Maryjo Cartier: Can you briefly describe the philosophy behind Instituto-E? Nina Braga: Instituto-E believes sharing information is the first step to human development. Our characteristic is that we use an alternative multimedia language to direct society’s energy and guide it to protect our biodiversity, right to information and education, as well as historical and cultural heritage. Instituto-E’s mission is to change and position Brazil as a leading country for sustainable human development by establishing a network that strengthens the synergies between different initiatives and actors in the society. Like the Ethical Fashion Initiative. What is your role at Instituto-E? I am the Executive Director since 2007. My responsibility is to manage institutional relationships as well as every day issues. An important activity in my job is to support the President of Instituto-E, M. Oskar Metsavaht, also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, in his advocacy towards a new paradigm for sustainability. Our goal is to demonstrate the importance of the eco agenda with the creative economy’s agenda. Instituto-E is a pioneer of sustainability - what have been your successes and what challenges have you encountered? Successes: One of our core projects is E-Fabrics through which we identify sustainable raw materials that can be used by the textile industry and fashion supply chain with the objective of creating a conscious consumer culture. It also promotes impact study on the production process, preservation of diversity and social relations with communities, increasing incomes and generating design products. The mapping of E-Fabrics was developed with private companies, academic institutions and research centers. This project won prizes and led to many other projects, for example a collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea (IMELS) named ‘Traces’ and ‘Water Traces’. Traces tracks the carbon, water and social footprint of ten products - sustainable and non sustainable - used by our partner Osklen. We also have the e-ayiti project, developed with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, through which we highlight how design has to relate to ethics. Aesthetic and Ethics must be united, while creativity is a tool to empower local groups’ knowledge and enable to them acquire new abilities. Challenges: We faced many challenges, for example people misreading our concept. We believe the market is crucial in what we do; unfortunately many people still believe that charity is a solution to many problems. For us, charity is an outdated concept. Another challenge is to be based in a country where sustainability is not very valued by the public. Because of this it can be quite a challenge to communicate – and successfully convey the message– on the added value of sustainability. This is why we put so much emphasis on the story telling behind the product. How would you define Brazil’s relationship with sustainability? Ambiguous. Brazilians love the immensity and the
diverse biodiversity our country is lucky to host, but tend to see it as a never-ending abundance. Consequently, we do not use our resources rationally, and we have been facing problems like a water supply crisis in our biggest city, although we have one of the world’s largest water sources! We also have to deal with the old-fashioned concept that sustainability is transversal and encompasses every aspect of human activities. Our government often places the poverty eradication agenda as the primary concern, which is a major issue, yet social and ecological crises are interconnected, not separated.
But little by little, day by day, the number of people concerned with sustainability is increasing. Not a majority, nor has it become a public policy, but there is a general awakening towards sustainability issues. Our hope is that the awareness will become so significant that this regrettable scenario will change in time to avoid losing our priceless natural heritage. We are happy and proud to say that Instituto–E is helping to change the environmental outlook in Brazil. Can you explain the strong partnership between Instituto-E and Osklen? The Instituto-E’s president and founder is also the creative director of Osklen, a benchmark in the fashion industry. Since the founding of the Instituto-E we are proud to have built a strong partnership with Osklen, who supports and serves as an excellent platform to showcase some of our main projects like E-Fabrics and e–ayiti.
But our work on sustainability extends to more brands: we share our research on sustainable products or raw materials with other fashion brands interested in becoming more socio-eco-friendly. In the past, we have developed projects with partners that did not involve Osklen. Yet many people mistakenly associate all Instituto-E’s projects directly with Osklen. Unfortunately this leads to brands declining collaborations, which is a shame. Instituto-E does not “belong“to Osklen: we are partners and we receive royalties as their consultants in social environmental initiatives, but our funding also comes from other sources, both from the public and private sector. Can you tell us about the e-ayiti collection that Instituto-E produce in partnership with Osklen and the Ethical Fashion Initiative in Haiti? The Ethical Fashion Initiative’s team, Simone Cipriani and Chloé Mukai, were introduced to the E-Fabric project during the Rio+20 conference in 2012. Immediately, EFI understood that E-Fabrics was an initiative that could generate income and social inclusion in Haiti, where they were working at the time. As Director of Instituto-E, I was invited to visit Haiti in search of materials that could be worked by local artisans and transformed into fashion pieces.
In June 2012 I brought back the results of the research conducted with various re-used materials, which were transformed into fashion accessories such as necklaces, pendants and bracelets. This was the first e-ayiti line. Developed by the Osklen designer Ana Beatriz, the collection reflected the simple and pure style of Osklen. Each piece was produced by Haitian artisans from the Cooperative des Ateliers d’Art de Cité Soleil, under the direct supervision of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, creating a source of income for the producers. Materials included coloured telephone wires, wrought iron, silk wires and cement bags. The entire e-ayiti (“Haiti” in Creole) collection was engraved with the word “hope” in Portuguese, French, English, Creole and Braille and are available in Osklen stores in Brazil and in the USA. They sold well and Osklen even placed a repeat order!
Thanks to this partnership, Ana Beatriz has been to Port-au-Prince twice to train the artisans. Now, our goal is to establish a permanent supply chain whereby there is a constant demand from Osklen, which in turn generates a steady flow of income for the Haitian artisans involved. Currently, new materials available in Haiti are being tested and our second line will be ready at the beginning of 2015.
“Our goal is to demonstrate the importance of the eco agenda with the creative economy’s agenda”