Groen & Gezond Almere Podcast

Our founder featured on the 'Groen en gezond' Podcast

By Groen & Gezond Almere on January 29, 2020

Green & Healthy Almere Podcast 

Nadia: Near the future Floriade Terrain lies the world’s first upcycle center. Here, inhabitants of Almere can donate leftover goods to be used by three different entrepreneurs. I met with one of the entrepreneurs to see how she started out with circular thinking. From trash to treasure. 

Laura: I am Laura Meijering, and I am the creator of Unravelau. I started Unravelau three years ago after receiving my Bachelor of Fashion design in Utrecht, where I discovered what negative effects the fashion industry has. I was so shocked that I quickly wanted to help make a difference towards a better fashion industry, so I started Uravelau.

Nadia: You really went into action right after receiving your Bachelor?

Laura: No, after finishing school, I let it sink in for a year, as school was quite intense. Then I slowly started Unravelau, and was scouted by Vogue Italia. It was a quick beginning, and now I am here of course!

Nadia: Yes, how great! Did this all happen in this atelier?

Laura: No, I used to have an atelier in Utrecht. Right now my atelier is in the Upcycle Center in Almere, which is a place where the inhabitants of Almere can deposit trash from their home, and there is also a textile container where they can bring their old clothing. I then sort through the clothing and decide what to use to create new pieces of clothing.

Nadia: You have already been scouted for your sustainable fashion. What is the problem precisely that you want to tackle? 

Laura: In the fashion industry, there are many issues, really everything is a bit problematic there, and they start in the fashion schools, and continue with the consumer. You can think of the child labor, the environmental toll, what kind of effect the fashion industry has on young people and the way they see themselves, and I would love to solve all of those problems, but it’s not possible to do all at once. So at this moment, I am focused on the environment, and the waste problem in particular. In my eyes, the problem is really that the consumer and fashion industry create too much waste. On the producer’s end, it is in the creation process where a lot of the fabric remnants are just thrown away.

Nadia: It is the same with food. A lot of food is thrown away if there is too much on one’s plate.

Laura: Indeed. Or, people just don’t know what they can make with small pieces of fabric, so they throw them away. And then you really see it with the consumer, where they will buy a piece of clothing, and sometimes won’t even wear it once, and then get rid of it. I see that in the textile container at the Upcycle Center, where there are still items of clothing with the tags on them.

Nadia: That is like confronting the problem firsthand!

Laura: Yes, it is very confrontational! It is also through that, that I sit and think “Okay, this problem is so big, I don’t know what to do” so I approach it by taking the clothing pieces out of the container and making something new out of them, instead of throwing them away. 

Nadia: And how do you remind people of this when they buy an item of clothing from you? I see these three beautiful garments here. How do you motivate people to seek out the story and not just look to buy the beautiful clothing?

Laura: Through the themes that I make with my collections for my clothing pieces. My collections always have a theme that is socially conscious. The story behind each collection can be read on my webshop, and for each garment we give information on how the product is made, where the fabric comes from, and even how we decide the product name. But I also figured out that only offering products with the beautiful story behind them is not the solution. You must also help people find inspiration in them up front, so I use social media to show a lot of what I am doing, and I also give workshops and school lessons about caring for the environment.

Nadia: Which people does it strike a chord with? Is it really with people who love luxury fashion, or those who aren’t really as occupied by fashion but now think “Well maybe in this manner it is good”?

Laura: Well, both really. My clothing qualifies for the high-end fashion category, which pulls in the fashion lovers, and on the other hand, indeed, people want to do good for the environment and think “Oh, okay well if you have the solution, I’ll gladly come to you.” It is nice that there really are two sides. 

Nadia: And do you think your fashions will change the way people wear clothing? Do you think that if people have environmentally friendly clothing, they won’t go shopping as easily on the high street?

Laura: No, I don’t think that that can happen only through my clothing, but I try as much as possible to show what happens when someone orders from me. I make little videos of the production process, and I am in contact with the clients themselves, so that we can make adjustments if we need to to make it more their own. And from there, I hope that the clients are really excited for the piece of clothing so that they value it and love it for a long time, and then if they need anything new, they can come back to me. 

Nadia: I used to go shopping more, but I noticed that when you become friends with someone who makes clothes, you wear clothes in a different manner. I certainly think that changes in how you dress can come about when people become more conscious. I always make comparisons to food, but when you get used to buying organic seasonal foods, then you really can’t buy strawberries in the winter anymore. You know that it won’t be the same and that it won’t taste good. I think that it can work the same way with clothing.

Laura: Yes, for sure! I completely agree. I had a conversation with an old friend who asked “What do you do now? Do you not buy any more clothing for yourself?. Firstly I make it myself, and then I don’t need to buy anything, but if I do need to buy something I can shop at a secondhand store. And then she asked me “Are you a clothing vegetarian?” I guess it is certainly similar! I think that in both situations you mentioned, where you became interested in the clothing made by your friend, and when people make decisions surrounding food, both of those situations are because people have received information about something and can better know what their effect is on their surroundings, and then can make a choice. It is really beautiful when that happens. Because then they’ve thought to themselves “Oh, I have an impact, so I can change the way that I do things.”

Nadia: There are many different judgements surrounding sustainable fashion. 

