In the month of July at Sirena Magazine we want to raise awareness about sustainable fashion. Laura Fernández, professor and coordinator of the textiles area of the Fashion Design Department at Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico (EAPDPR), honored us with her collaboration.
Let's learn a little about Laura and her passion for textiles and sustainable fashion
Laura has been passionate about textiles since she was very young when her mother taught her to weave. This passion has accompanied her throughout her impressive career. Laura has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) with a concentration in textiles and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) with a concentration in painting with emphasis on textiles. She also did an internship in conservation, preservation, and restoration of ancient and contemporary textiles, including clothing, at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, California She worked on the production of woven Aubusson tapestries in France
Fig. 1: Laura during her internship at California
Fig. 2: Woven Aubusson tapestries
She has designed and built textiles for designers in Puerto Rico and California. Her works have been exhibited in museums and galleries including the Interamerican Expo (installation-type piece with soft sculptures and featured in Surface Design magazine as Latin American textile artist.
Fig. 3: Soft sculpture
Fig. 4: Surface Design 2013
She has worked on the design, construction, restoration, conservation and preservation of textile objects from private collections and institutions such as the Museum of History, Anthropology and Art of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras (UPR-RP, conservation of Egyptian female mummy), the Puerto Rico Museum of Art (conservation of the Raúl Juliá theater’s mundillo scene curtain), the Armstrong Poventud House Museum in Ponce (piece designed and woven for the museum collection), among others. She was a faculty member of UPR-RP “Taller de Bellos Oficios” where she offered courses in textile techniques and collection management.
Fig. 5: Conservation of the Egyptian female mummy
Fig. 6: Conservation of the Raúl Juliá theater’s mundillo scene curtain
Laura developed the curriculum for the minor concentration in textiles for the EAPDPR Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design and the Associate Degree in Textile Design (a new offering that will soon be available). It was precisely during the preparation of one of her courses that she began to approach sustainability in a more conscious way.
In addition to being a teacher and being involved in other educational and cultural projects, Laura produces clothing and art pieces worked in mixed textile techniques, including accessories, for her brand Hilo – Hilo
Fig. 7: Knitted dress, Hilo Hilo
Fig. 8: Hilo Hilo Accesories
Let's talk about sustainability
Sustainability in fashion is a broad topic with environmental, economic and social components. Laura explains that when we talk about sustainable fashion we refer to the construction of clothes with the reduction of the environmental impact throughout the production chain as the main consideration, using more ecological materials and reducing distances to help reduce environmental pollution and the carbon footprint of products, as well as contributing to fair trade with better economic conditions and fair labor treatment for workers.
Take for example the fiber used to make a garment. According to Fabric for Fashion The Swatch Book and Textilepedia, fibers are classified as natural and man-made. Natural fibers have been used throughout the history of mankind and among them we have those that come from plants (linen, cotton, etc.) and those that come from animals (silk, wool, etc.).
Man-made fibers were invented in the 20th century as a cheaper alternative to natural fibers. These mimic some of the attributes of natural fibers and are easier to care for. Among these are artificial fibers (organic, semi-synthetic, or regenerated), which are manufactured through chemical processing of a renewable natural organic source such as cellulose (rayon, lyocell, acetate, etc.) and synthetic fibers that are manufactured from petroleum derivatives (nylon, polyester, acrylic, etc.). Different fibers have different properties and purposes.
Both the agriculture and processing of natural fibers and the manufacturing and processing of man-made fibers require resources (water, energy, raw materials, labor, etc.) which can be handled sustainably or not. Unsustainable practices such as intensive agriculture, overproduction and industrial pollution have contributed to climate change. Currently, about 67% of textiles come from synthetic fibers. Of the 25% that come from renewable natural sources, such as cotton, only 1% is organic.
