The Es­to­nian trail­blazer of trash-to-trend fash­ion gar­ments, Reet Aus has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with re­cy­cling in fash­ion and costume de­sign since 2005.

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Linas Jegele­vi­cius

The web­site of Aus­de­sign Llc, the in­ter­na­tional sus­tain­able de­sign com­pany she runs, is noth­ing like a con­ven­tional e-clothes shop. Or how of­ten do you see cloth­ing la­bels con­tain­ing per­cent­age-pre­cise in­for­ma­tion on wa­ter and en­ergy sav­ings?

The Es­to­nian trail­blazer of trash-to-trend fash­ion gar­ments, Reet Aus has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with re­cy­cling in fash­ion and costume de­sign since 2005. The web­site of Aus­de­sign Llc, the in­ter­na­tional sus­tain­able de­sign com­pany she runs, is noth­ing like a con­ven­tional e-clothes shop. Or how of­ten do you see cloth­ing la­bels con­tain­ing per­cent­age-pre­cise in­for­ma­tion on wa­ter and en­ergy sav­ings?

The items you are of­fer­ing are quite ex­traor­di­nary in terms of the names and la­bel de­scrip­tions. For ex­am­ple, the la­bel on the Up-shirts says “No new fab­ric is pro­duced to make th­ese shirts. Each T-shirt saves on av­er­age 91% wa­ter and cre­ates 85 % less CO2 emis­sions.” How were they able to as­sess th­ese per­cent­ages so pre­cisely? Is this the fu­ture of the cloth­ing la­bel­ing?

The method we were ap­ply­ing is called LCA, or Life Cy­cle Anal­y­sis, which has been ap­proved by the Swedish En­vi­ron­ment In­sti­tute’s Tallinn cen­ter. All the la­bels on our cloth­ing have in­for­ma­tion on wa­ter and en­ergy sav­ings, as well as car­bon diox­ide emis­sion cuts as a re­sult of eco-man­u­fac­tur­ing.

The am­bi­tion striv­ing me for­ward dur­ing the last three years has been to de­velop an up­cy­cling method that could be used in global mass pro­duc­tion to re­duce in­dus­trial waste by im­ple­ment­ing it in a smart, trans­par­ent, and cred­i­ble man­ner. Tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing cre­ates on av­er­age 18 per cent of pre-con­sumer tex­tile waste ac­cord­ing to our es­ti­mates.

Fol­low­ing the prin­ci­ples of up­cy­cling, a cer­ti­fi­able UPMADE® method has been de­vel­oped to turn your left­overs into valu­able prod­ucts, elim­i­nat­ing waste and pre­ced­ing re­cy­cling prac­tices in mass pro­duc­tion.

Reet Aus col­lec­tions, us­ing the UPMADE® method, is in early stages of the mass pro­duc­tion process. This has im­proved ef­fec­tive­ness and re­duced en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts. Each item pro­duced uses on av­er­age 70% less wa­ter and 88% less en­ergy com­pared to a reg­u­lar prod­uct.

How did this en­deavor be­gin?

The whole idea started a few years ago when I was still work­ing on my doc­toral de­gree in art and de­sign, Trash to Trend – Up­cy­cling in Fash­ion De­sign at the Es­to­nian Academy of Art in 2011.

The HULA Col­lec­tion, cre­ated along with the fash­ion de­sign­ers Anu Lens­ment, Marit Ahven and Eve Han­son as their fi­nal Mas­ter’s project, put for­ward the idea of lo­cal pro­duc­tion and it quickly found pop­u­lar­ity as a rec­og­nized brand cre­ated by fash­ion stu­dents.

But frankly speak­ing, I still did not have a clear idea back then of what I re­ally wanted. One of the first things I did was to map out the Baltics and see what coun­try does what with dis­carded ma­te­ri­als and waste. In the West, th­ese things are no longer a prob­lem, but over here some prob­lems still re­main. Then I did some thor­ough search­ing on the in­ter­net, look­ing at what small, stu­diobased trash-to-fash­ion ecol­ogy-minded fash­ion de­sign­ers do. So, like the rest, I started off from a small fash­ion stu­dio be­fore tak­ing it fur­ther.

It took a long time be­fore start­ing your own com­pany Aus­de­sign, isn’t that so?

