Lorena Villegas is a Colombian designer based in The Netherlands. She lived a few years in Buenos Aires and in Paris, places where she gets a lot of inspiration from to create her designs. Now based in Amsterdam, she designs unique, elegant and very feminine pieces for the active and modern woman.
People, sustainability and creativity have been at the heart of her brand’s identity since its creation. This pushes her to go against the fast fashion current, and adopted a rather slow fashion approach to her work.
Find out how she encountered those beliefs, the struggles she faced and the wise lessons that came out of those experiences.
Better Magazine: How did you start designing?
Lorena Villegas: As a child, I already used to design clothes for my dolls and costumes for myself. I’ve always been very passionate about fabrics and drawing, and it became clear to me very early that I had to be a fashion designer. Later on, when I finished high school, I left my country to go to Argentina and study fashion design.
BM: So you design based on up-cycling principles, what triggered you to start doing this?
LV: A few years ago I started to be more conscious about my lifestyle, my impact on climate change, and on society in general. When I decided to create my brand, it was very important to me to be as sustainable as possible, and producing new items with dead-stock or up-cycled fabrics is the approach that made most sense to me for a couple of reasons.
First, most of the water required for garment production is actually used to convert raw fibre into workable fabric and during the dyeing process. Our up-cycled textiles don’t require any more water on top of what has been used to produce it in the first place. By making use of preexisting fabrics, we are keeping more fabric out of the landfills by giving them a new life, and we avoid unnecessarily increasing the demand for new textile material.
Second, most of the time we buy these fabrics from the same workshop that is in charge of the production, generating therefore less carbon footprint out of the transportation.
Because we use up-cycled fabrics, we rarely find large quantities of any one fabric. That means we are often only able to make a few pieces out of the same fabric. At the end of the day, this means less waste, which is also part of sustainability.
BM: What were the struggles that you faced when becoming a sustainable designer?
LV: The first struggle was the minimal order quantities that workshops ask to start a production. To start a production, workshops generally ask at least 200 pieces of each design and each colour, as a minimal order quantity. Because my goal is to avoid any waste, and because sometimes some designs do not sell well, I’ve never been willing to comply with those requirements. Fortunately, after a long and exhaustive investigation, I found a workshop in Portugal, both agreeing to work with smaller quantities, and guaranteeing really high quality standards.
The second challenge is the high cost related to a local production, compared to other brands producing in low cost countries. For us a sustainable brand, working with good materials, limiting our carbon footprint, and paying a fair price to all the people involved in the production process is fundamental. When addressed, these elements tend to increase the sale price of the clothes and therefore make sustainable brands much more expensive than other brands.
Unfortunately this logically makes sustainable fashion less accessible to the general public and a lot of people are seduced by fast fashion brands because of the prices.
I think that as brands, we have a responsibility to show transparency, and make customers aware of everything that lies behind a garment. It is hard work and definitely a big challenge for someone who is just starting, but it is very important as it will hopefully change the way people see and buy fashion.
BM: Why is it important for you to produce locally?
LV: The first reason to produce in Europe was to limit CO2 emissions in the transport of the garments, to my atelier and ultimately to the customers. The second reason is because that allows for much better control over the production process. This is the best way for us to be able to ensure that all the people involved in the productions are working in good conditions and are fairly paid.
BM: What piece of advice would you give to any aspiring designers?
LV: We need to change the fashion industry so that sustainability and ethics become the norm, not the exception. We designers are artists, and our designs are a part of our soul and inspiration. But we have to keep in mind that they also become garments, with which many people will identify themselves, and that’s an incredible opportunity to also use them as vehicles for our values. Values are a fundamental part of a brand and are what leaves a mark in society: they are not to be underestimated!