// CHANGING PERSPECTIVES - CREATING FASHION FROM TEXTILE WASTE
In this interview, you'll learn more about
- What it takes to build up a sustainable fashion brand & store in Berlin
- Why an online store doesn’t replace real human interaction
- How the store helped building a movement & became the "home base" for an entire scene
- The importance of surrounding yourself with the right people
- Why Berlin is the best place to create - and where it stands compared to London
Update: Unfortunately, the Upcycling Fashion Store is closing its current store in Mitte on 18th February 2017 - due to some problems with the landlord (annoyingly, that happened quite a few times Berlin in recent years, often hitting the creative scene). However, Carina & her awesome team have lots of exciting projects planned: with occasional pop-up stores, an online shop, their own label aluc, Green Fashion Tours Berlin, Fashion Revolution Germany and the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin (links in the shownotes), they will continue to push the upcycling movement forward in Berlin and worldwide! Check out their website & Facebook page for current updates.
LISTEN OUR PODCAST INTERVIEW RIGHT HERE:
P.S. You'll find the full interview transcript below
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// UPCYLING FASHION STORE BERLIN - FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:
For the first episode of the year, I checked out an eco-business that definitely helps you to green up your wardrobe: The Upcycling Fashion Store in Berlin Mitte.
I walked into the store - and was welcomed by a very smiley face and a hot cup of tea 🙂 Both came from Carina Bischof, one of the 4 owners and founders of the Upcycling Fashion Store, and their own label aluc.
Seriously, I got such deep insights into how our clothes are being made and what upcycling fashion actually means! It stands for more than eco-friendly production: instead of taking new materials, the most forward-thinking designers are now using “waste” - like leftovers from the big textile factories - and turn it into the most stylish, time less pieces ever.
There’s so much creativity flowing. It’s about changing perspectives. Using what’s already out there.
Carina is a positive, energetic person. I had a great time talking and listening to her and hope the passion sparkles on to you, too 🙂
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF OUR INTERVIEW
Hey Carina, thanks so much for sitting down here with me on this Friday morning! Taking out a chunk of another busy day... I’m excited about finally meeting you - I heard SO many great things about you, about the store. You somehow built up of a hub for the upcycling movement here in Berlin. And I know you’re involved in lots of other amazing projects all around the green/ ethical fashion industry.
So I’m really curious about hearing more about all of that and to get a bit deeper into how upcycling actually works and how it fits into Berlin…
Thank you for coming and asking!
Pleasure! Alright, let’s first talk a little bit about your background: I mean, you’ve taken a really impressive path in the upcycling fashion scene / ethical fashion industry… Can you just quickly take us on your journey? How did you get into designing upcycling fashion?
Yes. Basically, I’m a fashion designer and during my studies, I was giving a talk about sustainable fashion and before - it’s already a few years ago now - I’d never heard about it and wasn’t really aware of the fabrics. And I was surprised about myself how this could have happened. I was always a really environmentally friendly person, but I never linked the two things together.
From that moment on, I could not stop thinking about it. I also knew that one day, I wanted to go into this direction. So after my studies, I started working in the conventional clothing industry - but at one point I just stopped and went to London. Because everything went into this direction there and I could find so many interesting designers.
One of the pioneers for upcycling, the label From Somewhere, was the stop for me and my other now-colleagues. We met in London - this was Ariana and Luise. They were going there as students and I was the design assistant of Orsola de Castro. We all just got so into the whole topic there and thought “okay, if it’s working here in London, we should also do it in Berlin. It’s the perfect city for that, so let’s bring upcycling to Berlin.”
Then we asked the fourth member of aluc, Jonathan - he’s more the economics guy - if he wants to join us and help us to found our own label. In 2010 we moved to Berlin and that’s where everything started.
Wow, this is really cool. So you four guys met in London first, and then you found together…
Mmm yeah kind of. Ariane and Luise were in London. Jonathan was just there for one day. He’s from my home town. Home village - the village next to my village actually. He came for a visit and then I just said, “okay, I’m gonna found my own label” and talked about it. A few days later he just wrote an email and said “I’m in, I want to join”.
Haha, I love that. Just comes for a quick visit and then joins you founding a fashion label. Alright… erm, and I think the store here was first meant to be a pop up store, right?
Yes exactly. We had our own label, aluc, which started in 2010, and then were asked by some people “Why are you not opening a store, it would be so cool. We have some space here”. And we thought “yeah, actually, a store would be cool”. To check out how our shirts are selling and to get a bit more feedback. We had been at a few markets with our products already. But it’s different. At markets, people don’t want to buy such a high fashion product. We thought that it would be so cool.
