Certified organic cotton, Ethical fashion, Handloom textiles, Natural dyes, Natural Indigo

MY FIRST COLLABORATION with The Colours of Nature TCoN

I first met Jesus Ciriza and his business partner Loes Overbeek in October 1999. They had already perfected commercial natural dyeing but they where just starting to develop their first product, a classic buttoned down men’s shirt. Their entire process was certified by SCAL, a Dutch certification that was eventually bought by Control Union. Their certification included everything from dyes, spinning, handloom weaving, and their organic cotton was beyond Fair Trade standards. Alas, they were struggling to survive due to the isolation of Auroville, India, poor market conditions and specially because back then natural dyes and organic cotton wasn’t a thing…  So they invited me to collaborate with them and I decided to design a collection dedicated to reflect a zen lifestyle.

We presented the collection at Biofach, Germany in 2001, the first trade show dedicated to organic products, but the market wasn’t ready yet… It was an uphill battle, enough to make anyone go bankrupt!

I kept all my samples, swatches, natural dyeing ingredients and once I started teaching Ethical Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY (2010), it became my mission to inspire students to work with natural dyes and endangered cultures… Indigo was in my soul and it became a powerful incentive to inspire my students.

Eventually, Jesus and Loes parted ways but thanks to Jesus tenacity and the internet, TCoN now collaborates with brands such as Levis, Industry of All Nations, Lacoste, Benetton, Story from Japan, etc.

Here are some fond images that bring back those memories 🙂
PS, no the digital cameras back then…

If you are hoping to develop handmade products with artisans and their ancestral techniques, contact me to inquire about my consultancy packages. I also teach ethical fashion courses and give lectures.

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Jesus and Loes

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Me, while reviewing developments

loes+samples1.jpgIndigo + Japanese techniques: Shibori, Sashiko and natural bamboo closures.

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The dyeing unit

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All natural, almost like Robinson Crusoe

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Tailoring unit upstairs

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Loes and the samplemaker

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Pure organic cotton drying

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Certified handloom

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Indigo ferra plant and indigo yarn

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Dying and the oxidation process

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Indigo paste

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Dyeing process

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Quality control

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Shibori samples for the bedding collection

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Handloomed plain kimono robe and slippers

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Handloomed waffle kimono robe

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Developing our knit samples at a Tirupur factory

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Organic cotton yoga collection

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Me, while doing the slipper and sandal development

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Indigo sandals

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Organic cotton Spa slippers

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My footwear design

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TCoN founders, Jesus Ciriza and Loes Overbeek, Auroville, India, 1999

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A young version of myself with a Kutchi Rabari tribe in the Bhuj desert.

 

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Fashion Anthropology

I discovered #fashionanthropology in 1994, while working as a shoe museum curator in Mexico City.

I was responsible for overseeing, curating exhibitions and preserving a global collection of more than 5,000 historical shoes, shoe accessories and historical documents. I also developed an extensive understanding of historical shoe design and construction techniques in every ethnicity an time period.

Fashion anthropology shares the context of an era and shoes tell us almost everything about a person. Throughout history we could see in them examples of social and economic status, moral values, and even poor taste…

I believe fashion schools could benefit students more through #fashionanthropology (multidimensional), rather than #fashionhistory (linear).

 

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Items: Is Fashion Modern? An Abecedarium.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) created a two day event, to begin the countdown for the exhibition Items, which will open at MoMA at the end of 2017.

I was honored to participate as a speaker, sharing the podium with NY designer Mary Ping from Slowandsteady Winstherace, as part of the ‪#‎ItemsMoMa‬‪ #‎Abecederium‬ ‬ answering Is Fashion Modern? and address the letter R = Rana Plaza. Curated by Paola Antonelli, Alexandra Midal and Michelle Fisher.

“MoMA first tackled this area of applied creativity seven decades ago. The salon on Sunday night will reprise the question that entitled Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 MoMA exhibition Are Clothes Modern? This first MoMA exhibition on the subject will be the paragon for a contemporary appreciation of the universe of fashion and garments, both in the May event and in the exhibition. Recalibrating the question for our present moment–Is fashion modern?–we will consider the way in which items are designed, manufactured and distributed, and we will ponder the multivalent relationships between clothing and functionality, cultural etiquettes, aesthetics, politics, labor, economy, and technology as they are experienced in the immediate present.”

