Meüne is a project of love, passion, and care for the people and the planet. With their crowdfunding campaign coming out on June 1 to make this project happen, I've had the opportunity to interview Nahir, their founder. Meüne is a true example of transparency, fashion sustainability and dedication — this is their inspiring story.
What is Meüne? What are your values as a business?
Meüne is a project that exists because of a strong will to show others that fashion can do better for people and our planet. It all started when I was confronted with the cruel reality in fashion, after living for 3 years in Paris: “La capitale de la mode”. I quit my career in finance and international affairs, because I wanted to work for change.
I like to think about Meüne as a project, more than a brand or business, because I created it with the sole purpose to help the fashion transformation and there’s more than clothing involved in Meüne. I want to help artisans share their stories with the world, this is why we work with weaving communities in Latin America. I believe this can contribute to the continuation of their culture and heritage, and make their wisdom a part of our contemporary world. Meune’s goal goes far beyond selling clothes. Having a brand within the project is a means to a higher and purposeful end.
Meüne's ethos is to slow down and think about the essential things that really matter to us, as humans. To go back to hands, and to go back to nature: reconnecting to ourselves and to one another, to our values and relationships that formed us, to our personal stories, to who we are, and where we belong.
Quality, transparency, activism and advocacy are our core values. They are drivers to our mission of making fashion meaningful, with stories and safer for all: fair labor and worker centering, circularity and low environmental impact, natural and organic materials, reviving local craftsmanship and women empowerment.
Your project brings sustainably and ethically made denim clothes to your customers, which is something I’m personally very inspired by. Could you explain to our readers how is it possible to make sustainable denim clothes?
To be sustainable and ethical, we are tackling all the aspects: the raw material that goes into our fabric, dyes and dyeing agents we use, the conditions of the factory that produces, as well as our production speed and quantity. We choose to work with the Candiani factory in Italy, which is helping us to achieve all of this.
For me, speaking of sustainability deserves speaking of quantity and speed of production first. You can have the most perfectly designed, sourced and manufactured piece of sustainable clothing, but if you produce it in high amounts and fast, it isn’t sustainable, almost by definition. So I’m gonna start by saying that our denim clothes are produced on demand only, and in small series. Because we work with artisans, the whole process takes time, so our clothes are slowly produced. This helps us to avoid dead stock, reduce waste and set a production limit. We also retrieve all denim scraps, which are really minimized by the workshop beforehand, to recycle them and make new clothes.
The second part is the sourcing: our clothes don't contain any polyester, only organic cotton.
We use 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, with no elastic or any other blends to make denim. Candiani, our factory in Italy, sources cotton directly from small fair trade certified farmers, located in Telangana, India.
While organic cotton is not without its flaws, it is grown on small-scale farms, without any synthetic pesticides or chemicals, making it safer for the farmers and the environment. This cotton also needs less water and energy.
The third is the dyeing, Candiani factory has a system in place to filter and reuse the water. They developed a dyeing technique they call Indigo Juice, to achieve the faded denim colour we all like. They use OEKO-TEX certified indigo, in a mix of non-toxic agents. Along with the Indigo Juice, the factory also uses natural and organic kitotex as a mordant (agent that makes the dye stick to the fabric). This dyeing process alone saves an estimated 33% chemicals, 25% energy, and 15% water.
The fourth is washing. Once done, the denim fabric is washed in a nearby laundry, in Piombino Dese. They use Ozone technology developed by Jeanología. This further saves up to 65% of water, 20% of energy, and 80% of chemicals.
About production conditions, it’s important to mention that Candiani factory is situated just outside Milano, in Parco Del Ticino, which has a status of a natural reserve. Because of this, it is operating under strict environmental regulations. The factory is known as “the greenest mill in the blue world". We also made sure that everyone working there is fairly paid.
It takes on average 4 months to produce our denim jackets, including the embroidery that goes on them. We take pride in this slow process and have no intention of speeding it up. We are also very cautious about the amount we produce. We work with a pre-order model, which allows us to only make the jackets that we know we will sell. This way there is no overproduction and extra waste.
Lastly, end of life of the garments. When our denim clothes life comes to an end it can go 3 ways: You can either compost it, sell it back to us (we will either upcycle or resell it in our second-hand shop to be set after we launch), or you can return it and get a discount for your next purchase. We have prepared a sort of a symbolic agreement where people, when purchasing Meüne clothes, engage in extending the life of the garment by any means possible before throwing it away. Though we know this doesn’t guarantee us anything, we are devoted to raising awareness of the importance of our clothes’ life cycle.
As we can read on your website, “Meüne is also an environmental and social activism project that runs fashion awareness campaigns and social projects in Latin America.” Could you talk a bit more about said campaigns and projects?
Before COVID-19 hit, I traveled to Andes and met the artisanal communities, in 2019. I’ve learnt a lot and got inspired by their weaving culture, but I also learnt about the difficulties they’re facing. I won’t extend on that here, but so you know, many of the communities live in high and isolated places where schools are nowhere near to be found. This makes it difficult for children to attend school, especially in such rural places.
I spoke with the communities first to see if they wanted to reverse this fact, and send their children to school. They were happy to hear that! Then I had conversations with several organisations in the region because I wanted to find a way to make school accessible to these children, so I shared some ideas with the project coordinators from different ONGs, this is something that takes time and need to be discussed further with the communities to see what they’d like to teach to their families. One of the social projects I have ongoing is this one, to collaborate with the communities and non-profit organizations to find a way to reduce the illiteracy rates in rural places, making school available to rural families.
Another project is to provide the weavers with solar panels and resources so they can build new looms, carding and washing systems to make the wool processing easier for them.
