Columbia designer re-fashions futbol jerseys and it’s not what you think | EDGE talks to Juan Pablo Martinez

Did you know that futbol team, aka soccer, t-shirts are considered fast fashion and negatively impact the environment?  Sustainable fashion designer Juan Pablo Martinez thinks so.  He says, “the top 10 futbol teams alone, sell 17,500,000 100% polyester t-shirts every year”. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 08: A model walks the runway wearing Juan Pablo Martinez during NYFW Powered By hiTechMODA on February 08, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for hiTechMODA)

Juan is raising awareness of the waste and environmental impact the global soccer retail market fuels.  He says, “nobody needs 42 futbol shirts; it is just senseless marketing and making us believe we need to show up to school or the stadium with the latest of the latest.  Juan is not new to the sustainable voices we expose at EDGE.  Inspired by Al Gore’s documentary on global warming and An Inconvenient Truth film, this environmentally responsible designer continues to offer purposeful collections with a sustainable narrative that we can’t ignore.

When we last talked to Juan his concern for the 300-600 tons of textiles thrown away each day in Bogotá, propelled him to produce a fashionable collection from discarded jeans.  He is prolific in taking discarded textiles and creating a new purpose for them, contributing to the circular fashion ecosystem, keeping textile waste out of the landfill.  It’s important to take into context the background, story, and opportunity in designing.  In his new collection, he pieces panels of discarded soccer jerseys with unused wool fabric from shuttered Columbian textile factories.

It is another form of fast fashion; creating programmed obsolescence and making millions of fans buy the latest home and away t-shirts. It did not use to be this way; a national team would change its uniform when it changed its coach.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 08: A model walks the runway wearing Juan Pablo Martinez during NYFW Powered By hiTechMODA on February 08, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for hiTechMODA)

What inspired you to do this collection?  Is there something significant to you with futbol?  Take us on a journey of how you collected these T-shirts to up-cycle in your collection, how many, from all countries, from the fans of your country?

I play soccer every Sunday at 7 a.m.  By all means, an extreme activity at this age, but training, scoring and winning makes my week.  Every Thursday night, during our practice sessions, I see the most audacious combinations of colored windbreakers, t-shirts, shorts, and socks.  In addition, my oldest kid dressed one day in our national team’s t-shirt and a Perfecto jacket, just the inspiration I needed for this collection.

The top 10 futbol teams alone, sell every year 17,500,000 100% polyester t-shirts.  Producing, washing and discarding them has a major impact in our planet, but nobody is looking that way.  Almost every country in the world has a national league, plus hundreds of amateur teams, plus millions of fans, which is a lot of people buying, washing and discarding plastic every year.

I had to do something. I decided to ask my teammates and friends to give me their used shirts, around 40 in total, so I could make clothes or part of clothes instead of throwing them away. Because a new uniform is bought every year, most of them come from past tournaments.  Others come from local, European, or national teams that are out of fashion.  The majority were in good condition, which makes it unnecessary to go out and buy new ones.  It is another form of fast fashion; creating programmed obsolescence and making millions of fans buy the latest home
and away t-shirts. It did not use to be this way; a national team would change its uniform when it changed coach.  On the other hand, unfair competition and smuggling ended a 120-year history for five Colombian textile factories, so the flannel wool I use for coats and trousers comes from the last rolls left in the market.

What would have happened to these t-shirts if not used for your purposes?

They would go into landfill; polyester is not biodegradable so it can take between 20 and 200 years at worst to decompose.  I try to raise awareness when you think of the millions of futbol t-shirts washed every year causing micro-plastic pollution and the environmental impact by methane generated in the landfill.  It is not necessary to buy the latest one to be cool.  During Brazil’s World Cup in 2014, my kid, then seven, had 42 shirts.  We bought most of them, some passed down from his cousins, but I was just thinking nobody needs 42 futbol shirts; it is just senseless marketing and making us believe we need to show up to school or the stadium with the latest of the latest.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 08: A model walks the runway wearing Juan Pablo Martinez during NYFW Powered By hiTechMODA on February 08, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for hiTechMODA)

Your collection was presented at the hitechModa fashion show at National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey NYC.  Out of the 40 t-shirts you received, how many pieces did you make for the show? 
It was a small show; we presented 7 looks per designer. The collection can be bigger but I only made 16 pieces – tops, a couple of shirts, coats, a long sweater, a short dress and trousers.

As a designer who up-cycles from discarded garments and/or fabric, what do you do if a boutique owner/buyer wants to carry substantial units?

I used to have a shop but had to close some years ago. Now I sell by special order, one on one to clients in Colombia and in the US.  How much is substantial?  Right now, I work with homeworkers (six in total) where one person is in charge of pattern, cutting and sewing and I am able to manufacture 60 pieces per month.  Each one of them specializes in a product category.  I can respond to orders by a boutique owner under that quantity.  If orders were bigger then I would go to small factories that can put together a higher number of garments.

With manufacturing those higher numbers, what are the lead times and are there any restrictions?

Two weeks for pre-production, 12 weeks for manufacturing 180 pieces, and 3-4 weeks for delivery to the US. That is around 5 months in total.  There is a Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US, so I am only able to work with Colombian or American textiles, and production can only be made here or in the US.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 08: A model walks the runway wearing Juan Pablo Martinez during NYFW Powered By hiTechMODA on February 08, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for hiTechMODA)

I ask this question often to emerging designers who use the fashion show for exposure.  Did hitechModa give you the exposure you were looking for?

Yes it did, locally, in Colombia. Not in the US.

How important is it for you to have buyers at these fashion shows?

10/10.

Was there value in your costs spent on the show?  How did you benefit?

Yes.  Although it was a very small show, it was an official NYFW event.  Down here, it seems as a very big thing that I showed in NY.  Clients and the public perceived this as much bigger and more important than it actually was.  Anyway, it was a first step and there will probably be another show in September.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 08: A model walks the runway wearing Juan Pablo Martinez during NYFW Powered By hiTechMODA on February 08, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for hiTechMODA)

What are customers saying about your collection, sustainable fashion, are they interested, do they feel more brands should be conscious like you?

I am still selling to a conscious consumer. The one that understands the story behind each garment and the impact clothes have on our planet. They still value design over sustainability but I know they feel proud enough to tell their peers about their latest acquisition.  I guess customers do wish to acquire more sustainable clothes, but it is still a niche market.  At www.universomola.com they may find more brands from Latin America.

Once again, Juan, EDGE congratulates your intuitive re-fashion vision.  Not only are your designs aesthetically appealing but an inspiration to a circular fashion system.

Credits:

Photo:  Brian Ach for Getty Images and hiTechMODA
Make-up:  HAMU by New York Make Up Academy
Location:  National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey NYC
Bags by Carro. www.ensamblecarro.com.ar