At that stage, we also already knew some other designers that were doing upcycling in Berlin, so we just started with the whole concept: The customers, when they come into the store, don’t really have to think about it, because everything here is upcycled. Then we were looking into it and found a store, which was meant to be there for three months. And after the three months, it was going so well. We got such good feedback that we decided to try to keep it for longer.
That’s amazing. A really great way to start. I guess Berlin gives a good platform for places like this. It often starts as a pop up project. You try yourself out, you see if it works, you don’t have all those costs of opening an own permanent store straight away, and when you see that people want it, you can open up. Really, really good.
And what fascinates you and your team about the concept, or the whole idea of upcycling? What makes you feel really passionate about it?
By the time I was going more into the sustainable fashion direction, I thought about which fabric would be best to use. But all the fabrics had some con’s. Most of the time the con’s were higher than the pro’s. While we were in London we thought that the upcycling topic is so interesting, because we can start now. We use what is there and then start from this point. We are more the active kind of people.
I also like to read a lot about this topic, >> but I want to change something now and not in 20 years << when there might be the fabric that is perfect for us. So we just thought we take everything that’s there and get it back into the circle.
Awesome! Do you think there is some confusion about the term ‘upcycling’? Is it clear to most people or do you have to explain a lot?
In the beginning, when we started the store - no one knew it in Berlin. That was in 2010. When we came to Berlin, started the brand and said it’s an upcycling fashion brand, no one really understood. Then we tried to explain “yeah, it’s kind of like recycling, but it’s better. The value of the material is getting higher, because you would throw it away anyway or would down-cycle it. It was a lot of talking, and a lot of explaining.
Now, it’s really nice to see that - in Berlin, I have to say - the people already know about it. You don’t need to explain so much. Sometimes, I have the feeling the people know more about our store than me when they come in. It’s really fascinating how fast everything grew in the last years.
But you also have to be quite careful, because sometimes there’s a bit… it’s supposed to be upcycling but then it’s recycled... or I’m not such a fan of upcycling material which is not meant to be worn. If you’re a designer, you should also look a bit into the material when you use it.
Can you give an example?
If you use a fabric or material which is, for example, the tires of a bicycle and then create jewelry out of it, it’s a bit hard to wear on the skin. I would not do it. If you have it on a jumper, it’s okay. But I wouldn’t use it to wear on my skin, because actually it’s not made for that. There are several other examples for that…
We also had a jewelry label that reused Nespresso cups and this kind of upcycling, using coffee capsules is also a bit hard. On one side, it promotes the company. On the other side, it’s aluminium. But we had it in store and decided for it, because it’s a really easy example for the customers and they are attracted by it. So it’s not easy where to draw the line.
Yeah, I can imagine. It’s both sides - these guys are actually making something useful out of those old Nespresso capsules, which you’d otherwise throw away. But at the end, it also creates a demand. People think “hey, it’s okay. I can use this because there’s something else made from it”.
Yes, that’s why I always tell the whole story. I say it’s better than throwing it away, because the cups are there anyway. The designer took it and had a resource instead of a new material which was made just for this purpose. So you can’t say that this is the perfect invention. But on the other hand… what is perfect 🙂 ?
That’s true. We now already mentioned it: you’re selling your own creations, plus a range of other designers. What’s the ratio? And how do you make your choices?
We have around 15-20 brands in our store - and aluc is one of them. For men’s wear we have one shirt and for women we have a blouse-dress, and for this range, we have a lot of choice. So of course, for aluc it’s the store where you can find most variety. In other stores we just have some styles…
But for the other brands, it depends a bit how far they are. Some just started, they have one product and want to test it… We also try to go with the design and we like to have a design which doesn’t look upcycled in the end. So just upon the second look you see “oh, this was actually a trouser, but it’s now a skirt!”. This is really the aha-effect that you have - and this is what we like. Otherwise, it’d be going into the second hand direction.
We divide between pre- and post-consumer waste. So some the designers use the pre-consumer waste, which is the material that is thrown away already in the production phase. And the other designers we have in store use the post-consumer waste - which is after wearing the clothes, second hand, and they turn them into new garments…
Okay, the term pre-consumer waste kind of gets me right now. Can you just explain that a little bit further?
Yes. During the production, the industry… for example, for our shirts, we have that fabric. In the mill they weave a lot of fabric, but then they also have a lot of leftovers at the end of the season. They weave it to show the buyer what comes next season.
As it takes a lot of time to install the threads, make the design, get the machines starting, they make always more material than they really need. At the end of the season, this is not sellable anymore. Because on one width, they got five different styles of fabric, so that they get a lot out of it. This is really interesting fabric actually, because it changes the style within the fabric - it’s just about the way you look at it and we need to go deeper into it.