In­deed, there was the plat­form Trash to Trend first, a team of like-minded peo­ple who cre­ated an NGO aim­ing to bring more ecoaware­ness and change in the way peo­ple in Es­to­nia and in the re­gion com­pre­hend waste and its use. The web­site of the plat­form, www. trash­totrend.com is still run­ning, and I am proud of be­ing listed as its founder. For me the whole thing about turn­ing trash into fash­ion­able items is more about the method, or tech­nol­ogy, to cre­ate soft­ware that mon­i­tors left­overs from pro­duc­tion and how they can be turned into some­thing nice and trendy. In fact, we are al­ready us­ing our own soft­ware that gives us a pre­cise as­sess­ment of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact that the cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing re­quires.

Who in your fam­ily do you credit most for the val­ues and un­der­stand­ings you have to­day?

I am grate­ful for be­ing brought up by an art-lov­ing fam­ily. My mother was a tex­tile artist and my grand­fa­ther was a sculp­tor. They both would spend hours work­ing away on their pas­sions in a tiny stu­dio. He’d be keen on col­lect­ing all us­able left­overs, es­pe­cially those from tex­tiles, and would use them for his crafts­man­ship. He is the one I credit the most for nur­tur­ing my be­lief that man­u­fac­tur­ing left­overs can be re­cy­cled, reused, and given new life.

As some other mem­bers of my fam­ily come from the ru­ral coun­try­side Saare­maa, a beau­ti­ful lush is­land to be ex­act, na­ture played an im­por­tant role in my youth. To tell the truth, it still does, al­though I now live in the cap­i­tal, Tallinn. Per­haps be­cause of my up­bring­ing I have al­ways been very keen on learn­ing the true value of things, in­clud­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing of cloth­ing. Be­cause I do think of the im­pact that man­u­fac­tur­ing has on na­ture. And I want my clients to feel a con­nec­tion with the gar­ments they wear. Hon­estly, I can­not ac­cept a shop­ping cul­ture when a gar­ment is bought for 3 euro be­fore be­ing quickly dis­carded with­out a thought about what it ac­tu­ally meant to the owner. I want my clothes to mean some­thing for the peo­ple wear­ing them wher­ever they are!

Are you eco-con­scious in your liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment as much as you are in your busi­ness?

Oh yes, I am very pro-ecol­ogy and sus­tain­abil­ity in my daily life. I am a veg­e­tar­ian. I don’t drive a car and I love cy­cling. You won’t see me in con­ven­tional su­per­mar­kets, as I use only eco-cer­ti­fied goods and ser­vices. I am the very same per­son in my daily life as I am in the Aus­de­sign of­fice in Tallinn. If I didn’t prac­tice what I preached in my daily life I’d sound very am­bigu­ous and stupid.

The usual stereo­type of a strong busi­ness­woman is that they are very tough, blunt and profit-ori­ented. That’s clearly not you. Do you of­ten hear this re­mark? Do you con­sider your­self a good busi­ness­woman?

(Grins). First and fore­most, I think of my­self as a de­signer. But my sta­tus as the owner of a com­pany per­haps makes me a busi­ness­woman. I am not very fond of the word, to be hon­est. I see my­self as a very prac­ti­cal per­son, the trait that de­fines me the most in what­ever I do in life, and in the busi­ness too. I might not sound tough, but I do like tak­ing risks as a mat­ter of fact. Find­ing so­lu­tions and get­ting things mov­ing for­ward has been part of my daily ac­tiv­i­ties for quite some time now. It makes me even stronger.

Which ac­tiv­i­ties do you find to be the most en­joy­able and re­ward­ing?

Frankly, I could not sin­gle out any of them. The bot­tom line is how well you do things that you en­joy be­ing in­volved with. That’s the most im­por­tant thing for me to tell the truth. But as a de­signer, I ex­er­cise holis­tic think­ing, which is all about how to make the place bet­ter and how to strike a bal­ance be­tween Mother Na­ture and the clothes wearer, es­pe­cially in a so­ci­ety of mass con­sump­tion. I re­ally am very much into scru­ti­niz­ing things and look­ing for new so­lu­tions. This is the big­gest part of me.

How many peo­ple do you em­ploy?

Our com­pany is very small, in fact, just four peo­ple are on the pay­roll. The bulk of our man­u­fac­tur­ing is out­sourced in Bangladesh. In the Tallinn of­fice, we just do the sam­pling, de­sign­ing and book­keep­ing.

Run­ning a gar­ment fac­tory in Bangladesh, which is no­to­ri­ous for child la­bor, you are cer­tainly very much cog­nizant of the is­sue in the coun­try. Have you made sure that the fac­tory you run does not ex­ploit chil­dren?

