As time is running out and the planet heats up, conscious fashion designers are taking action to save it

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Editor’s Note: This story first appeared on palaverthe National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ digital news site.

By Mariela Murdocco

Gladys Ciriaco was 8 years old when she started learning ancient Mayan weaving techniques in Santa María de Jesús in Guatemala. But later, he was forbidden to use his skills for work.

“My husband forced me to stay at home; he didn’t want me to work,” she said. “He was drinking a lot, so not only did he psychologically abuse me, but he also threatened and hit me.”

Eleven years ago Ciriaco’s life changed. She met fashion designer Alida Boer, Miss Guatemala 2007, and the founder of Mariasa company based in Guatemala and New York that produces handmade handbags and accessories.

Now 37, Ciriaco has a steady job leading the weavers who make up the network of 600 artisans who create handmade pieces for Boer. She’s also proud of her role as one of the brand’s leaders, helping to source the company’s raw materials and verifying the sustainability practices of the farms she buys from.

“They use natural fertilizers; they don’t use chemicals,” Ciriaco said, referring to the cotton farms and cotton yarn producers the company works with. “It’s important to see that they’re doing a good job producing the leads and to see how they perform.”

Improving the lives of women like Gladys Ciriaco may not seem like it has to do with fighting climate change. But over the past three decades, there has been a growing understanding that women’s empowerment and environmental sustainability are intertwined. This, along with growing evidence that the fashion industry is a major contributor to environmental destruction and climate change, has sparked a new model of textile production that is more respectful of the planet and workers. . “A deliberate approach to hiring locals and providing fair working conditions, fair wages and support to these communities, while doing sustainable things from local sources, makes a huge difference,” said Frances Colón, Director principal of international climate policy at the Centre. for American Progress and originally from Puerto Rico.

He is valued that the fashion industry – both its production and its consumption – is responsible for 3% to ten% global greenhouse gas emissions. This number is expected to increase in the coming years.

“The prediction is that fashion will represent around 24 or 25% of [global greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050,” said Colón, who is also a member of the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in the Biden administration. “So we need to curb that now by developing better practices. Every half percent counts because it contributes to the temperature rise that is having catastrophic effects on the ecosystem and causing all of these appalling impacts on communities: massive floods that claimed so many lives, hurricanes, forest fires, droughts like we have never experienced.

A new form of luxury

For many Latino designers from cultures with age-old traditions of garment making, the trend towards greater sustainability comes naturally. Uruguayan fashion designer Gabrielle Hearst recently talked about a new concept of luxury. Represent the fashion industry at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland last November, Hearst spoke about handmade pieces that are beautifully designed to last or to be passed on to future generations, a trend that is slowly gaining traction in the fashion industry.

“People forget that something that can be done 100% by hand, only the human hand can do it,” said Hearst, founder of the Gabriela Hearst clothing and handbag collection and creative director of the brand. luxury Chloe.

An alarming new study published by slow factory – a nonprofit research and education institute dedicated to creating a climate-positive society – connects major fashion brands to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and the irreversible collapse of the ecosystem. The study, conducted by Stand.earth Research Group, blames the beef industry as the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon, based on its links to leather production. This group of scientists specializes in tracking raw materials, tracing environmental destruction and human rights violations. The data they collect is used to hold companies accountable for their environmental impact and hopefully force them to change their destructive practices.

Colón notes that fashion lines use many products derived from fossil fuels. “A lot of fashion is made from polyester, which is literally fossil fuel plastic,” she said. “So it has the same issues that we see in other industries where the manufacturing of the end product uses the fossil fuels that produce the emissions that warm the planet.”

Empowering women while preserving traditional Mayan weaving techniques with sustainable practices has been Alida Boer’s main goal with the Marias line.

Boer said her company’s textiles are “100% handmade,” referring to the elaborate traditional indigenous tunics called huipiles that inspired her collection. Huipiles are made from two or three pieces of fabric connected by stitching, ribbons or strips of fabric. “There are really nice huipiles made by machines in 10 minutes,” she said, “but our huipiles can take months.”

Boer, a mother of two, who entered the Miss Universe pageant in 2007, now lives with her family in Manhattan, where her studio is located. When she traveled the world as a model and visited her country for charity work as Miss Guatemala, she discovered the richness of Mayan culture. “Guatemala has the greatest heritage of textile craftsmanship and the most complex textile techniques in the world,” she said. “I realized that all these woven textiles were ‘haute couture’ and they weren’t appreciated.”

With similar sustainability goals, Hearst has partnered with artisan weavers Manos from Uruguay, Madres & Artesanas Tex in Bolivia and Navajo weavers in the United States.

Madres & Artesanas Tex specializes in artisanal production methods such as macrame (a knotting technique), crochet and other styles of knitting. The rural women of Manos del Uruguay are experts in handling and knitting wool.

Using skills passed down from generation to generation, these women have seen their work represented in the most exclusive international markets and on the catwalks.

“These women who assemble these products which are produced in an environmentally responsible way for sustainable fashion designers are also protecting their own environment as they source the products locally in a sustainable way,” said Colón.

Concerns about the environmental impact of fashion extend to dyes used in the manufacture of clothing. “If you make jeans, how do you make them blue or black?” Colon asked. “These are dyes that end up in the water supply. So you affect the water supply when you use the water to grow, and you affect the water supply when you discard the dyes.

Boer said the Marias line is created primarily with raw cotton from Guatemala. She mainly uses natural dyes, but says it’s impossible to get all the colors from nature. “But,” she explained, “we buy [dyes] from a company that works with safe and approved chemicals.

Boer said the dyes come from B-Corp certified suppliers, which means they meet high standards of social and environmental accountability and transparency. “I know they are responsible,” Boer said.

It’s part of a Boer’s holistic approach to fashion design and manufacturing. “It’s our art, our culture. Each piece has a story and a woman who spent weeks weaving it,” she said of the handmade textiles.

For Gladys Ciriaco, the opportunity to work for Boer allowed her to turn the tide in her own home. She found the strength to confront her husband and told him that if she couldn’t work, she would leave. “I became independent from my husband. Now I’m the boss,” she laughs.

Her husband, also a weaver, now works for her.

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Bilingual multimedia journalist and photographer Mariela Murdocco has been nominated for five Emmy Awards.

Born in Uruguay and based in New York, she began her two careers simultaneously in 2002. She has worked as a journalist, television producer, presenter, photographer and videographer for Consumer Reports, Telemundo, News 12, The New York Daily News, Banda Oriental, the Jersey Journal and the Associated Press. She was a television correspondent for Canal 7 in Uruguay and contributed to The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Hola TV and Fox News. In 2012 she was elected Spanish national representative of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

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