What the small designers are doing now - and I also think the industry should look much more into it - is the manufacturing phase: how can we minimize the waste that we have in that phase? It’s estimated that this is around 15-16% of the fabric which is produced!
So it’s just fabrics that’s used to play around and get to the final result which can be presented?
...that’s one part of it, yes. On the other hand, maybe they worked on red fabric and this red fabric was ordered only half of the meters they really did - so this specific red, they can’t sell anymore. And at one point they have to get rid of it, because it’s not sellable anymore and they need space in the storage. It’s also called “dead stock”.
That’s incredible, I never really thought about this. Well, you probably don’t when you don’t work in this field…
Yes. And that’s what we learned at From Somewhere, the label in London. They used the same technique and went to Italian companies and sourced their fabrics there. I mean high quality silks, wool, fabrics, really nice…
We started to look a bit more into the industry (production) scene in Germany - if it’s still existing, it’s dying out actually, so it’s extra hard to get locally sourced fabric. And we ended up in Austria. That’s where we now get our fabrics from…
Right, that’s what I would have asked next: where do you source your materials from. From Austria?
Yeah, exactly. We called a lot of factories and asked if we can come and get their leftover fabrics. And it was really hard, because no one really took us serious in that moment. We were just in the beginning. So we could be anyone, going there, asking for fabrics…
Out of 20, I think one or two companies really got back to us. And one of them said “sure, just come by and we have a look what you need”. They were really open-minded. I think in the beginning they thought we will never come back 🙂 But now we are there in the 5th year… no 6th year already and we’re still going there to get the fabrics.
How weird though. I mean, of course they have to make that step and email back to you. But I don’t get this, they have to throw it away anyway, there’s nothing they do with it. And it wouldn’t be any extra effort, no?
It is, because you have to take it to a certain part of the production line. For them it’s more efficient and time-saving to just get rid of it. So it’s a logistic thing that needs to change in the industry. Because for them, they produce the garments and that’s their goal. And what gets wasted in the end… they don’t really think about it anymore.
It should be about the way we look at that system. Because that’s actually the main problem. The companies - also in China or Asia in general - just go there to produce there. It’s not their own mill, so why should they think about the waste? That’s why you see all these huge mountains of fabrics lying around at the factories. It’s a big problem, they don’t have the same awareness as we do. And even here it’s not easy to deal with the whole problem. But we already got certain political decisions in place, so we’re a bit more advanced. Still, there’s a lot to do…
Yes, sounds like. Wow, big topic... Let's get back to the shop: what’s your favorite designer at the moment - and your favorite item in the shop?
That’s really hard! We have so many beautiful things and labels… I think one of my favorite labels is an Austrian designer, it’s called Steinwidder. And she’s making new things out of old, used socks. Skirts, or hats, or tops, or dresses…You don’t see it in the beginning, and then the effect on the people is really interesting 🙂 To see how they feel about it, how they talk about it. If I say “these are from old socks that I’m wearing now” and people go “no, not really!”.
And it’s just really well made. The designer, originally is an architect. Then she got into the whole upcycling topic and I just like the way how she’s dealing with the whole process. Everyone of us has these old socks. I like this design process behind: you take the material and then you think, what can I make out of it. You change the perspective of it and then put it on another part of the clothes and it looks completely different.
That’s the most exciting thing, you don’t see it. I guess it also causes a good laugh when you say “hey, this is made from old socks”.
Yes! It’s a bit provocative.
Yeah, I guess this is how you get attention as well. And by really challenging people a little bit… obviously it’s something that works.
And just turning back to your own label, aluc - What does it stand for? What are your top values?
It stands of course for sustainable and fair production. For us, the local aspect was very important as well, that it’s staying within the right kilometres and CO2 is not too high. We try to use a production which is close to the factories where we get the fabrics…
Another thing that’s important for us is that it’s a piece which you don’t just use for one season. You can change it, because we have this little detail so you can change the color or can just take it off. You can unbutton it. Most of the time, it’s the part of the shirt which is getting ruined first. So we use this effect to make it last longer.
Good! And I think you’re also men’s fashion, right?
This is really, really good, cause I think there’s actually quite a big gap! You know, I was talking to a good friend the other day, and he’s not this young hipster / skater boy or so. There are a lot of sustainable streetwear labels… And he was asking me “Claudi, where can I get good sustainable men’s wear, like a nice shirt or something like that. So it’s really good that you serve that, I’m definitely going to write this to him.