You can find the video on MoMA’s YouTube channel (each speaker is timestamped for ease of access):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyuUh7ZEp8s

…:::…

Here is my view on the subject:

The Rana Plaza disaster is a wound that hasn’t healed, but this tragedy was not in vain…

It immediately sparked controversy and turned the spotlight onto cheap fast-fashion brands, where price trumps quality. And the general public was able to witness “who” is really paying the price. It certainly provoked a call to action around the issues that were being discussed in the Ethical Fashion circles for years.

The apparel industry is archaic, complex, inefficient, polluting and is currently undergoing major changes.

The manufacturing model in Bangladesh is low tech, labor intensive, highly un-regulated, suffering from labor exploitation and environmental issues.

In my opinion, educating a new generation of fashion designers has to become a dialog. It is necessary to openly share the facts and address the blind spots in order to tackle the challenges ahead. It is also an invitation for the students to develop solutions around the issues of resource scarcity, responsible sourcing, lean manufacturing, transparency in the supply chain and much more.

We are also experiencing moments of consciousness. The Linear Economy Model of “take, make, waste” failed.  Today, we need to step into the Circular Economy business model, where we eliminate waste at the conception phase and apply Design for Disassembly and repurpose those materials.

Our language also needs to evolve. I believe “responsibility and accountability”, will redefine the future for a resilient fashion industry. Another objective should include a shift from a hyper-consumption experience towards mindful consumption, and it simply means that we are aware our decisions have an impact.

…::::…

Below are some thought provoking images from Paola Antonelli’s introduction to the topic.

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Q&A discussion moderated by Paola Antonelli

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The infographics for our presentation R = Rana Plaza, were created by WinnieWan from Studio Lin.

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Finally relaxed, with my friends Marco Antonio Castro, Evyenia Gennadiou and Tina Schenk 🙂

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Is ethical fashion a political issue?

When I posted on my FB page Ethical Fashion NY, about the Bernie Sanders speech that was interrupted by a bird, I received a relevant comment:

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I felt it was necessary to respond and explain to community the reason I posted the Bernie Sanders video…

“I’m sorry to disappoint some of the audience… but Ethical Fashion IS a political issue and that is the reason I dedicated 15+ years to start the conversation and generate this movement. The US trade policies eroded the once thriving textile and apparel manufacturing industries in America, generating massive unemployment and loss of skills. Thus allowing a shift to manufacture to the cheapest destinations, which have little regard for working conditions and the environment. This platform IS a moral movement and I stand for what I feel is right. To raise awareness and develop a moral compass. We have less that a decade to clean up our act. It’s not about fashion, it’s our human duty to do the right thing. The act of a bird flying into a political podium gives me hope.”  ‪#‎thebird‬

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I don’t HOPE for change… I BELIEVE in creating change!

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ECO-FASHION PREDICTIONS FOR 2016

It’s an honor and a pleasure to be part of this amazing lineup of colleagues and friends at Ecouterre’s annual fashion predictions.

My predictions:

We’ll start addressing toxicity in the textile and apparel sector through green- chemistry initiatives that seek to regulate or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances and processes.

Eventually consumers will learn to identify and avoid certain fabrics and chemicals when selecting clothing.

Cultural appropriation will continue be a hot topic and the public will be less tolerant toward designers that copy other cultures.

On the other hand, we’ll see an increase in traditional textile production methods and ancient designs will be revived and reintroduced to village artisans by contemporary entrepreneurs.

Emotional brands will increase their presence and distinguish themselves by their karmic business principles and sensitizing the audience to their sourcing and manufacturing processes.

http://www.ecouterre.com/eco-fashion-predictions-for-2016/2016-carmen-artigas/?extend=1

PS, This small book rests by my bedside… Gerald Heard, a great philosopher… he had some of the most eye-opening views on sensory evolution.

“Humans can -and must – accelerate their own evolutionary development by advancing in consciousness if they are to survive.” – Gerald Heard, The Ascent of Humanity.