Our fac­tory is cer­ti­fied in­ter­na­tion­ally as a child la­bor-free en­ter­prise. The widely held be­lief that is plagu­ing Asia, in­clud­ing Bangladesh, that the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try is built on child la­bor is wrong. As else­where in the world, and Bangladesh is no ex­cep­tion, there are good and bad fac­to­ries. The at­ti­tude of the owner of a plant is cru­cial as to how the at­mos­phere of man­u­fac­tur­ing is con­ducted. Be­lieve it or not, I know ev­ery sin­gle per­son work­ing for us in our fac­tory line.

Are you plan­ning on ex­pand­ing Aus­de­sign, and if so in what di­rec­tion?

The ex­pan­sion is a healthy thing in the cloth­ing busi­ness and we are look­ing for­ward to ramp­ing up our sales in Europe, Ger­many first of all. At the mo­ment, we are work­ing on cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dures with three ma­jor names, two in the US and the third op­er­at­ing mostly in Europe. I can­not dis­close who they are as ne­go­ti­a­tions are not over yet. If all plans work out, we will be able to re­duce their tex­tile left­overs a stag­ger­ing av­er­age of 52%.

We al­ready have un­der our belt con­tracts with the fur­ni­ture man­u­fac­turer Softrend, which cre­ates up­cy­cled sofa cush­ions and other up­cy­cled prod­ucts for their up­hol­stered prod­uct lines, and Bex­imco, one of the big­gest ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ers in Bangladesh pro­duc­ing over 200 mil­lion gar­ments ev­ery year. Their tra­di­tional pro­duc­tion prac­tice cre­ates on av­er­age 15 % waste. It pro­duces clothes for such world-fa­mous brands as Tommy Hil­figer, Ber­shka, Calvin Klein and Zara, com­pa­nies that guar­an­tee hu­man rights and de­cent salaries. I was able to an­a­lyze the pro­duc­tion at the fac­tory, which helped as­sess the ex­tent of waste and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties to di­rect it back into pro­duc­tion within the fac­tory. We are look­ing for­ward to do­ing busi­ness with other ecofriendly com­pa­nies, too.

Most re­cently, we have started UPMADE

“I am very proe­col­ogy and sus­tain­abil­ity in my daily life. I am a veg­e­tar­ian. I don’t drive a car and I love cy­cling. You won’t see me in con­ven­tional su­per­mar­kets, as I use only eco-cer­ti­fied goods and ser­vices. I am the very same per­son in my daily life as I am in the Aus­de­sign of­fice in Tallinn. If I didn’t prac­tice what I preached in my daily life, I’d sound very am­bigu­ous and stupid.”

cer­ti­fy­ing process with San­gar, a fam­i­ly­owned com­pany founded in 1956, spe­cial­iz­ing in but­ton shirts.

Are you look­ing for ad­vice and ex­per­tise in pur­su­ing your eco cloth­ing projects?

I am, as a mat­ter of fact. As I felt the need for more spe­cific en­vi­ron­men­tal know-how, this has brought me to­gether with the Es­to­nian en­vi­ron­men­tal spe­cial­ist Markus Vihma. Our col­lab­o­ra­tion has led to the cre­ation of an Up­shirt, “T-shirt with the small­est en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print in the world”.

How do you de­scribe your clien­tele? Who is the buyer?

Any­one who cares about the en­vi­ron­ment and the foot­print we are leav­ing on it on a daily ba­sis. Age-wise, they are not young­sters, with most in the range from 25 to 50. What is go­ing on in the world, es­pe­cially on the sub­ject of cli­mate change, does mat­ter to our buy­ers.

Are your fel­low Es­to­ni­ans fond of Aus­de­sign prod­ucts?

They re­ally are! Last year we ex­pe­ri­enced a quite steep growth in sales. This is not sur­pris­ing, as Es­to­ni­ans tend to be very eco-savvy, as with all the Nordic coun­tries to tell the truth.

What about the prices of your gar­ments? Log­i­cally, they should be high due to the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of man­u­fac­tur­ing.

No, not at all! Our price range is, in fact, lower than the av­er­age price of pro­duc­tion of this kind.

What is your pre­dic­tion for how fash­ion will look in 50 years from now, in 2066?

Oh, it will be very dif­fer­ent from what we see now. The pace that fash­ion is gal­lop­ing is as­ton­ish­ingly rapid, even com­pared to what was hap­pen­ing just 10 years ago. Even in 10 years’ time it will be per­haps un­rec­og­niz­ably dif­fer­ent. Just be­cause of the grow­ing short­age of land where tex­tile ma­te­ri­als can be grown. The once vast fields of cot­ton in Asia are shrink­ing, a re­sult of an ex­ac­er­bat­ing wa­ter prob­lem. So we have a re­source prob­lem. Then there is cli­mate change, which for busi­ness means higher taxes and which, im­por­tantly, makes us think of new ways to change at­ti­tudes to­wards con­sump­tion. If we want to stop it, we need to make man­u­fac­tur­ing sus­tain­able.

