Das Thema Nachhaltigkeit ist schon lange nicht mehr bloße Worthülse. Und nimmt, auch in Hinblick auf das aktuelle Weltgeschehen, neue, unbekannte Ausmaße an. Javier Goyeneche, Gründer des Unternehmens ECOALF, versucht die beiden Welten aus Textilindustrie und nachhaltigem Wirtschaften zusammenzubringen. Und befreit unter anderem die Meere vom Müll und macht daraus Kleidung, die zudem gut aussehen. Mehr als ein Grund genug, Javier ein paar wichtige Fragen zu stellen.
Javier you are the founder of ECOALF, a sustainable ready-to-wear brand. What was your ambition to start your brand back in 2009 and what is your mission today?
The concept of ECOALF was born in 2009 and named after my two sons, Alfredo and Alvaro. I was reflecting on the world we would leave to the next generation and set myself the goal to create the
first generation of recycled goods with the same quality, design and technical properties as the best non-recycled products to show that there is no need to use our world’s natural resources in careless way.
The first 3 years we spent on sourcing and developing, as we struggled to find recycled fabrics on the market that were fashionable and of good quality. We first partnered with manufacturers to develop sustainable fabrics. Today, by integrating breakthrough technology, ECOALF designs and develops its own fabrics! Not only do we increase the percentage of recycled fabrics with each season —we also develop lining, straps, labels and cords using recycled materials.
The belief that people nowadays look for brands with values is essential for us. We need brands that contribute to social and environmental progress and have a strong story. At ECOALF we say that what we do is as important as how we do it. Today, our mission hasn’t changed but evolved. We constantly invest in R&D to further increase the percentage of recycled yarn in our fabrics.
ECOALF creates garments, accessories and shoes made from ocean waste, nylon, tires, coffee etc. Can you tell us more about your upcycling process and are there any other materials you are planning to use?
Our upcycling process involves land-based post-consumer plastic but also marine debris. The residues are classified and stored depending on their nature until reaching the minimum quantity required to convert them into flakes and pellets through sophisticated innovative processes. By doing so we are obtaining high technical quality without using more of the planet’s natural resources.
At ECOALF we are also constantly investing in R&D to further discover ways of creating new materials allowing us to be even more sustainable. To this day we have already developed more than 300 new kinds of fabric.
Can you tell us more about your project „Upcycling the Oceans“?
“Upcycling the Oceans” is an ambitious project the ECOALF-Foundation embarked in 2015. A worldwide adventure that will help remove marine debris from the bottom of the oceans thanks to the support of the fishermen and that aims to be replicated all over the world. Its main objective is to recover the trash that is destroying the sea to transform it into top quality yarn to produce garments. To this day, ECOALF has managed to involve over 3,000 fishermen, 40 ports amounting to a total of 500 sea trawlers and collecting more than 500 tons of trash from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
Technically speaking, the project included a high technological risk. Prior to that we had manufactured articles of clothing derived from post-consumer plastics, using land-based waste. The jump to marine debris involved a major difficulty because of the high level of decomposition due to the ocean’s salinization and erosion of the material, the high level of contamination, as well as the altered molecular structure, complicating the recycling process. We were however successful.
After the success in Spain ECOALF signed a 3-year program with the government of Thailand to help them replicate “Upcycling the Oceans” in collaboration with the company PTT Global Chemical and the Tourism Authority of Thailand. They are focusing on 4 islands: Rayong, Phuket, Samui, Ko Tao and Samed and also starting to educate about the importance of a circular economy. The first year we focused on education and promoting the concept of responsible tourism while conducting waste management activities such as collecting, segregating, and transforming plastic waste.
Now we are using innovative eco-friendly technology in the production process to transform the raw material into yarn and finished fashion products. We even finalized the production of the first swimwear collection made from recycled PET collected in the islands which hit the shops in March 2019. Today our mission is to expand this project to the rest of the Mediterranean Sea, starting in Greece and Italy and continue in Lebanon, France, Morocco.
The fashion industry has been changing extremely. What else needs to be done for this industry to become more sustainable?
I think that promoting a form of worshipping the clothing you produce and buy instead of destining it for the trash heap from the beginning on is one crucial element. In 2015, a study carried out in the UK found out that a clothing item is worn seven times on average before being disposed of. We need to fight against this disposability! Additionally, buying less but better is a concept that is slowly installing itself, but that should be further promoted. Of course, it implies a different cost per garment for the final consumer, but also creates a different emotional attachment to it.
We live in a world where everything is available to us and we are using more resources than we have. How can it be sustainable to produce something new?
It remains sustainable if you use innovative fabrics that contain a certain amount of recycled yarn and can also potentially be recycled in a second and third instance or indefinitely. The creation of a circular economy does not automatically mean that new production is harmful, but rather that it should be well thought through to further include it in a circular process that will keep its quality and sustainability.
You have several stores in Europe. Are you planning to expand further and how important is it for ECOALF to have physical stores?
A store is set to open on March 13th in Tokyo. The physical experience behind our brand is very important because it allows our customer to properly understand the garment and get a feeling for our recycled fabrics. When you visit our stores, speak to our sales team, touch the garments, watch our videos, there is always the same tone of voice, authentic and human. Since the beginning of every process we treat every detail carefully, from the quality of the used plastic bottle that has been collected by the fishermen to the story of that particular garment that is featured on the label.
Partnerships and co-operations are a topic for your brand. Have you planned to partner with brands in the future and what’s next for ECOALF?
We have always engaged in collaboration processes with brands that share our values. A full list of these brands can be found here.
What do you personally do to protect the environment and to minimize your ecological footprint?
Every day we work in order for ECOALF to keep on growing as a sustainable business with a positive impact on the planet. One example is the Upcycling The Oceans Project guided by the ECOALF Foundation, which already allowed us to remove more than 500 tons of marine waste from the bottom of the oceans. Additionally, in our day to day business, I try to be as sustainable as possible, following my personal philosophy. I drive an electric car, I avoid single use plastic and am also firmly insisting on these points in the education of my children.