BY VICTORIA ROBLES
Sabrina Rodriguez Uzal is the Argentinian designer behind Germin.ar, a project in which she created sustainable clothing that, in addition to being worn, can be planted to become flowers or plants. This idea was born when she was studying Clothing Design at the University of Buenos Aires and she was asked to think about her thesis in 50 years in the future: "That's when I decided that I was going to follow that path, precisely so that my collections would not become waste in 50 years’ time. I began to become familiar with different noble and biodegradable materials in order to make a positive impact on the environment". Although the crafting of the materials and garments is complicated, the designer makes it seem easy when explaining it: "We have all kinds of materials that come from cotton and wool. Obviously, cotton is the part that is not so altered, although I dyed some naturally with onion skin, which correspond to those mustard shades that stand out in some sets. Felt is the iconic fabric of my collection - it is a handcrafted wool cloth. I make it myself from merino wool fleece, to which I add vegetable and flower seeds in order to generate plantable textile goods. This gives us the possibility to preset the useful life of the garment which, even though it is very durable, and the consumer decides when to stop using it, reinvents itself giving rise to another functionality different from the initial one". Sabrina works alone, and even though it sounds difficult for a single person to do all the handwork, she says she enjoys the creation process: "It is something I did not know I would enjoy. The act of kneading felt is physically exhausting, but at the same time it is almost therapeutic to spend hours having that direct hand-material contact". The second thing she likes most about creating collections is what comes next: people's acceptance of her work. At first she thought that they would question it or not understand how it works, but she received very good feedback and even won a contest last year, thanks to which she was able to better develop the line and present it at Designers BA, one of the most important fashion events in Buenos Aires.
Image: UZAL's Instagram account (@uzal.sustentable)
However, despite having a lot of knowledge and creativity, she still has difficulties as a sustainable designer: "When you buy fabrics from wholesalers it is very hard to get a 100% natural one; they are always mixed up. It's quite limiting and challenging, but that's also what a designer does, isn't it? To be able to find something and turn it into something else. Making my own fabrics freed me up a little bit from the stress of having to find the perfect fabric”. But where did the idea of adding seeds to the garments come from? The reference came from the plantable papers: "I bought a planner that had it, that followed that logic. The paper comes from a tree, but if you plant it once you finish using it, in the end it ends up closing a circle of evolution, and that's where the idea of using it on a textile came from. I started by testing it out, embroidering and so on. Obviously, for everyday use it was not viable to use something with embroidered seeds because it does not resist washing; it was going to germinate". That is how I ended up using the felt because, like recycled paper, it wraps around the seed and had a commercially viable result. Nowadays there are both new and already-established sustainable brands that are trying to change their way of production or recycling. Some do so because they genuinely care about the pollution they produce, but others see it as a "trend" and try to use it to their advantage. Rodriguez Uzal says: "Sometimes we don't know the background of some brands, but I do believe that sustainable fashion doesn't have to be just a trend, but a quality. In the future we should stop saying "this is sustainable, and this is not", because we should have sustainability already incorporated into the collections. I think there are designers who are beginning to be concerned about it, because there is a context that shows us, like the current one, that we paused for a month and magically the planet has recovered from the large percentage of pollution we produce. However, I also think there are many other brands that use it as a marketing strategy”. The impact that she wants to leave in the future with Germin.ar has to do with this outlook on the environment: "We can shift our attitude towards a more sustainable one. Every action we make has an impact on the environment or on us, and it is up to us to choose whether that impact is positive, neutral or negative". Moreover, she claims that nothing is impossible: "When I started thinking about this project, I saw the plantable papers and said 'I'm going to make a plantable cloth', and everyone looked at me as if I were crazy; I think nothing is impossible if you do enough research. I also believe it has to do with sharing information, trusting your colleagues and not being so close-minded about our ideas and thoughts, because the other person can always add something to the conversation”, stated Rodríguez Uzal.
Translated into English by Gema Coello