The Portrait

The Portrait

Interview with Javier Goyeneche, ECOALF

When Spanish designer Javier Goyeneche came up with the idea of combining fashion, design and sustainability in 2009, many people looked at him with suspicion. How was it possible to make high-quality jackets with a modern design while recycling plastic bottles?

This was one of the challenges Javier Goyeneche set himself when he created ECOALF, a sustainable fashion and design brand, which aims to “create a new generation of recycled products with the same quality and design as the best non-recycled products.”

For ECOALF, waste is a raw material that can be recovered, not only with the aim of reducing the amount of waste generated every day, but also to show that another model of development is possible.

By Carolina Ortiz Jerez
Can you tell us how ECOALF was born?

ECOALF was born in 2009 from the need to create a truly sustainable fashion brand. The most sustainable thing to do was to stop using the planet’s natural resources. Therefore, recycling could be an option, if we were able to create a recycled product with the same visual and technical qualities as the best products already on the market.

Before creating ECOALF, you had another company...

Before ECOALF, I had founded another fashion company called Fun and Basics. I sold it in 2008 because I got a little tired of the fashion world. That’s when I decided to work in the sustainability world.

I spent a year looking for a foundation or a project that could have a positive environmental impact in Spain, but I didn’t find one. I finally decided to create a company that would bring fashion and sustainability together. That’s how ECOALF was born.

In previous interviews you have said that “ECOALF is not a fashion brand”. Could you explain the meaning of this sentence?

What I mean by this is that ECOALF wants to represent three very clear values, which are: sustainability, innovation and design. As these three values can be transversal to any sector, we associate ourselves with different projects in which these three values are present. That’s why, in addition to clothing, we are working on projects to launch a new line of furniture and a line of stationery.

So, more than a brand, ECOALF is a concept?

We understand that more than a fashion brand, ECOALF is a lifestyle. It is a way of understanding life, of consuming and of acting.

We always say that nowadays it’s not what we do, but how we do it. Anyone can build a building, but how energy efficient is that building? 

It’s part of a lifestyle where we are responsible for what we consume and what we do.

ECOALF recycles waste that is then used to make clothing and accessories. Could you tell us how this process works?

We recycle many different types of waste: plastic bottles, fishing nets made of Nylon® 6 (which is the best quality polyamide in the world), leftover cotton, cashmere and wool from some factories, used tires… . Each material has a different recycling process.

For example, in the case of fishing nets, in general, oil is used to make a polymer and then to make the thread. At ECOALF we do it differently. We take the fishing net, we transform the existing polymer and from there we make the yarn. 

What are the advantages? If the source is oil, it takes 17 chemical steps, and if you take it from the net, it takes 7. That’s why there are so many water and energy savings that are very present in this type of chemical transformation.

In the case of polyester, is it a long or short fiber?

We work with continuous polyester fiber. We do not work with broken fibers, like those used for polar fiber. This one releases about 20,000 filaments every time you wash it. So we only make continuous filament that doesn’t deteriorate over time.

So the filament you use does not generate micro plastic?

It does, but at a very low percentage. We have now launched the 1.0 line, a filament that releases 0.0002 filaments per wash, which is virtually zero.

What has been the public experience with the ECOALF proposal?

It went through different phases. At first, it was complicated because for many, the concept of recycling was pejorative. People had this idea of “I’m going to take my grandmother’s old comforter and make a backpack out of it”.

The concept of recycling was associated with the hippie world, bad quality, bad design, etc. 

It took many years of effort to make people realize that it is possible to make a recycled product with the same quality and design as non-recycled products.

In general, consumers blame slow fashion brands for their high cost. Do you think there is a need to educate consumers so that they know the real value of the clothes they buy?

I have no doubt about that. At the end of the day, when you see a T-shirt that costs 4.90 euros in a store on the Champs Elysées, which is 3,000 m2 and employs 150 people, you realize that this T-shirt costs 2 cents. This is not sustainable, neither for the T-shirt manufacturer, nor for the planet.

When we go to universities to give lectures, there is a young audience, very militant and very conscious, but at the same time, they still want to buy 15 T-shirts per year at 5 euros. It’s not possible and I always tell them to buy less, because in the end they don’t need that much.

I think we are in a society where quantity is more important than quality, and this has a huge impact. There will be 2 billion more people in 2050 and there are not enough forests, not enough water, not enough landfills to keep accumulating so much waste.

One of the characteristics of ECOALF is the permanent collaboration with other brands or personalities. Do you plan to collaborate with emerging designers who are also interested in slow fashion, but cannot afford recycled or eco-responsible fabrics due to their high value?

We like to do collaborations and alliances. We get involved in some very nice projects that we really like, even outside of our sector, but it is true that it is a matter of time and resources. We wish we could do more, but we have a lot of internal work to do.

Have you thought about selling the rolls of fabric you no longer use?

We are in the process of talking to a company, because we have stock, that we will probably give it all to, so they can put it up for sale.

ECOALF has promoted various waste recovery projects, one of the most iconic being "Upcycling the Oceans". Can you tell us what it consists of and what its impact has been?

“Upcycling the Oceans” is probably the most ambitious and beautiful project of the company, which belongs to the ECOALF Foundation.

Already in 2014, we were aware of the problem of waste in the ocean. We convinced three fishermen from Villajoyosa, a town in Alicante, Spain, to let us install a small container on their boats to dump the waste that gets caught in their nets when they go fishing, and then take it back to the port.

What started with three fishermen, now involves 3400 fishermen in Spain and more than a thousand tons of waste are removed from the bottom of the sea. Our goal now is to replicate this project throughout the Mediterranean. 

The goal for 2025 is to work with about 10,000 fishermen from Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Croatia and Tunisia, in what could be a very large project to clean up the Mediterranean.

What are the challenges of ECOALF?

ECOALF is a fashion brand that does things differently and we have many challenges, but there are two that we are obsessed with.

The first is circularity. We will not be in a circular economy until we are able to turn 100% of our garments back into yarn. To do this, we are taking many steps, like not mixing materials or working with new materials, but there is still a lack of technology.

Secondly, we are very concerned about the issue of microfilaments.

What are ECOALF's next projects? Your website indicates that you are creating a line of sofas.

This is a collaboration with a brand called Viccarbe. It’s a beautiful project that we’ve been working on for two years, trying to create furniture based on circularity.

One of the first products to go on sale is the sofa. The fabric is ECOALF and it is designed so that at the end of its life cycle, the sofa is divided into 6 very simple pieces.

The interesting aspect of the project, which is the longest part, is that all the interior of the sofa is made with a system of layers taken from the polyurethane of discarded mattresses.

In Spain, 1.2 million mattresses are thrown away every year. That’s why we work with the first factory that has been created to recycle these mattresses and create a very good quality polyurethane.

The best part is that the place where the sofa is made and the factory that recycles the polyurethane are located within 20 km of each other, which reduces the distance and gives us total traceability.

Where is it possible to access your products?

We sell our products in department stores, in our stores in Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Tokyo and Paris, and on our website.