That was actually also our thinking. In the beginning we thought that there is so much women’s wear already existing and it’s not so hard if you want to go into this direction. But what can we do what everyone needs, so also for men? So, it was also a bit pragmatic in a way - in the beginning the focus was men’s wear. And then the women got in touch saying that it’s so hard to get really good blouses, so we started to go also in this direction.
Good on you 🙂 And in terms of the customers: are there a lot of walk-ins? Or do they come specifically with the goal in mind to buy more sustainably? How does that happen?
It’s not a shopping area as you can see when you step out of the shop. But it’s a really nice area with families and customers which come back because they know our store. But it’s also a lot who read about it in the newspaper or magazines, interviews…
And then they come because they heard about it. They’ve written it down to remember “ next time I go to Berlin, I have to go to this shop. And that’s good to see. The people come to the shop because they want to be aware and they want to see what’s possible.
That’s how I’m kind of trying to do it as well. I know there’s so many amazing places in Berlin, where people get really excited about when they actually go and see it, and then it gets carried out more and more and more… I’m hoping we can do that at least.
Yes, and what’s really nice as well with the shop is to get the feedback directly. If you have an online shop, you have a quite personal contact and feedback through social media, but it’s different to the proper reactions.
Yes, yes I’m a big advocator for face to face. Online is really important to establish connections and also to keep them alive. But to really create a relationship, it’s kind of different when you meet a person.
And also to open up your mind! The internet is really good in knowing what you want, but sometimes, I also want to discover things, and this works really nicely in other shops, or with other people. When I talk to them they sometimes come up with a completely different topic that I was never thinking about. These conversations are hard to find online.
True. Another thing that grabbed my attention is your engagement in so many other events and movements - I heard that you’re involved in the Fashion Week or Fashion Revolution Germany... Can you talk about that a little?
Yes! It was growing fast, step by step. In the beginning there was the label, then the shop. And with the shop we had the space - we now use it to make a monthly round table and started with five people. And from that five people, there are now more than 500 people and they all come. Since 2012, we did them every month.
We also got a cooperation with another “Netzwerk” (network) called Sourcebook. It’s really nice to see that the scene is sticking together, and we cooperate, and all the other initiatives were starting and it’s just… with the right people and the right team behind, I think you can do it!
Wow! How do you manage to do all of that at the same time ?!
Well, not at the same time 🙂 But just as I said, we have the right people behind...
Great. Building this network of other professionals... And you’re also quite open to supporting young talents, right? Would you agree that you’ve become something like the hub for upcycling movement in Berlin?
Yes, I’d think so. From the beginning onwards, it was a place where people went - and not just customers, also designers. They asked us how we do it, it was an exchange. For us, it’s also always been a lot of time in the shop.
Then we thought about how we could do it differently - should we organize another event together? Then we tried to listen to the people and find out what they need. We started an initiative where we are sorting out the second hand clothes for the designers directly. So if a designer comes and needs a certain amount of jeans, we run a project together with the Berliner Stadtmission where we can go and find the fabrics for them. I think all these little things together make it big at the end…
Awesome! That’s really, really, really inspiring. I love what you can build if you really want something. Alright, talking about Berlin a little bit: Would you say that the upcycling movement is fitting in with Berlin at the moment? If so why/ why not?
Yeah. I mentioned earlier that, when we went to Berlin, I couldn’t imagine starting something like that in another city in Germany. >> But Berlin was just… it’s a work in progress, the whole city, it inspires you on every corner.<< You can find material, you can find people, you can find initiatives.
Another point was that it’s not so expensive, compared to other cities. So it’s easier to start something on your own. Also, in the beginning a lot of voices said “but in Berlin, no one buys something, because no one has money”. But there are a lot of tourists - and it’s just the whole scene here.
During Fashion Week, you have a lot of events. You have the Ethical Fashion Show, the Green Showroom, which is as far as I know, one of the biggest fairs for sustainable fashion in the world! Everything together makes the whole picture! For now, we have to celebrate it. We have to celebrate that this is - for me - the capital of green fashion! But we also have to work on it, that it’s staying like that. And this is happening if everyone of us is just doing something.
Also the politicians 😉
Yes! Politicians out there, listen to that! It’s true! This is such a strong statement for Berlin. I totally agree with a lot of things you say.
Of course, it used to be that Berliners didn’t have that much money. But as you say, it’s changing a lot. There’s people coming from all over the world who want to be in Berlin and who kind of have this idea… Who really look at the city at the moment, but at the same time you have space and freedom and lower costs to create and try yourself out. That’s the great thing: you have the base here, you have freedom here, but then you got the people from London and New York and everywhere coming in and buying things… So actually it can be really good.
