Ecoalf – because there is not planet B
Interview with founder Javier Goyeneche
There are always new shops opening in Berlin and I always get excited. However, not many of them have an interesting story to say or a particular reason for which they stand out from the mass. Last week a new store opened its door in the heart of Berlin (Alte Schönhauser Straße 5) and it definitely needs some attention. Spanish label Ecoalf, chose the German capital to open its second flagship store. Ecoalf uses the highest quality recycled fabrics to create a new generation of sustainable products. The store space offers much more than a sustainable fashion brand, you will find architecture, design, books and beauty, which build a sustainable lifestyle experience that is true to the brand’s philosophy. We sat down with founder Javier Goyeneche to get to know him better and his brand.
FAP: How did Ecoalf start?
JG: Before Ecoalf I owned a fashion company that I decided to sell in 2009. I wanted to create a truly sustainable label. And the most sustainable way to do that was not with natural resources. Recycling was the answer to my frustration – making cool garments with recycled fabrics. When I started, the problem was that there were no cool recycled fabrics and the texture was not appealing at all. Between 2009 and 2013 I focused on developing fabrics that could offer the best products. I launched then Ecoalf, named after my son Alfredo (ed. So no connotation to Alf the puppet as we thought!).
FAP: Where do you position Ecoalf in the market compared to other sustainable brands?
JG: The idea behind Ecoalf is that everything needs to be sustainable. Being 100% sustainable is complicated but we do our best. This means that when you buy one of our sneakers the fabric is recycled, the sole, the laces as well. For us being ethical has nothing to do with doing one sustainable capsule collation – like many brands do. One of the main differences between Ecoalf and other sustainable brands is that we don’t go outside, see what’s available and then realize a collection. We develop our own fabrics and projects and we make them happen according to our ideas – like what we did the upcycling the oceans. It is a commitment that we carry all over the brand. It’s our story.
FAP: How does Ecoalf combine fashion and sustainability?
JG: We have to combine the two, because at the end of the day Ecoalf is a fashion brand and we compete with thousands of other labels. We might have a different story compared to a lot of brands but at the end of the day a customer needs to be satisfied with a garment. This means that if I try a jacket on and it doesn’t look or feel good I won’t buy it. Nonetheless, Ecoalf will never be a truly fashion brand because we don’t believe in seasonal trends. We make timeless products and invest a lot of time and resources in developing fabrics and projects. We are not story tells, but story doers.
FAP: You recently launched the Ecoalf Foundation. Can you explain its work and how it operates?
JG: Ecoalf Foundation was born with the idea to create the “Save the ocean project”. It has two main goals: one is to work on the oceans, focus on waste and avoid the waste to come into the oceans. You have to know that 70% of the waste in the oceans come from the rivers and the mainland. The second goal of the foundation is to invest into education. We spend a lot of energy into going to school, conferences, events…
FAP: You give high importance to upcycling the oceans – you started a program in Spain and Thailand. How does it work?
JG: The entire project started because we were recycling fishing nets in Korea, where there is an incredible amount of waste. Shortly, the Spanish government contacted us asking us to operate also in Spain. However, the main challenge are not the nets but finding the local technology that can covert the nets into what we need, fabrics – we use nylon 6.6 net, the best one you can find. When we started the upcycling the oceans program we went into several ports, talking to the fishermen and convincing them to help us out. I went fishing once with the boats and saw how much plastic waste is in the fishing nets when they pull them up. 80% of the waste is on the bottom of the ocean, not the surface. I got approached to replicate the program in Thailand and we signed a 3 years program to help them clean 4 main areas. The program can be replicated anywhere in the world and we got a lot of requests as well. However, we are a small company, which means that everything has its time. Our next goal is to cover the whole Mediterranean area.
FAP: Ecoalf uses recycled fabrics deriving from plastic bottles, cotton, fishing nets, tires, coffe grounds and wool. How difficult is the process of recycling and making fabrics out of this waste?
JG: It really depends. Plastic bottles and fishing nets are the easiest. We have a partnership in Thailand with 7/11, where we get all the coffee leftovers at the end of the day. Coffe grounds produce soft, light, flexible and breathable fabrics that can also be use to produce an outer shell that is water resistant. In short, thanks to coffe grounds the fabric becomes UV-resistant, wicks water away, keeps you cool and it has odor control properties. The most complicated one is probably the cotton. We take all the leftovers from factories. We get a short and uneven thread. It works well for men but not women because light cotton is too transparent.
FAP: Sustainability is an important topic, especially for fashion. What is Ecoalf stand in educating the consumer?
JG: The way of educating the consumer is through communication. We share our knowledge with a lot of brands, schools and companies. We also believe that one of the most effective way to communicate our values is opening a shop and show people what we can make and achieve with waste.
FAP: Who is your typical consumer? Do you believe the consumer’s mind set for buying fashion has changed over the last years and if so how?
JG: According to our research team our typical consumer is form 35 to 45 years old, willing to listen a brand that has the same or similar values as them. Our consumer is sensitive to fashion but not obsessed – they want to be cool and fashionable within the limits. Younger customers are more into the fast fashion and are not our target at the moment. What we have noticed is the importance of the price point. A lot of people want to be sustainable but they cannot afford it.
FAP: Why did you choose Berlin as your second flagship store?
JG: Madrid has been our first and only store so far. We wanted to expand and were looking for the right country and city. Germany came up to our minds quite spontaneously. Germans are sensible and quite forward when it comes to sustainable fashion. Berlin seemed the right place to open our second flagship store.
FAP: What is the next step for Ecoalf as a sustainable label?
JG: Keep on investing into new projects. We are going to start cleaning the Hong Kong bay soon; we want to replicate the up-cycling the ocean initiative in as many countries as possible and we want to be an international brand.
FAP: What has been the biggest struggle in founding and developing Ecoalf?
JG: The beginning was the most interesting. I was obsessed with creating amazing recycled fabrics but I had no buying power. I had to convince partners to invest and create the fabrics. Especially explaining them that this is about the future since the turnover would have never been that high. I – and Ecoalf – have been rejected so many times that I have become used to it. But this is the way to learn and move forward in live!
Text: Margaux Lombard, November 14th 2017