When I think of the current fashion system, a contrast comes to mind that is so absurd that I sometimes I almost forget it’s real. Nowadays, design has been relegated to the background, and when it comes to designing fashion, what really matters is the prevailing aesthetics and an incitement to mass consumption through marketing. Neither the client and their real needs, nor their environment, seem to matter in this process.
This is what Belén Jiménez rotundly states at the beginning of our interview. She is a fashion designer and founder of Offbeat Barcelona, a beautiful store located in the center of Barcelona where, in addition to designing, she sells a passion for properly done things, respecting the environment and people… and, if one behaves well, she’ll even grant you a bit of her friendship. ;O)
We saw the store when we were strolling through the street labyrinth of old Raval. Wow! We left feeling like we had to talk about what she sold in it, and not just skimming over it, but as it should be: extensively. We decided to interview its alma mater and, listening to her answers, we realized we’d hit the jackpot. Belén Jiménez has a LOT to tell.
What circumstances led you to create Offbeat Barcelona?
It’s a project I’ve been wanting to do since I finished my degree, I wanted my work life to not interfere with the principles I apply to my personal life. The lowly paid work we do for others usually focuses on large companies, and working for them would lead to too much insomnia and headaches due to feelings of guilt, so I’ve been searching for my own path for years, getting involved in different initiatives which eventually led to Offbeat. I think there’s a real need for affordable options, to help people change their spending habits and support small design projects, which are truly incredible and in need of visibility.
Any of the designers who sell in Offbeat are small-scale superheroes. In spite of all the influence that comes from abroad, inciting us to follow the same destructive pattern, despite the economic difficulty that Spain is experiencing, despite the harshness of the road, they don’t only not give up, but they wake up everyday with an unshakable faith in that a new world is built brick by brick.
How was the beginning, how has the road been and where is OffBeat Barcelona now?
The truth is that since I made up my mind and had chance to create Offbeat, it’s been rather smooth sailing, I really believe that I’m finally where I should be. It’s true, beginnings are arduous and require a lot of patience, perseverance and effort, but they’re worthwhile. Offbeat is only six months old, so we’re at the beginning of the beginning, we’re in a traffic-less street and have a rather small clientele, but our clients’ reactions to the space and product are amazing, we have customers from all over the world who know they’ll come back, so our situation is hopeful and very happy.
What does the customer look for in your store?
First of all, aesthetic differentiation and the security of buying local products, claiming their individuality through their image while contributing to creativity and decent work. Second, being able to dress based on their body type and personality without having to spend a fortune. At Offbeat we offer a series of self-owned brand products, that include no intermediaries, and which can be made to measure or customized, we advise our clients based on what favors their morphotype and personality the most. Most frequent clients to this type of spaces are very knowledgeable and know what they want.
Surveying among out friends, most say they don’t buy organic fashion because it’s too expensive or too hippy… Do you agree?
Yes and no, it’s true that a 100% ecological products often look hippy and are expensive, but this is because there’s a very narrow range of materials and tinctures in comparison to non-ecological, and aesthetically it’s usually very natural-looking, due to its origin, and material costs are very expensive, which is why when we add the other costs, the final product is very expensive, it all depends on the amount of pieces you want to get and the budget allocated to them.
If you think something isn’t right, and want to change it, one of your strongest strategies will be based on your consumption decisions. If you want a decent job and want the same for everyone, if you want a planet fit for your children and grandchildren, if you think it’s crazy that markets make decisions instead of democratic governments, you need to avoid buying from companies that practice the opposite as much as possible, because money is power, and power is going too far.
In addition to the store, you have your own brand… Tell us about its origin and strengths at an ethical & ecological level.
Yes, my clothing brand is Jiménez, and it’s almost as young as Offbeat. I have been designing and making clothes for years, but always in parallel to projects in which I spent much more time, so you could say it only began a year ago. At an ethical and ecological level, I try to use all of the resources I can based on my investment capacity: I choose fabrics that can last for years, all bought from Spanish factories and stores, I use a timeless range of colors and patterns, that differ from temporary fashions and trends, with the intention that people who purchase these garments will want to keep them.
I don’t use any animal products, and I produce in a workshop in Madrid, my hometown, in which the dressmaker sets the prices for the clothes, since it’s she who decides how much her work is worth, and it’s very decent work.
Tell us about your latest collection…
In this last collection, I’ve tried to channel the very intense and extreme emotions that occur in difficult moments, reducing them to the smallest expression and turning them into something productive and pleasant with which it’s worth living everyday. That is, I wanted the garments to reflect the incitement to the calmness achieved from accepting certain emotions and their psychic contrasts. They are simple silhouettes, designed for an independent and dynamic woman. There are garments for all three morphotypes, but of course I’ve included some tube-shaped skirts, my fetish garment which, though it was initially projected to incapacitate the feminine mobility, has elastane and openings that generate the same optical sensation while maintaining a large movement capacity.
What are your next steps?
My idea is to carry out both projects in parallel, looking for a temporary showroom that will allow me to take my brand outside of Spain, because there isn’t much of an ethical fashion awareness here and it’s difficult to maintain such a project in the longterm. And with Offbeat, I want to carry on with enthusiasm, making these sort of spaces known is a slow process, but when I see my clients’ positive reactions, the road becomes light and cheerful.
Do you have any advice for young designers working in ethical and ecological fashion?
Wow… Don’t do anything that isn’t included in your studies as a subject, don’t rush or be afraid of making mistakes, learn to differentiate between destructive and constructive criticism and don’t be afraid to have huge goals as long as they’re yours, greed dominates, but doesn’t predominate. And the one I consider to be the most realistic, all the best advice will come from your own intuition.