What ma­te­rial do you be­lieve will pre­vail in fash­ion in 50 years’ time?

I think a lot more man-made fibers will be avail­able. I’d bet a bright fu­ture for bam­boo. It grows very fast and the re­sources are vast al­though still rel­a­tively un­tapped. The fu­ture of hemp, fash­ion-wise, looks pretty good to me, too. The re­cy­cling of ma­te­ri­als and waste will be the most wide­spread prac­tice in 50 years’ time. No doubt about it.

I be­lieve that coun­tries that are smart with en­ergy use and wa­ter re­sources have the best fu­ture in cloth­ing de­sign and fash­ion. Both are very much in­ter­twined. That the Earth is in se­ri­ous trou­ble is un­der­stood not only by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists but count­less or­di­nary peo­ple as well.

Which is your best­seller and why?

What I call ar­row shirts are fly­ing off the shelves now. The name is such be­cause the sign of ar­row points up­wards on the shirts.

I can only guess why they are so pop­u­lar. The sym­bol of an ar­row is very sim­ple, in­deed, but it means a lot to me as the logo of our com­pany. It em­bod­ies the whole con­cept of our cloth­ing line which is all about up­cy­cling and upmade. Per­haps that’s why. An ar­row point­ing up­ward means eter­nity, cos­mos if you want to put it that way.

How tough is com­pe­ti­tion within the up­cy­cled clothes mar­ket?

The sus­tain­able de­sign mar­ket is to­tally dif­fer­ent from the con­ven­tional cloth­ing mar­ket. The up­cy­cled cloth­ing mar­ket is pretty small. The vast ma­jor­ity of the col­lec­tions in the seg­ments are based on or­ganic ma­te­ri­als. But when it comes to the up­cy­cling-based cloth­ing mar­ket, there are quite a few es­tab­lished brands like ours.

Not mean­ing to brag or any­thing, but Aus­de­sign is prob­a­bly the only up­cy­cled cloth­ing brand that pro­duces on an in­dus­trial level and that has be­come a house­hold name for many.

The busi­ness is very pe­cu­liar. It has to be ex­tremely trans­par­ent from a to z. There­fore, there are heaps of all kinds of cer­ti­fi­ca­tions that are needed for the busi­ness. To wrap it up, it’s a very time-con­sum­ing and ex­pen­sive en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity, where the word com­pro­mise sim­ply does not ex­ist. It’s a busi­ness where the buy­ers tend to fire lots of ques­tions at you, even very weird ones, and you can­not start stam­mer­ing and gasp­ing when an­swer­ing them. Oth­er­wise, your busi­ness can be ru­ined.

Be­ing a fash­ion de­signer, scholar, and pub­lic ac­tivist un­doubt­edly makes you an ex­em­plary role model for many women. Are you com­fort­able with this role?

To be hon­est, I do not think about it at all. I start nearly ev­ery day mak­ing por­ridge for my kids and then I take them to school. It’s part of be­ing a mother and I feel fine about it. Only af­ter I see my chil­dren off to school, do I rush to the of­fice. My moth­erly in­stinct al­ways makes me look at the clock, as at 5PM I have to be back at school to pick up my 16-year-old daugh­ter Ni­ina and my son Ar­tur, who is eight. And then there’s the lit­tle tod­dler, Karl, who re­quires at­ten­tion the most at the mo­ment. I am liv­ing a very downto-earth and or­di­nary life. I am re­ally of no use for a big role. My holis­tic ap­proach makes me move for­ward. Fam­ily is with­out doubt the num­ber one thing in my life. Af­ter that comes learn­ing and cu­rios­ity.

The ar­ti­cle ini­tially ap­peared on the site of Nordic Busi­ness Fo­rum, www.nbfo­rum.com

“Our fac­tory is cer­ti­fied in­ter­na­tion­ally as a child labor­free en­ter­prise. The widely held be­lief that is plagu­ing Asia, in­clud­ing Bangladesh, that the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try is built on child la­bor is wrong. As else­where in the world, and Bangladesh is no ex­cep­tion, there are good and bad fac­to­ries. The at­ti­tude of the owner of a plant is cru­cial as to how the at­mos­phere of man­u­fac­tur­ing is con­ducted.”

Es­to­nia’s Reet Aus has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with re­cy­cling in fash­ion and costume de­sign since 2005.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Latvia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.