Can Portugal Aid Fashion’s Sustainability Agenda?

LONDON — With Lisbon, Portugal, holding the title of Europe’s green capital of the year 2020, Portugal is looking to leverage the capabilities of its textile and manufacturing industries, work with a bigger share of the fashion market — and, while doing so, help the industry build more sustainable supply chains.

During the one-day Sustainable Fashion Business conference, hosted last week by Lisbon’s environment councilman José Sá Fernandes, Portugal’s manufacturers, local government organizations and designers got together to highlight how the country can become “an integral player” in the new fashion landscape where priorities are shifting and sustainable and ethical production practices are now valued as much as the cool factor of a product.

An exhibition showcasing brands that are already using the country’s eco-friendly production capabilities was held as part of the event highlighting the advantages of “Made in Portugal.”

Participating brands ranged from established names including Tommy Hilfiger and Raeburn to Pangaia, which has been one of the year’s biggest hits with its recycled cotton tracksuits, and up-and-coming names like jeweler Alan Crocetti, London-based men’s wear designers Martine Rose and Ahluwalia and buzzy shoe label Rombaut.

Some of the country’s leading manufacturers also spoke of the deep investments they’ve been making to modernize their facilities and increase their expertise in upcycling, natural dyeing and traceability of raw materials.

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“Given Asian competition [in the Nineties and early Aughts] we lost over 50 percent of our business and had to reinvent ourselves, thinking about sustainability first. We invested in modernizing our facilities to have a competitive edge and a story to tell as clients now look at a larger number of requirements,” said Luis Sousa Dias, commercial director of LMA Textiles.

LMA started by creating technical sports equipment and has since grown to manufacture high-end textiles for the sports, fashion and military sectors.

“Sustainability is interlinked with the selection of raw materials, so we make sure that our raw materials are of a quality that will allow the garment to have a long life span,” added Sousa Dias, pointing to the company’s use of mostly biodegradable, organic, recyled or recyclable fibers.

“We have processes in place to ensure full traceability for the end customer: They can always trace the entire raw material selection from the fibers to the dyes, so everyone is aware of the origins [of their garments] and know that they are not contributing towards child labor or other unsustainable industry practices,” Sousa Dias said.

Vasco Pizzaro, marketing manager at the family-owned manufacturer Pizzaro SA, the first fully automated facility in Europe, also highlighted the many sustainable production practices the company is able to offer to brands looking to minimize their environmental footprint.

When it comes to fabric dyeing, the company uses a “closed system water treatment plant” that allows for the same water to be used for up to 22 days, saving up to 140 liters of water per minute.

“We’ve patented technology and are selling it around the world to reach out to other companies across the planet, because this isn’t just about our own effort: Sustainability is a global aspect and touches us as all,” added Pizzaro.

The company has been spearheading a long-term upcycling initiative, whereby unused clothes are collected from warehouses across Europe and transformed into new garments at the company’s factories.

“However sustainable our garments might be, if they go to a shop and aren’t sold they will still end up in landfill,” said Pizzaro, explaining the company’s commitment to upcycling. “We’ve been doing it for 15 years now and have developed an open line with our clients. We do it with trousers, jackets and knits and it’s a practice that can hugely increase the life span of individual garments and protect margins.”

Mafalda Mota Pinto, chief executive officer of Scoop Portugal, pointed to the manufacturer’s new sponsorship programs for emerging designers, who share the same commitment to sustainable production.

“We used to be a service provider and that was it but there’s a lot we can teach the designers. We are in the path of becoming a lab or an atelier and that’s what the future is,” said Mota Pinto, who has been working with up-and-coming names like Priya Ahluwalia, Dio Kurazawa and Sam Osborne.

“The industry had the tendency to work in big numbers, with a linear system and seasonal collections. But all of that is now gone, there are no seasons but capsules, pre-orders, and understanding exactly what you sold as a brand.”

Manufacturers argued that no matter the technological advancements brands resort to, they need to start by producing closer to home and minimizing their carbon footprints.

“Portugal has the best in the world, both tech-wise and sustainability-wise, but the final word lies with the client. Sometimes they might decide to pay a bit more for a sustainable technique, but if the garments end up in Bangladesh or India, then their carbon footprint will offset the positive investment in sustainability,” added Sousa Dias.

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