Inclusive accessories for an imperfect world: the story of re.store

By:
Anna Roos van Wijngaarden
Date:
January 17, 2024

It’s not easy to tackle both the social and environmental sides of sustainability within the same profitable business model. re.store has found a way, based on the premise that the Circular Economy is not merely an ideal but a modus operandi.

The Portuguese brand has developed an eco-responsible, inclusive way of working to demonstrate what better fashion production could look like. All re.store products are made by social institutions, associations, and social causes. By valuing and remunerating their work and self-esteem, the brand enables consumers to contribute to promoting social inclusion. In only 2.5 years, the company has paid €52,372.65 to social partners and upcycled 5.3 tons of fabric and textile accessories. It’s a win-win, and customers love it.

Silvia Correia played a key role from the beginning in turning re.store's value-based concept into a successful reality.

What is the heart, the big WHY, or core proposition of re.store?

We like to call ourselves a People-and-Planet-friendly textile brand. We want to transform many small worlds, one at a time, every day. All our products are made by social partners such as refugees who are paid fairly for their work. We promote their inclusion in society, encourage their development of physical and cognitive skills and their sense of belonging. We’re also involved in workshops, talks, conferences, and other forms of knowledge sharing in schools, universities and organizations.

On the environmental side, our promise is to optimize the usage of the planet's resources. We reuse textile and paper leftovers and waste from the production processes of the Portuguese textile industry to produce our sleeves, aprons, bags and all else.

Can you recall a project that you are particularly proud of?

We developed a project in February 2023 using all the 3Ps where our strategy lies: P for People, P for Planet and P for Pedagogy for change. It concerns a very interesting product called 'Lenço dos Namorados', which became a symbol of love within the Minho province, a territory that used to have many embroidery factories. Back in the days, girls that work there would pick up the yarn leftovers and take them home to embroider love letters. They contained many spelling mistakes, since most of them did not have a proper education; a girl in love would embroider her love letter in a handkerchief and have it delivered to the boy. If he loved her back, he would wear it when going to Sunday mass. It’s a symbol of the fierce will and determination of the women from Minho and it holds a powerful message about how we can do anything once we set our mind to something (or someone).

We challenged a local professional school (P for Pedagogy) to design two tote bags containing this love story, these embroideries, confectioned by elderly people. This is the P for People. It ended up being a group of six elderly women that suffer from Alzheimer, dementia, and other diseases. One of them was the 85-year-old Tia Julia. She’d wanted to learn how to sew since she was a little girl. We also involved a social institution for mentally and physically disabled young adults. As a bonus we asked 'Multimedia Course' students to take responsibility for the documentary that testifies all the steps within the project: idea, briefing, product development and design, confection, and launch. As for the P for Planet: all products were made from fabrics with defects and leftovers from the Portuguese textile industry. It is one of the most rewarding projects that we have accomplished so far and it has brought us much emotional return.

What does sustainability mean to you and the company?

Most of all: transparency throughout the process. Textile sustainability is the essence of our brand; we only work with upcycles materials from the Portuguese textile industry, thereby avoiding the incinerion of textile leftovers, defects, samples and others. We also work on the 'social sustainability' of our projects and products since all products are made by social partners – be it in their home, a prison facility, a retirement home or a school. Our production is based in Europe, mainly in the North of Portugal. We are now building a project that will promote social and economic inclusion and integration of the least favored families. All social partners must write a fiscal receipt to ensure the fiscal transparency of our brand.

What sustainable concept do you believe in, one that will become mainstream in the future of fashion?

The Circular Fashion Economy, in which we shift our approach from the traditional linear model (make, use, dispose) to a circular economy where products are designed with the intention of being recycled, upcycled, or biodegraded at the end of their lifecycle. This includes the use of recyclable materials, designing for disassembly, and creating closed-loop systems where garments can be returned and regenerated into new products. Brands must increasingly explore ways to close the loop in fashion by creating garments from recycled materials, designing for durability and repairability, and establishing take-back programs for used clothing.

I also believe Clothing Rental Services will have a big role in this new system. The rise of rental platforms for special occasions or everyday wear is transforming the way people access and consume fashion. Instead of owning clothing items that might have a limited number of wears, such as a wedding dress, individuals can rent high-quality garments. This helps reducing the overall demand for new clothing production, cutting down on the environmental impact associated with manufacturing and disposal. It does require massive brand engagement and a change in mindset around consumption, business models, and design.

I believe these innovations align with the growing consumer awareness and emphasis on sustainability and efficiency in the fashion and textile industry, offering promising solutions to our environmental and social challenges. So yes, these practices are likely to gain more prominence in mainstream fashion.

Reworking our way into a system that doesn’t harm, but restores natural ecosystems and decent, respected labor. That is the idea behind re.store’s inspiring organizational culture. We’re incredibly proud to have them on our platform.