Fashion, like any other industry, has a social and an environmental responsibility. We have to be faithful to our vision, our style and the costumer, but we also must never forget that both the materials and the people we choose to work with have a cost – and it is our duty, we believe, to balance those costs in a way that better serves not only our customers but the communities where we do business as well.
When we started our brand, we wanted to be able to make things right from the start. We strongly believe – we know – that no creative process is ever compromised by restraint (quite the contrary, actually, as the likes of Queneau and Perec, from the French OuLiPo movement, have taught us). In fashion restraints come, mostly, from the things you choose to design, the materials you choose to work with and how and where you choose to manufacture them. What usually happens is that, when you give yourself all the freedom in the world, you end up creating things made from plastic polymers, harvested half a world away in questionable conditions that are, then, assembled in China. Which might be fine for people who are just trying to buy some cool and affordable piece of clothing – and we’re not judging, we have all done and will continue to do that at some point in our lives – but what happens then is that the great plastic island in the Pacific continues its growth and people on the other side of the world will keep working in poor conditions so somebody else can save a buck.
Carbon footprint, social responsibility and sustainable growth aren’t just buzzwords or memes to be scoffed at. They’re the only right path forward in a world with finite resources and a dynamic biosphere. It is the responsibility of the producers, we think, to lead by example.
We started INA KOELLN with those ideas in mind. Right from the beginning we wanted to work with organic, sustainable materials that would make a minimum impact on the environment. More importantly, though, if we are global citizens, we also end up belonging to the places where we choose to live and work.
INA KOELLN is an European fashion brand, created in Germany and developed in Portugal, so we found it was paramount to base our operations in Europe and, more specifically, in Portugal. Even though we’re German, Portugal, right now, is our home. We ended up adopting it as much as it adopted us, so it only made sense, as a fashion brand, to produce our products locally. Industries keep communities alive and flourishing; if they leave, the local communities wither and suffer. This is also part of a brand’s social responsibility, so choosing to create and produce things locally instead of moving our production overseas has its benefits and costs. It is a struggle to find manufacturers that will accept to produce small quantities at affordable prices. But we prefer to be faithful to our ideals of fair trade, social responsibility and minimum environmental impact and spend a bit more on our bags. It is important, we feel, for our customers to be able to know and understand the choices that we make are translated into a price tag on our products so that they, then, can also make an informed choice of buying or not buying INA KOELLN.
A by-product of all of this is that, when you finally find someone perfect to work with, not only you get all the benefits of being near your manufacturers – you can follow the production process and implement much more easily your quality control – but you also end up creating a true relationship with people. That’s why we can safely say that Mr. Barata, Mr. Barata’s son and Dona Teresa are almost like a second family to us and that we’re proud of our contribution to the local economy. Plus, it has its perks: when you live near the coast, having a manufacturer nearby lets you take quick hop on the beach to surf before a meeting. It’s just like free yoga classes, only better.