A Spanish fashion company is using discarded plastic bottles, fishing nets, tyres and even coffee to produce a range of upmarket upcycled clothing.
Sarathy SelvamaniDiscarded fishing nets are just one of the many waste products that Ecoalf is transforming into sustainable fabric.
One thing is clear: there is no planet B. The earth is currently the only planet that offers an environment where human beings can live. But we continue to contaminate it with huge amounts of waste - an estimated 1.3 billion tons each year. While most of it goes to landfills where it is buried or burned, much of it ends up in our oceans.
So why are we still extracting natural resources instead of using the materials that we are throwing away? That's the question that Javier Goyeneche, CEO of Ecoalf, asked himself when he set up his own fashion label. Concerned too by the high quantity of waste that the fashion industry itself is creating, having previously worked at an accessories company, he decided to travel the world to discover upcycling initiatives. In South Asia, for example, he discovered women knitting rugs from PET. In 2012, he founded the Ecoalf label and opened a shop in Madrid city centre.
Five years down the road, the brand now produces more than 160 different lines and is stocked in major department stores from the US to Italy. A couple of days ago, it opened a flagship store in Berlin where sustainability is built into the very fibre of the building: most of the materials used to design the store are recycled, from the cement of walls to the rugs - made from algae - and the power is supplied by green energy.
"Berlin is a city that shares our values, our philosophy, so it was natural to have our first international store here", explains Carolina Álvarez-Ossorio, the Global Communications Director of Ecoalf.
Indeed, the Berlin store invites customers to have an all-around sustainable experience - not just learning how Ecoalf's clothes are made, but also about architecture, gardening and even our oceans. "It's a multifunctional place where innovation, sustainability and fashion go together," Carolina continued.
The Upcycling the Oceans Project
One of the biggest projects that the Ecocalf Foundation has undertaken is a campaign to clean up our seas. Under the name Upcycling the Oceans, Ecoalf is working with fishermen from 32 different Mediterranean ports in Spain to recycle the garbage that they find when bottom-trawling. The fishermen throw the garbage into Ecoalf containers at the ports and the company takes them to a waste management company that separates and treats the trash. Using the PET that they recover, they are producing clothes with a process that's entirely "made in Spain". The aim is to have this project running throughout the entire Spanish Mediterranean coast.
And while they keep on expanding throughout the Spanish Mediterranean coast, Upcycling the Oceans is also expanding into Asia: the brand is taking this project to several Thai islands where they are going to spend three years working not only with fishermen but also with divers.
"While the waste made on the ground is usually well-managed (there are policies, cities have a waste management system) the bottom of our seas are full of trash and without any policy dealing with them," Carolina states. This is where the Upcycling the Oceans project, run by the Ecoalf Foundation, hopes to make a difference. While the brand only uses a small part of the waste that the fishermen recover - the PET - to create their garments, it also responsibly disposes of the rest of the waste that is handed in.
Every piece of cloth from Ecoalf comes with an info label - not only the cardboard tag outside, but inside too - offering information about its characteristics and origin. Raising daily awareness is one of the brand's goals, as well as high-quality manufacturing (the nylon created from the fishing nets is one of the best currently available on the market) and ensuring a sustainable process throughout the entire production chain.
That's why the brand manages the entire process - from collection, to recycling and retail - and tries to keep it as local as possible. That means that the plastic recovered in Thailand is first converted into thread and then sewn into clothes all within Thailand itself. The same goes for clothes made from coffee grounds, from the nylon recovered from old fishing nets, and for recycled cotton and wool. You can read more about how they transform different kinds of waste into fabrics right here.
Innovation is also part of Ecoalf's DNA: the brand keeps on finding new ways to produce textiles from materials that we have thrown away, as part of their aim to reuse what resources we already have and reduce waste pollution. Because, as Ecoalf's motto says: "There is no planet B".