Laura: Yes, very many. That it is very expensive, that it’s for hippies, that it is for a very selective club, and I can actually argue against all of those. First, that it is too expensive. I cannot look in anyone’s wallet, but at the same time, maybe we should be asking if other clothing is actually too cheap and we are not paying the actual price? And that it is for hippies, well look at my clothes! I don’t think it is for a hippie. And lastly, people say “It is for a selective club, not for me!”, that is a big thing that we frequently hear. I think that people are a bit anxious and think “Oh, if I do this one thing, then I have to do all of the rest of it. If I buy sustainable clothing, then I can’t buy meat anymore, and I have to hug trees!” But that is really not the case, you have to understand that even doing one small thing can have a big effect. You don’t have to buy just sustainable clothing, you can buy a lot less clothing, you can go to a secondhand store or a vintage clothing shop. And then if you buy new clothing, think “Will I wear this more than thirty times?” and if it isn’t so, then maybe you don’t buy it. I think also that all these little tips and tricks are, in my opinion, more sustainable than just saying “I am only going to buy sustainable clothing.” That sounds like a really big endeavor to me as well, and I also don’t know what that precisely entails. 

Nadia: Do you see yourself as a fashion activist?

Laura: When I think of a fashion activist, I think of someone holding a bunch of picket signs, and that is totally not my approach. I am certainly like an activist in my message, I like to spread facts because I think they have power and that once people have information they can decide for themselves what they should do with it. I find it nice to do it in a gentle way, because when people say to me “You must do this” or “You shouldn’t do it that way” I get a bit annoyed myself. So, what I would rather do is give people an example of how I myself have made a change, because I used to buy clothing from H&M and Primark as well, and later thought “Oh that really wasn’t so good”. So that is what I often do to relate to people, is tell them “Look, I used to want to do that as well, but now I know better and want to do something different.” So I am an activist, but I have a softer layer on the outside.

Nadia: And do you think you have a chance against the big brands that you named? 

Laura: Yeah, I certainly think so. And I think that it is because we are free to be unique and it is certainly because we offer sustainable clothing, and by sustainable, I mean good for people and the earth, and we offer a high end look. What I often see is that high end clothing isn’t produced sustainably, and sustainable clothing is then often not aesthetically pleasing, and then I really offer the best of both worlds. I think that there is surely a chance in this moment, as supported by the opportunities I’ve had in the past, like being scouted by Vogue Italia, doing shows in other countries, and speaking on tv on BNN about what I do.

Nadia: You are an entrepreneur, correct? And can you already provide for yourself in a financial way? 

Laura: Yes, I’m beginning to.

Nadia: And also for sustainability it means, I believe, you have to be able to make money to keep doing what you do.  

Laura: Yes, of course, that is somewhat challenging because you need to deliver a good product and therefore I have a lot of requirements in order to offer a sustainable product. I cannot give in easily in order just to make a lot of money. I could do that by producing in China for instance, but that goes against everything the brand stands for. So I might have less profit in the end but the other people that worked on the product were also able to earn a normal wage and that is worth a lot to me. 

Nadia: Has this pandemic influenced your work?

Laura: At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was cleaning their houses, and therefore, the clothing donation container was practically full every day, which for me meant more material for me to work with of course. But on the other hand, it was a little bit sad to see how much people were throwing away. At the same time, people certainly became more aware of what can occur locally. When you are all locked up in quarantine, you can look and see what is directly around you, which I profited from as a local producer. And then I can also share a beautiful message with inhabitants of Almere, so that was something we also saw. That was really nice.

Nadia: Beautiful! Do you think your solution is a local solution for Almere, or is it more worldwide?

Laura: At this moment, it is local, but it is an example of how things can be worldwide. I can of course send my products around the world, that is no problem, but it is nice for people to realize that doing things locally is really possible and that they can stimulate the economy locally. I am an example of how other places can also do things. I actually prefer to do things more locally, maybe it is a smaller undertaking, but I would rather do that and have someone from another country see it and think “Oh, that is a good idea, I’m going to do that too”. Instead of sending my products across the globe and thereby preventing people in other countries from getting to know their local designers. 

Nadia: How do you see the future of sustainable fashion?

Laura: I think that the consumer will be more centralized. Right now the producers or the brands decide what people will wear, and trend forecasters play along as well. But it is very much the industry’s to give, and the consumer’s to take. I think really, as you get closer to the consumer, and ask “What do you really need? What do you find important?” then you don’t need to produce extra and you can just do what is asked. Then the consumer feels more seen and heard, and they value their clothing more. On the other hand, I also think that digitizing is really important for the future of fashion. If you look at the clothing that is made, it is still made with sewing machines, which is something many people don’t really realize, that the t-shirt they own is made on a sewing machine. That really creates an old-fashioned image, that clothing must still be made by hand. Right now, everything is digital, everything is smart, everyone is connected with one another, so why is clothing produced in such an old manner? It saves money, but I see a hopeful change there in mechanizing. But what you do already see is in terms of digitizing, is that a piece of the manner in which fashion is presented has become digital. When the catwalks were shut, designers didn’t have to make an entire physical collection that is often only made for the catwalk. Now, only a digital presentation is needed as a basis for people to find what they want to order, and then it can be made. I hope to see that more in the future. Now if after hearing this podcast, you feel inspired to do something like this too, just do it! That’s where it begins, and if you want to make changes, make those too! You don’t have to do this alone. There are so many other people who also want to change. You can also reach out to existing entrepreneurs from higher up who might find what you are doing interesting and see if they will work with you. I think that if we can work together more, and acknowledge that we are all striving to be better, then the whole fashion industry can become sustainable, so just do it. 

To listen to the podcast, click here.