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QUESTIONS TO ASK SUSTAINABLE FABRIC SUPPLIERS

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SUSTAINABILITY STARTS WITH THE DESIGNER

Designers might not be aware that their decisions have a huge impact on the environment, workers wellbeing and animal welfare. Here is a list of relevant questions, that I shared with my students when I was teaching Ethical Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY. Keep in mind TRACEABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY when you interview supplier:

FIBERS

  • What are the fibers (i.e. natural plant fibers, natural animal fibers, synthetic fibers from oil or natural gas, or cellulous plant fibers)?
  • What makes them eco-friendly (i.e. organic, highly renewable, drought resistant, etc.)?
  • What is the geographic origin of the fiber? Asking for this information you can help you to assess the ethical and environmental concerns in that specific area.
  • Are sustainable practices used in the cultivation of this crop (i.e. wastewater, recycling, crop rotation)?
  • Are ethical practices of animal husbandry followed?
  • Is the viscose process highly toxic? Are the chemicals recyclable? Is water conserved (i.e. Lenzing viscose, Tencel, Modal, Cupro)?
  • Is the fabric recycled?
  • Can the fabric be recycled or is it biodegradable?
  • What amount of care (i.e. washing) does this fabric require?

DYEING/FINISHING

  • How is the fabric and/or garment dyed and finished?
  • Does the finishing possess qualities that will reduce the garment’s impact after purchase (i.e. antimicrobial properties or stain resistance that will lower its need for washing)?
  • Is the finish free of hazardous chemicals (i.e. formaldehyde)?
  • Are the dyeing, printing or tanning methods involved sustainable? To what degree (i.e. water reuse, free of harmful chemicals, etc.)?

CERTIFICATIONS

  • To what region does the fiber, fabric or garment certification apply?
  • Does the certification cover only the fiber, fabric or garment, or does it apply to the fiber, fabric and garment, or all three?
  • What is/are the focus area(s) of the certification (i.e. organic agriculture, labor practices, chemical residues, animal welfare)?

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS

  • How will the fabric wastage be discarded? Does your factory participate in a textile recycling program that will pick up this wastage for use in insulation, batting, yarn, etc?
  • How will the end product be disposed of? Can it be recycled or reused? Is it biodegradable?
  • What are your total greenhouse emissions? Has the company taken steps to reduce emissions (i.e. optimizing processing to compensate for air shipping)?
  • Do you know the location of all of your producers (including outsourced sewing, dyeing, printing, etc.)?
  • Is your product being responsibly and ethically produced (i.e. how much are workers paid, do they benefit from incentives such as a pay-by-piece program, are child labor laws being respected)?
  • Do you invest in community development in the areas in which you produce? (i.e. Donating some of your employee’s time to non-profits supporting development or the environment where you produce)?

Photo credit Carmen Artigas – Certified organic cotton at The Colours of Nature, Tamil Nadu, India

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Alexander McQueen’s letter after Romeo Gigli

I recently moved back to California and amongst my belongings that were in storage for 25 years, I found a letter from a friend I made in 1990 while working at Romeo Gigli in Milan. That friend, was a very shy guy from London, but he clarified during our first lunch together that he was from South London. I could barely understand his accent, because I had my own Mexican accent. What brought us together was his tooth ache. I was sitting in my desk on a sunny Milanese day ( the Italians are so good at making work environments beautiful, but I remember the sun because Milan is overly grey during the year), this guy was shown a desk in the middle of the studio to work on a pattern, and he kept holding his cheek in what I thought was pain… I introduced myself and asked if he was ok, he immediately said that he had a tooth ache, so I offered to find an aspirin, and our friendship was born… I would manage to check on him if he understood instructions and explain how the office worked, but pretty soon we were gossiping about the office big wigs. I though he was adorably shy and funny. He would explode into laughter at the stupidest things, and he was contagious!
My friend Lee was chubby with loose clothing and always had a sweet smile with a wink included. But he always wanted to promote the idea that he was tough and made references to South London (which I had no clue, because I had never been to the UK) but he made it sound really cut-throat and tough.
Just reading his letter made me think of how often he shared his vulnerable side… financially and shelter-wise (it was cheaper to live with his parents) while going for his masters degree at Saint Martins… not even imagining that his big leap was just a year away. Even mustering that he wasn’t sure that he wanted to continue in the path of fashion, but instead wanted to travel to North and South America!
This letter fills a huge gap in the perception that he was a rebel. I see instead, a designer making ends meet while holding his vision of a type of beauty and developing the skills to attain it.
On our last hang out he mentioned that he didn’t know where he was going, but that I could always contact his mum. The one person that he could count on unconditionally!
This is my friend, a beautiful soul that left a void in my heart.
I share this letter with the intent that those of you that hit a wall, remember that even Alexander McQueen thought about quitting fashion.

Carmen Artigas

PS, to read the letter below, click and enlarge with command +

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Carta Lee

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Assistant Designers ElementsLee & Norio, Romeo Gigli showroom

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