“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

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How important is Sustainable development to Beara Beara?

This was a question I was asked in a recent interview and have been asked on many occasions before. Because of our ethical work practices people seem to love labelling us an ‘Ethical Fashion Brand’. True we are ethical but maybe I have a thing about being labelled.

I explained that at Beara Beara we have tried to incorporate sustainable practices into our everyday practices not to ‘save the planet’ but to feel more in touch with what we do in life. There are no dramatic ‘answers’ of how to combat the degradation of the environment but at the very least we can make conscientious decisions, after all consumer products are not the be all and end all!

Eco fashion is apparently a growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability focused on creating a system that takes care of both environment and society. Its true we do fit into the category but we feel we are so much more than this. We want to integrate these traits into our world as well as fun, experience, love, quality, meaning, friendship, creativity to name but a few. So being eco friendly can be difficult when dealing with a raw product, the suppliers of that product and especially in a less wealthy country, but we do have plans for the future, which include sourcing our hides directly from the meat factories and processing them ourselves.

3The fashion that we belong to is a combination of style, meaning and long lasting. We are not transient or temporary. You don’t buy a Beara Beara for today, you buy one to accompany you on your journey through life. Ok we can’t give an exact timeframe for this but we don’t believe in throwaway fashion, wear it once and seeing as it was so cheap we might as well bin it. We believe in owning products that you are proud of. So it’s exactly slow fashion but more of a proud fashion.

One of the words that is written large on our office wall is UNIQUE. For us this word defines a large part of what we do. We don’t look at what other brands are doing and try and compete. We look at what is important to us in life. Unique is not saying make an effort to be different, it means be yourself. Everyone on the planet is unique and we like to celebrate this. What we don’t want to do is to promote a concept that encourages people to blindly follow the crowd, which a lot of high street chains base their strategies on. Don’t try and be like your neighbour, be yourself. With this in mind we feel extending our range and creating an array of designs and colour combinations will give our customers more chance of finding that bag that will fit to them. A purchase should be for you and not because a celebrity or a corporation say it is!

The majority of hides we use are sourced as a bi-product of the meat and food industry. This means the cattle are reared for milk and meat and if we did not use these skins for making bags they would go to waste. You can see on all our bags there are natural imperfects and scars that have been picked up by the cattle in their life. We feel these scars give our bags a lot of unique character and prove these were ordinary cattle and not bred in isolation solely for their hides. There are areas where we can improve on and as the company grows we will look for ways to reduce our footprint on the planet. Whenever possible we source environmentally friendly materials and vegetable tanning in place of chrome tanning to produce the hides.

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For now our social impact is what drives us forward and we feel so proud to be in contact with our Bolivian employees who work with such dedication and commitment. They are a joy to be around and the environment in the workshops is simply positive with talk of future plans and improvements. The workshops have also physically improved vastly with many new safety procedures and equipment available and a more comfortable family orientated environment in which to work. This all stems from the job security, a fair wage and the community atmosphere we have strived to create. We are all working towards the same goal and it just shows if you work hard in life you shall be rewarded.

 

We also feel an integral part of what we are doing is about preserving culture. As with most countries a degradation of culture and tradition has been experienced in Bolivia, with cheap t-shirts and jeans replacing the traditional amazing long flowing dresses and western music now overpowering the sounds of wooden flouts in the streets. One aspect of the culture we have been involved with is the preservation of aguayo designs.

Aguayo to explain are the colourful handwoven clothes that are used to tie on your back and carry everything from shopping to babies. When we began the business we collected antique aguayos, fascinated by their history and uniqueness. Our customers agreed with our admiration and these satchels began to sell extremely fast. This left us in a situation where we needed more antique cloths in order to fulfil the demand. Several visits to villages were uncomfortable as we purchased people’s airlooms and proceeded to use them to decorate our designs. The people were not sad to see their old cloths go however there was so much meaning with patterns and designs woven by their elders and past down through generations. We decided this would have to stop and even though this practice still exists today with wealthy dealers buying for cheap and selling to tourists for extortionate prices we chose to go the opposite direction.

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Having found the Loza family we began work to reproduce and recapture some of those amazing designs that were being desecrated elsewhere. Today you can continue to see these cloths on many of our bags such as the Mochata, Mochita, Bambina, Sol, Luna, Juanita and Mini. Some of these are not as intricate as the antiques and even though that they may not sell as fast as the antique versions we are proud of our stance of preservation rather than desecration. These aguayos are hand woven on a large loom with locally sourced  llama wool and 100% natural dyes.

So I guess my message is that its important for everyone to find those few aspects of sustainability you can contribute to in life and focus on them. This will not take away from your standard of living but lessen the impact we have on the planet for further generations. Be happy, be considerate, in equal measures.