How many of us take the time to find out what’s really behind our fashion choices? If you’re anything like me, then probably not nearly enough. It’s easy to get swept along with the ease of buying cheaply produced, convenient clothing that comes with a tempting price tag. But with the average t-shirt made using 659 gallons of water with non-degradable poly type materials, shipped halfway around the world from an unsafe sweatshop factory full of unfairly treated staff, fashion is one of the most exploitative and least eco-conscious industries out there.

In fact, fashion is the second most earth polluting industry after petroleum production. Contributing to the six billion tons of plastic waste that end up buried in the ground or floating around in the ocean each year, mainstream fashion houses have taken advantage of our consumerist attitude and lack of environmental awareness to create clothing that although low-cost, is toxic to the planet.

After years of participating in the fast fashion vortex, self-confessed fashion lover and now founder of Positive Label, the first regional organization to promote sustainable fashion, Vanina Chiappino wants to prove that “modern, urban, good-looking attire” can be accessible to the consumer without damaging the planet. She wanted to eliminate incorrect perceptions that dressing sustainably must mean looking like a gaucho – she is quick to point out that of course there’s nothing wrong with a campo chic vibe but, for those looking to wear high-end, ethically produced, and eco-conscious clothing, Positive Label is an ideal place to start.

Housed in a beautiful old warehouse, the Manto Abrigos showroom successfully shows off this season’s collection. (Photo via Jason Sheil).


Though the label was created just over a year ago, Chiappino – alongside Santiago Bouquet – launched the first fashion show that was held to promote the 20 or so regional brands they work with, in March of this year. Including clothing created from discarded plastic milk sachets, it also served as a stark reminder of fashion’s contribution to global waste production.

Inspired by Carry Somer’s now global “Fashion Revolution” – a campaign aimed at challenging the unfair exploitation of workers and the planet – launched back in 2013, Chiappino wanted to bring both transparency and fairness to Positive Label. A keen advocate for fair fashion, which doesn’t mistreat or grind workers into the ground, to become a member of the Positive Label organization, brands must prove themselves to be taking every possible measure to be the most ethical and environmentally friendly versions they can be. Of course, fairer wages, longer production times, and bespoke designs do result in a higher price tag, but the group is passionate that you get what you pay for, and prices are worth it.


Made from recycled bicycle tires, the purse on the left is a stylish reminder that cleverly reusing what would otherwise be thrown out, can have chic results. (Photo via Jason Sheil).


Rolling out a new three-tier system, which evaluates brands based on the ability to fill out criteria such as their use of natural fibers, lack of harmful chemicals, and commitment to fair working conditions, purchasers can be sure that checks are rigorous. Avoidant of any non-degradable polyester material that hasn’t been previously recycled, brands are asked to be completely clear about how their clothes are produced and with what materials they are made. Although not an official certification (currently, there are no laws surrounding sustainable fashion in Argentina), it is a brilliantly simple way of shining the spotlight onto all of those fashion brands that are successfully making a difference to the way we consume clothing.

Chiappino is keen to educate fashion lovers without preaching. Throughout our meeting in the airy and bright showroom of brand Manto (one of the brands Positive Label promotes) that’s exactly what she did. Both passionate and knowledgeable, Chiappino provides a compelling case for being just a little more aware of the dangers of this culture of convenient, but too easily disposable, fashion.


One of Manto’s seasonal pieces. (Photo via Jason Sheil).


A model example of how we can all choose clothing sustainably and even frugally at the same time, Chiappino was dressed stylishly in a black netted skirt, that when asked about, casually mentioned that she had actually made it herself after spotting the discarded fabric in the local trash. Suggesting that’s it’s not all about spending more, she’s keen to re-use and up-cycle anything that she can to avoid this “throw away” attitude that so many of us have developed. So even if you’re not keen to splash out right away, anyone can be involved in this sustainable movement by simply re-working an old piece of unwanted, discarded clothing into something wearable.

Humble and honest, Chiappino points out that nothing can ever be 100 percent sustainable and openly admits that she herself is still exploring the world of fair fashion. But with plans to launch an online marketplace in the next few weeks, it looks like 2018 is set to be a big year for Positive Label. Their new site will connect online buyers directly to participating clothing brands. Although digital, service will still be personal, with plenty of pieces being made to order, making each purchase unique to the buyer. Based in Argentina, the site will also handle orders from neighboring countries like Brazil.

Manto Abrigos, one of the 20 brands that are promoted by Positive Label, is an inspirational model of how ethical fashion that treats its workers properly can be infinitely rewarding, resulting in high-quality bespoke clothing that has much more personality to it than its mass-produced counterparts. Clara De La Torre, one of the three creators behind Manto, explained that the brand came about as part of a love and natural affinity for the tiny weaving village of San Isidro located near Salta, in the northwestern part of Argentina.


Vanina Chiappino alongside Manto Abrigos creators, Diana Dai Chee Chaug and Clara De La Torre. (Photo via Jason Sheil).


Noticing that many of the local residents were highly skilled weavers with generations of knowledge passed down from their ancestors, designer De La Torre set about thinking how she could create a brand that would both allow residents to work fairly while providing elegant high-end clothing to appeal to fashion-conscious porteños. A unity that connects the rural with the urban, it seems to be a match made in heaven. Run entirely based on a relationship of trust, De La Torre is clear that this way of respecting and fairly treating your workers results in a better outcome. A far cry from those images of cramped and miserable factory workers, weavers, and spinners working for Manto have the autonomy to set their own working commitments and hours.


All about the detail – each of Manto Abrigos’ pieces is lovingly handmade. (Photo via Jason Sheil).


Having met all of the artisans personally, Manto is in many ways humanizing fashion and bringing a sense of connection between purchasers and the roots of the clothing that has so often been lost in the pursuit of business. When asked which tier brand Manto operates on, all three, enthusiastically agree that it is a member of their top tier, green, the highest accolade of all.

Browsing the coats and sweaters of this season’s collection, it’s easy to see that each garment has been thoughtfully designed and lovingly handmade to create unique designs that pay homage to its Northern Argentine roots. Made from natural wool without any of those sneaky polyester blends, you can be sure clothing is well made and will keep you warm through the winter.

Look out for the new Positive Label Marketplace, which is set to launch later this month. Check out their Facebook page and follow them on Instagram for their latest news.

Likewise, see Manto’s Facebook page and follow them on Instagram to view their latest collection.

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2018-06-19 09:52:52

Holly Stanley

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