Sadly we have to put the projects on-hold due to COVID-19, but I’m still in continued conversations with the weavers and the ONGs. We will find our way, I’m positive!
As for the awareness campaign, I had the Fashion and Mind one ongoing at the moment, to raise awareness about the impacts the fashion system has on our mental health. I worked with Tena Lavernic as co-author to write a small paper trying to find the thread that connects our mind to clothes and analyse our relationship with them. Some of the concepts we explore in this guide are Enclothed Cognition, Dressing "in alignment" or "out of alignment", Compulsive buying behaviour, Oniomania, Cognitive Dissonance, and many more. But as I’m still a small scale project I don’t get the reach and impact many other bigger organizations might have. So I’m still working on that!
I have another campaign I wanted to carry out for a long time, actually since the beginning of this project and it’s in person. I remember sharing my idea with Tena from Thinking Threads to invite her onboard, which involved a small team travelling to places (in Europe at first) and doing workshops with local people to raise awareness and invite people to rethink fashion. There’s a lot to it, but I won’t spoil the surprise! Let’s see what happens after COVID life, but this one is so exciting!
Could you explain the manufacturing process of Meüne’s clothes? How does sustainability tie into it?
This question was partly answered before! So I will just share some more details here.
With Meüne, we want to celebrate and pay a special homage to the ancestral and traditional techniques of the native communities in The Andes. This kind of art is generations-old and should be there for the future. This is why we incorporate this art in our denim design: to reclaim it for the present and future while recognising the people who make it in the process. Meüne is a mix of timeless denim and traditional artisanal woven fabrics. Both components are made of responsibly sourced materials and are manufactured with the highest respect for the people and the planet.
The artisanal parts of our clothes are fully handcrafted using the ancestral wool process and weaving techniques by the indigenous communities in Puno, Peru. They take care of the whole process by hand: shredding, washing, carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving by hand, and using only natural resources such as rain water, flowers and plants. The weavers send them from Peru to France only twice a year, to reduce the overall carbon footprint of our production.
For the denim, once we get the fabric from the factory in Italy, we send it to the Normand atelier in France. Our denim base clothing is entirely manufactured here, in this small, family-owned atelier. This is where all the cutting, sewing and assembling happens. We are glad to work with this French atelier founded almost a century ago, well known for its 'savoir-faire' and high quality manufacturing, still working today in France. They're engaged in a sustainable development process, ensuring it at every stage of the production and carefully respecting garment workers rights. Also, they're committed to work with small ethical and sustainable brands in development, which is hard to find (it took me over a year!). The same atelier also sews the artisanal pieces, to add a unique character to our creations.
Our trimmings are made of organic cotton for sewing threads and brand/composition tag (they’re manufactured in France but we don’t yet know their source, something we are working on) and we use wooden buttons sourced from FSC certified forest in France and manufactured as well in France.
I can tie sustainability with the fact that we are lowering negative environmental and social impacts as much as we can: reducing carbon footprint and waste; creating long lasting pieces in a short production cycle; producing slowly, on-demand and in small series; creating 100% biodegradable detoxed denim, and ensuring close relationships with our suppliers and manufacturers to guarantee transparency and ethical working.
By taking a quick look at your website, we can see that your project is very transparent (thank you for that!). In your opinion, what makes a 100% transparent business, and why is it so important?
Brands must be able to tell the people how the entire process of making clothes is happening: From the raw material sourcing, to the last step of selling them in shopping windows/online marketplace, and going through the whole process with details and awareness. With its due aspects and risks involved in the making, so people can make informed decisions based on transparent facts. Nowadays, this isn’t an easy task for small and emerging brands because the system is utterly opaque, it took me 3 years to develop Meüne to be 100% transparent, ethical and sustainable! However, this is a job that brands must do. It’s not the responsibility of the citizens to investigate if a brand is ethical and sustainable themselves.
All the greenwashing, mainly from big brands, has created a situation of distrust between brands and customers that will be hard to reestablish without hard regulations for the use and claims on sustainability. Greenwashing is also so unfairly affecting small brands that are genuinely producing ethical and sustainable clothes, because of the scepticism big brands have created involving their practices claimed to be “sustainable”. Also, as big brands now have clothing lines claimed to be “sustainable” and big budgets, they have the control over the market, the marketing and the narrative, leaving small businesses really making a difference completely outside of the picture. Today it’s really a struggle to get the attention and trust they deserve.
Lastly, could you talk about your “Ultimate Guide to Fashion and Mental Health”? It sounds incredibly interesting and it’s not something many people talk about.
At Meüne we are very much concerned about how fashion affects our mental health, and we are also committed to raise awareness on this topic. Tena Lavrencic, I mentioned her before, is the co-author of this Guide and we have plans to keep this conversation further, we are planning to host some rooms around this topic on Club House!
Our insights, discussions, and conclusions come largely from disciplines like psychology, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology. They also come from our personal experiences and continued deep conversations we are having with other activists, designers, and thinkers within the slow fashion community. ELOQUĒNTIA definitely inspired many of those conclusions!
How we experience clothes can be related and associated with many aspects of our lives: from a particular state of mind to the experiences we get from social media. It can also go as deep as the ocean, so it better be approached with proper research.
Although the guide keeps it simple, it touches almost every side of what we've found most relevant, in a high to mid deepness level. It dissects many layers on how fashion, as many people are experiencing it today, can impact our mental health. We tried to find that thin, tricky and deep thread that connects it. It’s still available for free on our website, anyone can sign up to receive it!
You can support and take a look at Meüne's socials below:
Meüne website: www.meune.co