And the consumer?
Be aware that we live in a system based on money, not humanity nor the environment, and it moves and concentrates on a few through and due to consumerism. If you think something isn’t right, and want to change it, one of your strongest strategies will be based on your consumption decisions. If you want a decent job and want the same for everyone, if you want a planet fit for your children and grandchildren, if you think it’s crazy that markets make decisions instead of democratic governments, you need to avoid buying from companies that practice the opposite as much as possible, because money is power, and power is going too far.
Can you give us some names that, in your opinion, are great Spanish Slow-Fashion Super Heroes?
Here I’ll hit home. Any of the designers who sell in Offbeat are small-scale superheroes. In spite of all the influence that comes from abroad, inciting us to follow the same destructive pattern, despite the economic difficulty that Spain is experiencing, despite the harshness of the road, they don’t only not give up, but they wake up everyday with an unshakable faith in that a new world is built brick by brick.
What limiting situations are happening in the fashion industry right now?
This list isn’t short… We have countries who are giving in to the pressures of large companies, competing for who will enslave their population the most so they can keep producing for them, which also gives a false impression to consumers that clothing is cheap. And in consumer countries, the situation isn’t any more encouraging, in many companies the practice system is replacing paid work, justifying lower wages to those who still have it, if there are a hundred people willing to work for free, why pay?
This savings in labor, coupled with a programmed obsolescence, which has become increasingly smaller in clothing, gives these companies the capital surplus they need to carry out a constant bombardment of large advertising campaigns that have nothing to do with what they’re selling, have no business ethics, no quality, nor offer alternatives, because marketing their experience is enough.
Besides, the lack of borders for goods, facilitates pollution and resource depletion. There are many multinationals who select the country they are going to produce in not only due to slave labor, but also because of a lack of environmental regulations, contaminating the water, turning green landscapes into landfills, and so on. And when a scandal involving the subcontracted company splatters the “parent company”, it draws up a code of conduct to quell indignant consumers, a facelift that doesn’t work in practice.
On the other hand, these large corporations who pretend to offer a large range of options to consumers, are doing just the opposite. The same logos take over every important consumption center of the big cities, all the shopping centers include the same brands, as well as all the large avenues. This, coupled with their constant and brazen plagiarism of smaller alternative brands – which leads large brands to offer a cheaper and bad quality copy -, causes those who are actually creating it, to not be able to live from it, and talent is lost. If we want a difference, we need to consume differently, we need to leave the main streets.
Finally, another worrying subject comes from the beauty stereotypes that appear in fashion shows, advertisements and editorials, there seems to be more diversity now, but it’s a limited variety of various aesthetic extremes and impossible traits that leads those who are influenced by them to health problems.
What associations, brands, companies or designers are setting an example to end the “dirty fashion rags”?
Recently I was sent a very interesting article about Latitude, an initiative to revitalize the clothing sector in Galicia in a sustainable way, with decent wages, energy efficiency and their own creation of organic fabrics, focusing not only on large companies but also on SMEs, which have small-scaled productions.
And of course Piñatex, a vegetal leather made from pineapple leaves, that is sustainable, has similar qualities and is much cheaper than animal leather. If we take into account the large-scale slaughter (to make a single coat it takes 8 to 300 animals) and the cruelty that is necessary to supply the demand for skin in the fashion industry and all its consequences, it’s an initiative we needed urgently.
Is Fast-fashion a threat to our world?
Yes, and one of the big ones. The fashion industry does everything it can to increase our need for novelties, and the faster it grows, the more they need to reduce their prices and get the resources they require for elaboration, it’s voluntary slavery. Rapid generation, with minimal environmental considerations, and fast disposal. This culture of using and throwing is profitable because it’s legally and politically permissible.
If companies don’t need to pay for the pollution and waste they generate, they don’t care if all their products end up in the trash. More is destroyed than what the Earth can regenerate, which is why under an economic growth and resource exploitation model it’s clearly unsustainable. Besides, we’ve forgotten that our way of consuming is directly related to the quality of available work. If you want cheap use and throw products because you want to change, it’ll be from short-term cheap labor, and they’ll actually be using and throwing you away. Objects are a reflection of their society.
What worries you the most: the circumstances in which many workers in the fashion industry work, the dumping of toxic substances or consumers’ ignorance?
Without a doubt, consumers’ ignorance. Most governments are increasingly serving multinationals, not populations, in capitalism, benefits are the top priority, so there doesn’t appear to be a change coming from them any time soon. If we want to halt this illogical tendency towards self-destruction, we need a type of critical and responsible consumer who doesn’t only question and reflect, but who condemns with their consumption choices.
Ignorance can justify bad actions, but once the knowledge necessary to be aware of such actions and the means to implement solutions are acquired, there are no excuses. This doesn’t mean we have to become Amish, but we can’t confuse change with evolution. Huge changes have happened in a very short time, but aimed at the sophistication of barbarism and self-destruction; change must be evolutionary, to improve our existence while respecting our environment.
I think most do, but not everyone. Nowadays there are many alternatives, which most people with a minimal consumption capacity can afford. They only need to consume less and better, and the good thing is that the repeated activity of looking in our closets without knowing what to wear won’t happen anymore…
Do you think that growth of this type of fashion will end up making the current fashion system obsolete? Is there hope?
Truth is, it may seem very difficult, but not impossible. Every day, great initiatives are born that disappear immediately because they can’t find the necessary resources to sustain themselves. However, we can see how big companies continue to gain benefits and conquer new territories. Although I again need to emphasize on the fact that it’ll be the consumer who has the last word.
+ Photo Shooting made by The Light Square, colaborators of Luxiders.
+ in Instagram: OffBeat Barcelona