We’re proud to present the story of Aroa Fernandez Alvarez, co-founder of Trace Collective, on how she arrived at her mission of creating radically transparent ecofashion in her own words. Their line of thoughtfully designed, everyday luxury clothing is available for pre-order on Kickstarter.
I’ve always been inspired by the multiple ways in which we, individual people, have the power to create larger change. A passionate environmentalist since a young age, I became really curious in particular about the small changes, how our consumer habits impact society and the environment. It became evident as I started researching that our decisions as consumers had a particularly big impact in two industries: food and fashion. After all, we all eat food every day, and we all wear clothes everyday. The choices that we are making daily on what food we eat and what clothes we wear are shaping the world around us in shockingly powerful ways.
Having been vegan for many years, I felt that there was enough information around to help people make better decisions around food, and so many incredible businesses pioneering the way to a better food industry. With fashion however, I couldn’t find that sweet spot. Even as somebody VERY passionate about sustainability, I struggled to find the right information to decide what to buy. Yes, I understood the fashion industry is polluting. But why? What clothes should I buy and not buy? What makes a fashion brand sustainable? Two years ago I started spending much more time thinking about this issue, and talking to colleagues, friends and family about their perceptions on sustainability. Now let me tell you, that was a mixed group of people, and I found all kinds of different answers. But one message stuck. The term ‘sustainable’ was starting to wear out after light use and prevalent greenwashing, and it was often difficult to know how a company was approaching sustainability and how our purchases would actually result into something good for the world.
Back then Antonia (my co-founder) and I had already started thinking about how a different model for the fashion industry would look like. Could the fashion industry (which today produces more carbon emissions than shipping and aviation combined) reform itself into an industry that helped society solve some of its most pressing issues? We didn’t want to give up – yes, right now the situation is bad. But we loved fashion, and really believed in it as a tool for self-expression, and on its power to convey messages and engage society. These were the first seeds from which our fashion brand, Trace Collective, started growing. We knew that we wanted to create a brand that had POSITIVE societal and environmental impacts, and we knew that we wanted to reconnect people with the word ‘sustainable’ to help them regain faith in the change they could create as consumers.
The next step came naturally to us. We decided that no matter what our business model ended up looking like, we would be a radically transparent company. Sustainability became our guiding design principle, and transparency became our primary accountability commitment. We would do our best and make every single business decision thinking of how to maximise positive social and environmental returns, yes. But we would also let our community know about each of these decisions by opening our supply chain to them and disclosing the origin of our clothes, our production costs, and our impact, sharing water and energy consumption and our greenhouse emissions. More importantly, we would also share the companies and employees engaged in the production of each of our items.
Our decision to be totally transparent opened vital questions about how to collect and analyse data in a rigorous way. Related to that, we wondered how to manage and convey this data in a clear way that enabled our customers to process it and make easy associations, instead of just throwing numbers at them. We knew that we did not have the necessary capacity (or knowledge) to conduct this analysis in an effective way. That’s where Green Story came in. They worked with us to analyse all our products and suppliers down to the amount of fabric used per garment. It’s thanks to that collaboration that we’re able to tell you exactly how much water and energy is used in the production of each of our pieces, and the greenhouse emissions for each of them. More importantly, Green Story has also enabled us to understand better the subtleties about our impact goals – we now understand clearly what’s the difference between producing locally or overseas or choosing different transportation methods. With this information, we’ll be able to set ever more ambitious numeric targets to push us to do better and better every year. Having a third party working with us and our supplies in analysing the impact of our supply chain has become invaluable to us.
We believe that there’s a significant change coming in how we, as a society, interact with our purchases. Increasingly, people are demanding information and holding companies accountable to their actions. It’s time for companies to step up their game and open up about their supply chains and impacts without putting a strain on society to constantly request this. Our view is that it is our customers who make us a company, and we believe this holds true for any company in the world. Because of that, the least we can do is to share with them how we’re creating the products that we sell, and what their money is supporting. Along the way, some of our choices will be better, some might be worse, there’s no doubt about that. But we want our community to know about this, the better and the worse, so they can give us their feedback and co-create with us the kind of company that they want to see. Because we believe that it’s only through transparency, openness and dialogue that we can model a better way of doing business, putting planet and people at the same level as profits.
And there’s more to it. In our individual journeys towards a more sustainable lifestyle (full of bumps, highs and lows) we’ve come to learn how difficult it is to make even the smallest changes. Experts have called this cognitive dissonance – we’re often aware of the large scale picture, and know what we should be doing, but when it comes to the day to day we put that away and carry on with business as usual. The truth is, our society makes it difficult for us to change our habits, and companies make it easy to make the wrong choices, hiding what’s behind the things we buy. But we think it will get easier in the future, as the right legislation is put into place. Can you imagine what would happen if price tags included also environmental impacts? It may seem like fantasy now, but we don’t think it’s so far fetched. Ultimately, our economics today are disregarding how we’re depleting the planet, but this is something we’ll start to pay for very soon.
Our smart labels at Trace Collective are our first step in that direction. We show you not only our impact, but also tell you how much water, energy and greenhouse emissions you’re saving compared to an equivalent piece produced by a fast fashion company. Because it’s only when we understand our power as consumers that we feel empowered to make larger changes, and we think transparency is the way to get there. One purchase at a time. And it doesn’t matter that it’s a small number of companies that are doing this today. We know that the number will grow, and we also know that our community will carry that change beyond us. Once you’ve scanned our labels, and seen the faces of the producers and how much it costs us to produce one piece while making sure that fair wages are paid, it’s easier to start questioning what’s behind a 10 dollar t-shirt.
Every single product has a story. We want to tell you the stories behind our garments so that you connect with the people who made them, and can feel proud knowing that you’ve done something good for the planet and for the communities involved in its production. What would happen if we started to connect with all the stories behind our purchases? Can you imagine how meaningful each dollar spent would become? There’s a different way to buy, and transparency can help us shape a more democratic and fair system, where we as businesses report back to our customers on the change we’re making, and where we have a role to help shape a better planet.