(this post is NOT sponsored. Just sharing some love.)
“Buy less, choose well, make it last”. If you are on your journey for a more sustainable lifestyle, you might have heard this quote by Vivienne Westwood, the world famous fashion designer, before. This quote has become a motto for many out there, including the Fashion Revolution movement, with the aim to encourage responsible consumerism and more ethical and sustainable practices.
My journey to ethical sustainability in general, and more specifically to sustainable fashion, started when I watched in September 2015 the documentary “The True Cost”, focused in fact on the many issues caused by the fast fashion industry. For me that documentary was the point of no return: from that moment on I wouldn’t support any longer such environmentally destructive and unethical industry. I was moving my first steps in minimalism already but I took this documentary as a real chance to make a substantial change in my spending habits, lifestyle and mindset, not only fashion wise but in general. With the strong belief that our choices as consumers have a matter and powerful impact, I made my way to a simpler, sustainable lifestyle. Over these years I’ve realized how, thanks to the online community and the options spreading at a quite fast pace, it’s becoming more and more easy to find available ethical sustainable alternatives, luckily. Even more luckily, I happen to live in what I consider to be the capital of sustainability and eco friendly lifestyle, Berlin.
Back in March, when I’ve attended the Berlin Travel Festival, I met Arianna, co-founder and CEO of GFT. As we started talking and she introduced me to what GFT is about, I immediately got hooked and was eager to find out more about it. So I have decided to contact her for an interview/chat and had the chance to attended one of the tours they organize, so I could have a complete overview of what Green Fashion Tours is and how it operates.
Let me take a step back. First of all, Green Fashion Tours is a project based on and built around the local ethical sustainable fashion scene. Its aim is to educate others about the existing issues in the fashion industry, inspire to seek different, more ethical and sustainable options and present the realities available on site by leading tours around the city to discover the local ateliers, businesses and brands. Each one of the tours the GFT team organizes focuses on specific areas of the city and illustrates into depth local businesses that have chosen to create, sell and promote fashion the sustainable way. Wether their main focus is upcycled design and reduction of textile waste, handicraft and local manufactories, natural dies or organic materials, all of the existing realities in Berlin have been gathered together on a special map, carefully curated by GFT.
We didn’t simply want to create a map showcasing the ethical sustainable fashion options available in Berlin, but we wanted to inspire and educate about the environmental and social issues of the fashion industry through storytelling and direct experience, so people could see themselves what these local businesses do and how they work. Our aim is not to tell what’s right or wrong, but to make people think and potentially bring them to a personal change by organizing tours that will make them learn more about some of the local eco-friendly businesses and their creators.
I’ve met Arianna for an interview on a hot summer afternoon, when despite the heat we had a very long, enjoyable chat. The time we spent together talking about fashion and sustainability only confirmed me the sensation I already had when we first met. She is extremely passionate about what she does and whoever has the chance to talk to her for a few minutes will notice the energy and care that she’s pouring into making Green Fashion Tours an established, steady reality for the local sustainable scene.
After collaborating to the costume and scenography design for her high school plays, she decided to study Fashion Design in university but quickly realized that it wasn’t exactly what she hoped for. “I wasn’t getting the education I expected and the answers to the questions I had. I was finding myself more and more disappointed by the fashion industry as I knew it” says Arianna. Being someone who wasn’t willing to accept the status quo and wanted to find alternative ways, she signed up for an internship in London in an upcycling label created and directed by Orsola de Castro, which would later become the founder of the Fashion Revolution movement. This experience at Orsola’s atelier was beyond inspiring for her and gave her new, fresh hope in the fashion industry, to the point where she decided to move to Berlin with her friend Carina (met thanks to the internship) to start their own upcycling brand. After putting together a team and making various tests, they started selling men’s button down shirts both online and to expos/wholesalers. Because upcyling was still pretty new at the time, especially in men’s wear, they started getting a lot of positive feedback, so they’ve put up a pop up store (called “Upcycling Fashion Store”) to see how things would go. Since they didn’t have enough of their own products, they also sold items made by other local designers, slowly building up a network of creators and sustainable fashion advocates around their store. Quickly their pop up shop became a meeting point and networking platform for the local ethical sustainable fashion scene. Alongside with the pop up shop (and a regular job), Arianna and her team decided to take the coordination of Fashion Revolution Germany in 2014 and, as a side project, started to create occasional custom-made guided tours to discover the local shops spread around town. That was the first planted seed for Green Fashion Tours. Due to some life changes for the team members, in 2017 the shops was closed and Arianna decided to make GFT her only job and project to pursue and curate.