What would you say: Where do we stand compared to London?
When I was in London in 2008/9, for me it was like the place where all of this sustainable fashion thing is going on. It’s inspiring! The whole city is inspiring. It’s a forward thinking city. And in Berlin, we are getting inspired by the city, I think. We get the vibe, also of London, and then we take it and try to work on it. And we try to go deeper and work on the whole topic.
And for me - maybe it’s also because I am German - it’s easier to network for me here than in London. And I have the feeling that the network here is really, really strong. You can also see it with all the campaigns like Fashion Revolution Week. There are a lot of things going on here and it’s just growing, because people are getting enthusiastic. But - Fashion Revolution started in London. It’s just the brainchild of them!
So, I wouldn’t compare it like one is better or worse. But we get it on. And then, together, hopefully…
It’s really funny that you say all that, because more and more, I just realize how many trends actually start in other cities, but then it kind of explodes here in Berlin. It exists in other cities and then people come to Berlin with their picture in mind that it’s the most trendy city in the world and all the trends start here and then they think “hey, but this is not here yet, so we have to create it”.
Yes, it’s a special vibe and the freedom as well, I have the feeling. You can speak out loud and then you find other people and they think the same - and then you have the power to do it together.
Yeah. And we kind of talked about it now a little bit, but maybe there’s another thing that you want to add - What makes you feel most excited about being part of the Berlin eco scene? About the chance of pushing things forward...
I think it’s… you have something on your mind and then, you just do it and see quite fast how it’s growing and developing and you see the result. That’s one of the best things you can have. That you can actually also be part of the city, and create it.
Nice, I like that! Now, we’re coming slowly to the end. There’s a few questions that I always ask to everyone. First one: Since opening the store in 2011 - what was your biggest learning? Any aha-moments you want to share?
I think there were so many things that I was learning in the last years, also by opening the shop. How much it takes to run a shop, constantly. Not just for a short term, but the whole package. It’s really hard to focus on one thing, because it’s just everyday learning.
But the most important thing is to get the proper reactions of the customers. Because, what they say is what’s needed. And then you have to listen to it. We also try to always give it back to our designers, so they can adapt. Because, as a designer you always think you can make the most beautiful, and then you stand in the shop and you see the reactions - and that’s the direct feedback. So, getting so close to the people has been really nice.
That’s true! I think, in the end, what drives people to buy more sustainably. What’s really important is that it looks good and that they like it. Right now, if I look through the shop: it’s beautiful things, beautiful clothes that draw people, and on top it’s sustainable and eco. But the other way around just doesn’t work…
Now, If you could change one thing in Berlin within the next 24 hours - what would it be?
Wow! I think I would like to implement the sustainability issue into the educational system in all schools. Because this is the future. This is where thinking has to start, and they change the parents, and then, we can change the future.
So good. And what question should we have asked you but didn’t 🙂 ?
I think you really had good questions, I can’t think of another one right now...
Haha, okay! Last question: if there was one thing you could pass on to the people out there - what would it be?
Waste is one of the resources which is exponentially growing. So let’s just use it efficiently!
YEAH! Strong way to finish Carina. I’m very, very glad that I could talk to you. Hearing more about all these amazing things that you do and create, it's been really inspiring. You're doing a really big service for our city, the conscious movement, and our planet at the end, so I hope that more people out there get encouraged by this. Thank you so much!
Thank you, thank you also for this beautiful blog 🙂
// FINAL WORDS:
Man, isn’t that exciting?! That there’s people like Carina who help us think further. Who tell the true stories, but at the same time give us some beautiful alternatives? I love the direction in which the world is going.
I hope you’re feeling inspired and curious to check out the Upcycling Fashion Store - check out their Facebook page to see what they're up to and where you can next meet these incredible people & see with your own eyes what you can make from things like old used socks 🙂
As always, I put you all the contact details of the Upcycling Fashion Store below this post, and of course, you can find it on the GreenMe map. Don’t forget to check out the show notes for all the other exciting places and initiatives we mentioned.
And if you really wanna up the game and green up your life, sign up for my #10daysofgreen challenge and I'll send you a daily challenge right into your inbox, each morning, for 10 days. The next round is starting on February 1st!
P.S. As a little reward and motivation, you’ll get my Best-of-Guide to some of my favorite green places in Berlin for free at the end of the challenge.
Thanks SO much for listening, have an amazing day
>> and always remember to keep it green !!
// SHOW NOTES
// UPCYCLING FASHION STORE //
Attention: the store is closed its doors on 14th Feb 2017, so the team could focus on pushing forward other inspiring projects, like the Fashion Revolution Week.
They continue to sell online though.
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