic cotton for example, can be misleading to consumers.
You may think that white t-shirt you just purchased is ethically produced and environmentally friendly, but farming cotton is one of the biggest users of pesticides and water during the manufacturing process. Instead, Animána shuns certificates and prefers to be totally transparent so consumers can make up their own mind. However, if clothing is to be ethically made, sustainably sourced, and long lasting, profit margins are of course squeezed and prices increase as a result.
Looking ahead to plans for the future, a detailed e-book on the challenges, progress, and future of sustainable fashion is set to be available for download within the next few months. For fashion brands keen to make themselves as ethical and eco-conscious as possible, Hecho Por Nosotros will be offering consultation sessions as well.
When asked for any words of wisdom for the millennial generation and those younger, Marina replies: “simply take an interest in where your clothing is coming from, and what wider impact it is having both on the communities producing it and the environment.”
Follow Hecho Por Nosotros on Facebook and see its website for more details about current projects. To see Animána’s current collection, visit their site. Or head to either of their showrooms, locally in Palermo Soho on Thames 1484, and abroad in Paris on 40 Rue Saint Placide.