Article written by Alice Beyer Schuch – October 2018 – for the Brazilian book “Reinvent: art, fashion and sustainability for a better world” (in Portuguese), edited by Ricardo Bueno and launched as part of the “Lojas Renner” award.
My work in progress…
My relationship with fashion began very early, more precisely when I was seven years old and learned how to sew with an old sewing machine still with leather belt – a gift from my grandmother. At that time, in the mid-80’s, I used to spent the afternoons in my mother’s atelier, creating with colorful scraps of fabrics (as the 80’s were!) I found there. I remember often having forgotten to place down the foot of the machine and start sewing and, without surprise, getting an endless tangle that usually broke the needle. But soon I’ve learned this and other sewing tricks which, in my nearly 20 years of professional career, allowed me also to work as a seamstress in a luxury wedding dresses atelier. But that was not my first job.
My career started, let’s say, while doing a Professional Qualification Course in Industrial Manufacturing, in 2000. Literally two years “on the road”! So much that I used to say my house was a kind of bed and breakfast. During the studies, which happened parallel to the Bachelor of Business Administration (because there were still no fashion courses in the region), I had my first work experience…
At the beginning, I was manually doing the grid-size of the paper patterns – which required long hours standing, and gave me “beautiful” blisters on my hands by often cutting that thick paper, as well as black nails by the graphite of the pencil. Still, I could contribute to the future process, because, literally, I was digging in the cutting sector, sought to know the width of the fabrics and planned the master plan for cutting the garments with patterns of dimensions 10 times smaller. Countless times I returned to the pattern-maker to suggest simple but important changes that would avoid textile waste during the process, reducing the volume of fabric to be purchased, thus suggesting also financial benefits. Soon I left the pattern-room and took over the sample-room, with then 11 collaborators – the same pattern-maker, a design student, the girl of the technical sheets, the seven seamstresses, and the new pattern-grader, who was now making the master plan for cutting the garments – all digitized. I ran like a skunted (literally!) through the floors of the small building, helping colleagues, assisting the purchases of materials, discussing models and processes, when not bringing the samples personally to customer for verification and approval, or even, seating at the sewing machine due to an order running late. It was a “breathless” time, but with lots of learning – and yet I was founding motivation to design with the cut leftovers, with the hope that they would be better used. But this was not a “fashion” subject at that time. After all, who was talking about “upcycle” in the early 2000’s?
To my professional impulses on the path to sustainability, terms like vintage, second-hand, redesign, or personalisation in the personal sphere were added. The oldest piece of my wardrobe is a redesigned poncho, which belonged to my grandfather when he went into military school, in 1928. Without talking about my aunt’s lace dress, with fence 60 years old (the dress, not the aunt), or the tailoring pants of my father, bought in the mid-60’s. But despite this already latent sustainable vein, new job opportunities led me to other routes, with new experiences, international research and sourcing trips, and the automatic fall in the conventional system of current fashion: many collections, low prices, overseas production in who-knows-what-conditions… Then I moved to China, as responsible for the development and production control of a Brazilian company. For almost two years I could see (and smell!) how the system works on that side of the world. This experience was my “click”.
From China I moved to Germany, where I live and work nowadays. Here, I graduated master in Sustainability in Fashion and I have the daily possibility to exchange with countless professionals who have worked with the theme for decades and have a incredible knowledge to share. And I’m very grateful for that! During my studies I came across the concept of circularity, and I saw a whole world to be explored. The Circular Fashion fascinates me and inspires me! Not just the idea of recycling, but the elimination of the concept of waste already at design phase; the attention to fibres, new materials, and to processes and their impacts; the new relationship with clothing, care, maintenance, repair, exchange, sharing; and the new business models on and off-line allowing the extension of the service-cycle of each product, a lean production, the connection with the client and its participation in an emotional and enduring design.
Here I talked (and still talk) with many professionals and scholars from various areas. An example: to learn about the chemical recycling of cotton I had to read scientific articles and talk to the chemists themselves. No, the dialogue was not easy… Do you know what a Godet is? And ionic liquid? Did you know there are different cellulose I and II? Well, now I know, and had the possibility of visiting the lab to see it in action and touch this new material (the tactile aspect so important in fashion!). Around here, I visited factories on the mechanical recycle of textile-to-textile, talked with experts in green chemistry, with non-governmental organizations, with German and EU politicians, with educational institutions, with startups and companies that promote circular development. I have also friends who had theirs collections exhibited in museum or have been awarded in renowned global awards.
Professionally, I have worked on projects from designing for a company that produces ramie fabrics up to developing corporate action plans related to circularity for a famous Brazilian company. I visited congresses, participated in webinars and training… I’ve prepared a online course, conducted lectures and workshops, and even organized the first event related to the circular economy in the city of Hamburg, Germany.
And on this path I met Brazilians doing a great job in our country… Curious, I seek a closer connection with all those who somehow walk the same path. And I ask, shameless: how does everything work, what are your contributions, difficulties and perspectives? Like this, I broad my horizons and collect new possibilities. But I don’t keep it to myself, no! Whenever I can, I help those who seek to know more about circularity. I feel like my task, even living in this side of the globe, sharing with my country what I have seen and lived here, with the aim of inspiring and promoting such a valid transformation!
Because it is a long way to be wandered, where small actions, when amplified to the collective, establish a new status quo – changing processes, behaviors and the system in a gradual and successive way. And don’t wait until you have a perfect action plan! “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” (Theodore Roosevelt). Because there ins’t an exact beginning, and there is no end. We know… “The work of progress is, by definition, a work in progress” (McDonough & Braungart).