It’s really important to find local designers and businesses in your area, so you can support the local economy. In 2019 I’ve decided to change GFT from being non-profit to being for profit. Many might think this was a controversial move, but honestly I don’t think we can expect sustainability to move forward and reach masses if we keep on considering it as non profit or “for free”. Sustainability should be part of our culture and I do think it’s important that people who work into this field get fairly paid for what they do and their work gets valued enough. Also, despite our efforts to get public fundings when we launched the non profit “Future Fashion Forward eV” in 2015, I realized I couldn’t count exclusively on fundings to make our project thrive.
Green Fashion Tours has grown a lot over the years, becoming a solid reality in Berlin’s sustainable fashion scene and expanding to other German cities too. In Munich the project is already running and it will start in Hamburg in 2020 too. The tours are usually made for small groups of people (up to max. 15) and offer 4 different stops to give a bit of a variety. At each stop people have the chance to see what that particular business is about, see how people work there and ask direct questions to the designers/shop owners. This gives a 360° experience that I have never had before. I had so much fun when I attended the “Kreuzberg – Neukölln” tour back in July! I’ve met so many like minded people, and felt inspired and empowered by their stories. No tour is going to be exactly as the one I did was, but just to give you a little bit of an insight, I’ll tell you a bit more about it and the 4 businesses we visited during that tour.
This atelier creates beautiful bags using exclusively leftover textile waste, mostly jean fabric, 90% of which comes from local charity organizations. They collaborate with disabled people to get the fabric carefully washed and cleaned before transforming it into beautiful, 100% hand crafted unique bags (each one of the bag they create has a number printed on the inside, so no bag is exactly as another one). Their fabric leftovers are used to create beautiful carpets, so that no material gets wasted.
Beautiful, very well curated shop that carries 100% handmade pieces (they work with artisans from all over the world to bring to Berlin high quality pieces that combine both interesting and timeless design.
Store with a big selection of brands and different ethically – sustainably made products, including a very cute brand called “Rimini Rimini” (Rimini is a city very close to my hometown so it basically feels like home for me) that creates bags and pouches using the fabric from old beach umbrellas.
Atelier that bases 95% of its production on leftover fabrics (dead stock, fabrics with little print mistakes etc.) that would otherwise go to waste. The brand splits the production between Berlin and Poland depending on the materials available, which is very challenging but makes the products very unique and the seasonal collections diverse. The garments are therefore made in very small quantities depending on the materials available and usually in just two sizes that can easily adapt to different body types. This atelier also collaborates with three other sustainable brands that they sell in the store (bags, underwear, jewelry).
There are many more other fashion stores or fashion design studios that vert on ethical sustainability, and each one of them is listed on the map, which everyone receives at the beginning of the tour.
When I ask her about the misconceptions of eco fashion, Arianna answers that people still think that it’s still destined to a niche of “hippies”, that it’s not trendy and extremely classic and not up to date. And with the overwhelming popularity of cheap shops and fast fashion chains, garments are mostly treated as “disposable” and there is no longer the mindset of buying garments that will last throughout the years and the multiple wears. Luckily things are changing fast: more and more people are getting drawn to more sustainable fabrics or brands, and even cheaper stores are starting to sell garments or release entire collections made of organic cotton or recycled materials, making their production standards higher but still maintaining an affordable price (wether this is a true change or just greenwashing only time will tell).
What Arianna and the whole team of Green Fashion Tours were able to build from scratch throughout these years is impressive. And the reason why I wanted to share this story is because there is never enough talking about sustainability in my opinion, in the fashion industry as well as elsewhere. And the more people get on board or involved, the better. My chat with Arianna ended with some tips that she gives to anyone who’d like to have a more conscious wardrobe:
Reduce: what we buy and what we consume. Take good care of our clothes (wear them with love, wash them with care and repair them if needed). Buy second hand. Read books or blogs on this topic, look for information for more sustainable options within your area (www.fashionrevolution.org is a great place to start from). Take the time you need to make some research and be curious.
For more information visit www.greenfashiontours.com