This is why Laura emphasizes the importance of educating ourselves on the subject of sustainability. Fortunately, nowadays information is more accessible to everyone through the internet. The common citizen must become familiar with the different types of fibers and their manufacture; read and understand clothing and accessory labels before buying
Sustainability and textile design
Based on Laura’s experience, textile design allows the development, creation and/or discovery of alternative eco-friendly materials. This can happen both in laboratories (chemical, biological, textile engineering) and in small workshops. The creation of alternative textiles allows reviewing the way natural resources are used and their environmental impact. That is why Laura established an area for research and development in the Department of Fashion Design at EAPDPR, where designers have the opportunity to discover, propose and dare to integrate innovative proposals in their collections.
The textile industry and sustainable fashion
According to Fabric for Fashion The Swatch Book and Textilepedia, the textile industry is becoming aware of its impact on the environment and is developing more sustainable agricultural practices, new technologies and more responsible processing systems that reduce the use of toxic materials, innovative materials with less environmental impact, closed-loop systems for the manufacture of regenerated fibers, sophisticated recycling systems that produce recycled fibers that reduce both the need for virgin materials and the large amount of textiles and other products, such as plastic bottles, that end up in landfills or incinerated.
Laura also indicates that although slowly, within the textile industry there are companies and brands focused on making a difference through their sustainable proposals. We just have to inform ourselves and support them.
In Puerto Rico we have several micro-enterprises focused on sustainable production. Among them is the women’s collective Modo Consciente and Trama which is a project of three young Puerto Rican women who are planting organic cotton, dye plants and other plants. Trama participates in the global organization FiberShed, based in California, through the affiliate Puerto Rico Fibershed. Also, the EAPDPR has a collaborative alliance with Puerto Rico Fibershed.
Sustainability is everyone's responsibility
We all have a role in sustainable fashion and Laura emphasizes that our contribution starts with awareness. If each fashion and clothing sector develops a plan according to its economic expectations and makes the necessary adjustments to work within sustainability, environmental conditions would improve significantly. It is a cycle that begins by selecting eco-friendly materials and produced with conscience and ends after the piece is consumed.
Raw material – design – fabrication – sale – consumption
Although it appears last in the chain, the consumer is a key player in sustainable fashion. If the consumer buys consciously and supports sustainable brands and products, the industry will be forced to provide more sustainable alternatives.
As consumers, we must control the frequency of consumption of new clothes. Buy only when necessary. Do not fall into the vice of buying for the sake of buying (“shopaholic”), since this has an adverse consequence by generating surplus clothing that usually ends up in the landfill.
According to Laura, we need to be aware that, in general, our first response as a consumer is aesthetic: “I like it”. As a conscious consumer, we should not make the purchase just because we like it, we should make the best possible purchase decision based on the evaluation of the information provided on the label (fiber content, whether or not it comes from recycled sources, whether it was manufactured under environmentally, economically and socially sustainable conditions.
Laura leaves us with the following call to action: “We must educate ourselves, seek information, and create awareness. Discuss sustainability with other people. Take advantage of family gatherings and talk about these issues. Modify our consumer behavior and consume only what is strictly necessary. If we are going to consume, do so consciously and support local brands and designers who are making a great effort to create sustainably. Practice reusing pieces by transforming them. When sewing a piece, look for patterns focused on zero waste (place the pattern pieces on the fabric in such a way that when cutting the fabric there are no leftovers). We re-educate ourselves and in this way we put our grain of sand in transforming consumer behavior. In short, educate and share information regarding sustainability and practice it within our possibilities.”
Thanks to Laura for her availability and valuable contribution. At Sirena Magazine we echo her call to action. Educating and practicing sustainability within our possibilities is everyone’s responsibility. You can explore the links below to continue learning about sustainability.
Dare to use sustainable fabrics and use the “zero waste” technique making a blouse! Members of our sewing club will learn how to sew the Sitka pattern step by step. As a member of Sirena Elite you have access to exclusive tutorials, a free pattern per month, and more benefits. Join by clicking here.