Interview with Marlene Oliveira: designer and owner of  Tecidos Ecológicos (Eco-friendly  Fabrics)

By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2016)

Marlene Oliveira

Marlene Oliveira is a Portuguese young designer[i] who is building a brand which respects worker’s rights, the environment and animal rights. She has won several contests for young designers in Portugal. In an inspirational place, surrounded by nature, Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law -WFMFR) spoke with the designer about her brand mission, her will for affirmation as a fashion designer and her business of eco-friendly fabrics.[ii]

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Tell me about your journey as a designer and the idea of creating a business selling eco-friendly fabrics.

Marlene Oliveira: I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer because I found that in this profession there would be a way of practising all kinds of art that I liked and, at the same time, I could create something new that would be useful to people. I’ve always liked drawing and creating new things. It had never crossed my mind that I would have an eco-friendly business. My main goal had always been to become a designer and have my own brand in order to express my inner world. However, I wanted to use materials that were in line with my personal values. I am vegetarian, I do yoga, I have a very close connection with nature, so it made no sense to use fabrics that are made with disregard for nature as well as the rights of workers. That was when I started to look for alternatives. When I went to university in 2005, the supply of ecological fabrics was almost non-existent in Portugal. It was then I began to think: well if I want to use this type of fabric, then there must be other designers and consumers who feel the same way but do not have this possibility. And so I began to import ecological fabrics and putting them online so that designers, artisans and people in general could buy the fabrics they wanted without the requirement for minimum quantities.

Left: Bio linen top. Photo by JPortela/Courtesy of Marlene Oliveira

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What are the characteristics that define your fabric as environmentally-friendly? Are they subjected to any certification process?

Marlene Oliveira: Yes. They are all ecologically certified, the fibre is certified. One example is that I use a lot of organic cotton. It doesn’t have any pesticides, chemicals or harsh dyes, instead it is 100 % organic. The fabrics are also certified Fair Trade. The fabrics have, for example, a GOTS certification, ensuring that only by this process, the fabrics simultaneously meet the ecological and fair trade requirements.[iii] That is to say that, if the fabric is only eco-friendly and yet does not respect the features of Fair Trade, or vice versa, then GOTS will not certify this process. They have to be eco-friendly and respect the workers’ rights so that the fabric can get the GOTS certification.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): As a general rule, when the average consumer chooses to buy a piece of clothing or when the media advertises a piece of clothing, they do it because it’s a trend, because someone famous wore it or because it’s aesthetically beautiful. When it comes to purchases, the material used in clothing, whether it be synthetic or natural fabrics, ends up taking a back seat. Do you believe that fabrics which are in contact with our skin must be just like it, a kind of second skin, for our well-being and balance?

Marlene Oliveira: Yes. That's what I try to promote when using organic materials. I have made clothes using polyester, but they were always recycled polyester. I have also created two collections for a children's clothing brand. Children get many allergies from synthetic material so fabrics that are eco-friendly are also hypoallergenic. Furthermore, when I wear an outfit made of organic cotton, for example, I feel much better, it gives out a better energy.

Left: Black dress with handmade texture, made of organic cotton. Right: Atacama Desert photo by Lígia Carvalho Abreu

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Marlene, you define your brand as a mission brand. You have a campaign called “Quando amares a tua própria pele, serás capaz de amar a deles” (When you be able to love your own skin, you will be able to love theirs). Is the brand Marlene Oliveira and Eco-friendly fabrics vegan?

Marlene Oliveira: I have always wanted to create a vegan brand. Even if I could not find ecological fabrics, using real animal skin would be out of the question. I think love is the foundation to everything. This may sound a little corny, but in truth, when we have love within us, it is easier to be in touch with nature, thus respecting animals, ourselves and other human beings. When we love ourselves, we love our skin. We want to take care of it; we don’t want to damage it with harmful fabrics that are made of chemicals; we don’t want to wear clothes made from the use of polluting techniques, slave labour or a disregard for the rights of workers. Love is the basis of everything; when we love ourselves, it’s easy to love others, including animals too. That was the message I wanted to convey, if we love our skin, we will also love them, the animals and other humans.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Your eco-friendly fabrics are certified Fair Trade. This certification is an added value to the brand.

Marlene Oliveira: Yes, it means that the fabric is made in companies that respect the workers' rights for a fair wage, hygienic conditions, health and safety when at work, in breaks, vacation etc ... My brand Manuela Oliveira is also governed by the values of Fair Trade.

Left: Bio linen top and skirt. Right: Atacama Desert photo by Lígia Carvalho Abreu

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): In your opinion Marlene, what’s wrong with the current system of producing and consuming fashion products? What should change?

Marlene Oliveira: The ways in which some garments are produced are very harsh. For example, conventional cotton cultivation has caused respiratory disease in workers, which does not happen in organic cotton cultivation. Dyes are really harmful and they usually end up in rivers. This irresponsible process really has to change. As for the consumer, it is necessary to raise their awareness by having them look at the label, not in the sense of encouraging prejudices against the country where the clothes are produced, for example, Made in China or Made in India is not always synonymous with irresponsible industry. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the country but with the company instead. The consumer must find out who the manufacturer is, how it works, what kinds of fibres they use and what their corporate responsibility policy is regarding the protection of the environment and workers' rights.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What difficulties have you faced regarding the affirmation of your brand and your values?

Marlene Oliveira: The difficulties that I go through are the same difficulties that all young designers experience in Portugal. While there are several events and associations that promote the work of young designers, such as the contest, Bloom (Portugal Fashion), the Sangue Novo (Moda Lisboa) or the competition Young Creators, there is still a lot to do regarding the purchase of fashion designs made by young Portuguese artists. Seeing as Marlene Oliveira is an eco-friendly brand, I have had a lot of publicity as far as on a media level. However, I still have trouble getting through to those consumers who aren’t very aware of environmental issues and fair trade. So, I do my campaigns, such as “Quando amares a tua própria pele, serás capaz de amar a deles” (“When you be able to love your own skin, you will be able to love theirs”) to open up minds. Despite the ecological part adding value to my brand, there is a whole lot of work on my part to design the pieces that I want to be appreciated and valued as well.

Left: Dress made of organic cotton and linen Right: Atacama Desert photo by Lígia Carvalho Abreu

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What are your priorities as a designer and your future aims?

Marlene Oliveira: I want my brand to be self-sustaining. I design for other brands. That’s my main source of income. My greatest wish is to live off my brand and my eco-friendly fabrics project. My aim is to soon open up my first store Marlene Oliveira close to nature which is where I feel good. And above all, I want my brand to convey its message to reach the world.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Would you like to leave a message for the consumers?

Marlene Oliveira: Learn what I’m learning. The messages that I pass are also for me. I’m also learning to love myself and to love others. If we love ourselves, we can love each other, animals as well as the planet. Thus, it is much easier to do the right things.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR):  Thank you Marlene for this interview.

Marlene Oliveira: Thank you

 

[i] Marlene Oliveira design, http://www.marleneoliveira.pt/

[ii] Tecidos Ecológicos (ecologic fabrics), https://tecidosecologicos.com/