Sustainable Mastermind #1: Marita Bartelet

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Sustainable Mastermind #1: Marita Bartelet

Ta da, you just opened the first interview from our brand new series: Sustainable Masterminds. Sounds promising huh? From now on, we'll introduce you to an expert in the galaxy of sustainable fashion and design every month. Today we kickoff with Marita:

Marita represents Avanti, C.Pauli, Fritsch Färberei, Rubia Natural Colours and several sustainable textile brands from allover the world. With her company, webshop and textiles centre Ecological Textiles she develops and sells well-known 'green' fabrics like organic cottons, hemp and linen, but also more specialized products like organic cotton plush and lace, beeswax-coated fabrics, bark and hemp ribbons. Marita simply has it all. And if she hasn't got it, she'll make sure she does. It's what she did amongst others for the one and only Bruno Pieters from the label Honest By.

So. How did you become an expert in sustainable textiles and dyes?

'I've studied industrial textile design and was always interested in nature and the environment. Ten years ago I started thinking about developing high-tech and innovative, yet environmentally friendly fabrics. I searched allover the world and discovered beautiful fabrics. Soon I was representing my first company at fashion tradeshow Première Vision; the Japanese company Avanti.'

Which environmental problems do you tackle with Ecological Textiles?

The search for renewable resources is the theme in all of my work. Synthetic fabrics are made of scarce mineral oil, but there are plenty of natural, renewable sources available for our textile needs. I want to show the possibilities and applications of these natural textile fibers. Flax for example is a great material. It grows naturally and it's possible to make very fine fibres and fabrics from it. Wool is another beautiful natural product. We work with wool from 't Groene Hart to make fine wool cloth. Studio JUX used it in its coats for Winter 2014. Most of the current sportswear synthetics could already be replaced with wool fabrics.'

Ha! Wool for sportswear? Winter sports you mean?

'It's not only suitable for winter sports, but also for summer sports. It can be made into very soft sports-suitable fabrics. Wool consists of hollow fibres that serve as 'pockets' for air, thus making it the perfect breathable insulator. Wool will keep you warm and cool, depending on the structure of the cloth.

With a new, sustainable technology it's possible to rework the fibers and make it ready for everyday washing. This technology is called the Corona treatment; it's a high voltage treatment in the fibres that rounds the edges so the wool will not felt.'

What start-up troubles did you come across and how did you tackle them?

'There's the ongoing trouble of techniques clashing and things that at first seem impossible to produce. Dyeing with natural pigments in general is difficult for companies, since it hasn't been done for over a century. All the knowledge about natural dyeing has disappeared. It takes a lot of time, effort and money, meetings and talks with production people to merge everybody's knowledge into a workable and sustainable solution.'

What happened to natural colours?

'When in 1870 the process of synthetic dyes was developed, it soon replaced all natural dyes because it was a lot cheaper and easier to produce. Dutch company Rubia Natural Colours made a strong effort to bring natural dyes back to life and back to our attention. The company has managed to develop natural dye powders that can be used in conventional dyeing machines.'

How does Rubia Natural Colours bring natural dyes back on top of designer's minds?

'A hugely important project for the awareness of natural dyes is Tinctorial Textiles, a project in collaboration with the Dutch design company Raw Color. They've experimented with our plant dyes and designed a series of 13 differently coloured panels of semi translucent, wool. These 13 colours are the result of combining and mixing colours of only three plants; the madder root for red hues, woad for blue and reseda for yellow hues. Tinctorial Textiles have been used by interior designers Van Eijk & Van der Lubbe and in May this year Ecological Textiles finished a huge project for Craft, the new London restaurant of Stevie Parle and Tom Dixon. The interior is decorated with a wide range of blue textiles, dyed with woad, the European indigo. You should definitely check it out when you're in London. The food is supposed to be pretty good too!'

Great tip. What's the next step for your sustainable project?

'We're scaling up the production of Tinctorial Textiles and we're focusing on improving hemp textiles. It's one of the most challenging fibres of the moment. To make it adaptable for fashion, it's got to be finer and softer. We can do this with enzymes, but it should also be possible to change the fibre during cultivation.'

Pssst, name a company you secretly want to team up with.

'One of my favourites is Hess Natur, because they are very consequent in using the most sustainable materials; they choose the cleanest processes; take care about the people who make the clothes and prefer to produce in Europe.'

Which 'Sustainable Mastermind' is inspiring you?

'Chieko Watanabe, director of Japanese fabric company Avanti Co. She's a true pioneer in changing the conventional fabric's production chain. Thirty years ago she started the first fully sustainable clothing line named Pristine and it has been a huge success ever since. Her expertise is amazing and unique.'

Favourite sustainable products. Name one.

'Onora's bio-based coffin, for sure. Designer Marieke Havermans developed a coffin made of plant-based fibres. We provided her with the interior materials for an organic cotton sheet and pillow and a hemp mattress. It is a beautiful product.'

Got some tips for Sustainable Masterminds-to-be?

'Make clear choices in your sustainable processes and start with the subject that's most important to you. It's much easier to start with one topic that you're really interested in than focusing on all topics together. '

We're all homo sapiens, so...what's your not-so-sustainable guilty pleasure?

'I take really long showers every now and then. I do think about the impact of my consumption with everything I do, also when I'm taking a shower. So I do realise this is a sin. A minor one, right? '