Brazil’s Eye on Sustainable Fashion

SÃO PAULO — There is a new luxury fashion consumer in Brazil. And it’s not just the lower middle-class shopper with greater purchasing power, as seen everywhere in the country’s media in the last couple of years. These consumers are seeking products that go beyond modern design and new runway trends — looking for an eco-friendly kind of “quality seal” and now, thankfully, they can find what they are looking for.

In the last couple of years, some Brazilian brands have begun to invest in collections whose manufacturing is less harmful to the environment. And what brings together buyers and sellers of eco-friendly products is the fact that, increasingly, “conscious” fashion has gone beyond an artisanal, rustic appearance to become attractive pieces that truly inspire desire, without destroying the environment.

The best example of a Brazilian brand whose preoccupations with the environment are intricately connected with design is Osklen, a brand that, since 1999, has been producing pieces with its self-titled “e-fabrics tag,” created to inform the buyer about the eco-friendly origin of the products. It also was one of the first brands in Brazil to neutralize its carbon footprint.

“We have noticed that the Brazilian consumer has been more interested, and has begun to value this kind of initiative more and more” says Oskar Metsavaht, Osklen’s owner.

Recent research by National Geographic confirms Mr. Metsavaht’s perception: According to the magazine, 41 percent of Brazilians are willing to pay more for a product that consumes less energy.

Osklen has 390 retail points in Brazil and exports to 40 countries, in addition to having stores in Miami, New York, Milan, Rome and Tokyo. “Europeans and Japanese are in a more conscious stage of the environmental question — so much so that in the international market, Osklen has become a synonym of new luxury, having as its key products our salmon-colored Arpoador sneaker and Pirarucu handbag” made of fish skin, he says, citing products that reflect the brand’s cool, minimalist identity.

He adds that Osklen “uses eco-friendly products, but without being ‘eco-boring,’ based on the possibility of developing design creations done in sustainable fabrics”

This cool, modern lifestyle encompassing clothing to ideology that has become Osklen’s trademark has been gaining many followers among younger, smaller brands — and their owners, who were born and raised in eco-thinking times.

Movin, the new Rio de Janiero-based brand whose slogan is “start movin’,” strongly embraces the ecological trend. In addition to using organic cotton, bamboo and recycled PET, or Polyethylenterephthalat — preferably from local Brazilian suppliers — it also preaches the idea of unisex fashion, encouraging the exchange of clothing between genders to avoid excessive consumption, and timeless styles in neutral colors that will last more than one season.

Pedro Ruffier, its creator, is just 23 years old and, unlike many of his peers, arrived at fashion through sustainability research. Talking about his target customer, Mr. Ruffier said, “For five years, I have been researching a way to represent this individual, until I had the idea to create the brand.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a Brazilian fashion giant also has been placing strong bets on the sustainable wave.

Havaianas makes about 200 million pairs of flip-flops each year, footwear worn by a large chunk of the Brazilian population and many international celebrities. It has just introduced Eco Havaianas, made from materials left over during its regular production.

“One of the pillars of the brand’s strategy of environmental responsibility is to maximize reusing scraps” explains Christina Assumpção, marketing and product executive manager of Alpargatas, Havaianas’ parent company. Other products include Havaianas IPÊ, created in partnership with the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil. The design series, which bears the initials of the institute’s Portuguese name, designates 7 percent of its revenue for institute research. More than 6.4 million pairs have been sold since the line was created in 2004, raising more than 3.1 million Brazilian reais, or $1.7 million.

Another Havaianas flip-flop, the CI-Brazil, funds projects for the protection of local endangered species and sold, in its first year alone, 500,000 pairs.

But even as the interest in eco-friendly products increases in Brazil, committing to large-scale sustainable production is not a simple task for fashion brands.

“The main difficulty lies in finding good suppliers, because many of the processes are still manual, artisanal,” says Mr. Metsavaht of Osklen. “It is a business sector that is embryonic and has not yet received great investment, making the development of the work and production on a large scale very difficult.”

As ecologically sound raw materials tend to be expensive and labor in Brazil is costly, the price of the final eco-friendly product generally is higher than its mass-produced counterparts — hence the tag “new luxury.”

But enthusiasts hope that, as such styles and products become more popular and accessible to the rising middle class, Brazil will have the true luxury of entirely sustainable fashion.

Source / Fuente:

Author / Autor: Maria Prata

Date / Fecha: 09/11/11

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