Pitti Vintage - Sustainable Sartorialism

Originally published 16th August, 2016

While societal developments and sartorial advancements have long possessed intrinsic parallels, the former's most prominent offshoot - the meteoric rise of modern-day technology - has faced ever-increasing levels of criticism for its role in heightening the pace of global garment production. In as much as dialling up for internet connection is an inconceivable notion for millennials raised on lightning-fast broadband, the notion of holding out several painstaking months to eye up the first arrivals of new-season collections (let alone consume their freshly-created contents) is an alien concept for young fashion enthusiasts hooked on live streaming and quick-fire social media. This virtual velocity has been dubbed the primary catalyst for continually-narrowing attention spans, in tandem with triggering an accelerated demand for design innovation produced at a fraction of last season's turnaround time. Despite such buckling pressure enforced on contemporary designers to churn out on-trend offerings for content-hungry consumers - alongside an eruption of fast-fashion counter-movements, hot on the industry's heels - discussions between design contemporaries still appear greatly divided as to whether or not this escalated pace spurs on challenge and excitement or ruination in the creative workplace. For every French fashion-house maelstrom - namely last year's Wang-Simons-Elbaz domino effect - there are burgeoning young designers who declare that this acceleration is a positive by-product of modern culture. Keeping their minds in near-constant creative stimulus, they state, eliminates any prospect of sartorial boredom. If more designers were to shy away from these ramped up, money-driven deadlines in favour of more traditional retail patterns, would they risk eschewing the essence of modern-day fashion (and its profitable consumer relationship) altogether?

When analysing the core of this microwave-fashion conflict, the absence of organic, unconstrained brainstorming is just one facet of several damaging symptoms; most of which shed an unblinking spotlight on the manufacturing methods of high-powered corporations. The end result is, refreshingly, a heightened awareness of sustainable fashion's ever-expanding importance. This year's related statistics - as recently illustrated in Stella McCartney's BoF feature - garner serious insight: producing an animal skin or fur jacket consumes 20 times the amount of energy needed to produce a coat made from natural fibres, while toxic chemical waste derived from non-organic fabric production is polluting our waterways in increasing volumes. While a number of high-street retailers have debuted "sustainable fashion" diffusion lines in recent years, marrying sought-after catwalk trends with the usage of organic materials, the now-publicised fact that these collections follow the same frenzied deadlines as that of standard fast-fashion criteria defies a fundamental aspect of authentic sustainable design. With apparel production now accounting for 10 percent of the global total carbon impact, it is more imperative than ever before to decelerate production time and re-train consumers' tampered expectations - all while placing focus on artisanal craftsmanship with a conscience.

One creative trailblazer of this eco-endorsed movement is making noteworthy waves in her adoptive city of Florence, charming residents in the Renaissance capital and far beyond with her vibrant range of vegan leather accessories. Having initially gained prominence as a frontrunner in Florence's diverse vintage scene, Mexican-born Graciela Avendano transformed her popular Pitti Vintage boutique into a technicoloured online space alongside co-founder Luigi Capeto - expanding their steadfast following of vintage admirers whilst retaining their penchant for careful curation and pops of colour. Avendano's creative background is firmly rooted in design: having cut her teeth studying garment construction in its most intricate sense at NYC's Parsons and the Fashion Institute of Technology, this versatile skill-set was indispensable for launching Pitti Vintage's hand-crafted, cruelty-free handbags and wallets. Its success is an even more impressive feat given Florence's long-standing affiliation with real-leather produce - and yet, given the city's innate championing of design innovation across all creative sectors, it couldn't be a more apt setting to spearhead Italy's flourishing sustainable-fashion industry. I spoke with Avendano regarding the eclectic evolution of Pitti Vintage, her artisanal creative process and the growing significance of mainstream eco-fashion:

What first inspired you to establish Pitti Vintage and to begin crafting pieces in vegan leather?

Pitti Vintage was literally a dream that I repeatedly had had almost every night over and over again at that time when I lived in NYC. I guess it was my strong desire to open and offer people a fun vintage shop experience. Then in 2003 when I moved to Italy from NYC, I missed shopping vintage so much because at that time, the vintage concept in Italy was not well known as it now is.  So I thought that Florence could be a perfect place to open a vintage shop. Pitti Vintage was opened in 2005 right by Palazzo Pitti, and it was decorated in the exact way I saw it in my dreams.

About four years ago my husband and I rescued two dogs from the street, and I started to be very sensitive to the animal cause. Then decided to make a bag for myself but I didn't want to use animal leather and I found this great Italian quality vegan leather to make my bag. My friends and people I know started to ask if I could make that bag for them - that was the moment I decided to start making vegan handbags for my online shop. The great response I had was really unexpected but very exciting to me, so that was the moment when I decided to create my own vegan leather handbag collection.

What does your creative process involve whilst creating these pieces?

The vegan leather I use for my bags comes in amazing bright colors which allow me to play with combinations and styles. I like simple and clean shapes. Each bag is made one at a time, which takes me over 8 hours from start to finish.

How do you source and create your vibrant vegan leather fabric?

-I buy my material in a fabric shop that carries this 100% eco polyurethane vegan leather, it is soft, durable and easy to clean; Made in Italy.

What are your greatest sources of inspiration when designing; does this change with every new collection?

I get inspired by simple clean shapes, minimalist and urban styles. My inspiration does change, I follow the colour and season trends.

What is your view on the global and domestic (Italian) fashion design industry's awareness of vegan leather labels and their importance? 

I think vegan leather is the future. I know famous fashion brands and big designers all over the world are getting conscious about animal cruelty, which makes me happy, using already vegan leather in their collections, this is what can make the difference with mass.

Are there organisations and initiatives currently established in Florence and throughout Italy that educate consumers and designers on sustainable fashion and promotion of non-animal materials in design?

Yes there are, Italian people are getting more conscious. Italian blog ECO GREEN MANIA, the senator Brambilla and small unknown groups that fights for animal rights, and inform people about the consequences of using animal leather and promoting instead the use of vegan vegan leather.

Certain fashion consumers openly state that they would never purchase contemporary leather or fur pieces, but would view the vintage equivalent as morally acceptable. From both a professional and personal point of view, would you ever sell and/or wear vintage leather/fur or would you view it in the same category as a recently-made animal product?

A few people asked me this question already. As a fashion designer and fashion history lover I admire every single vintage piece, it doesn't matter what the material is - it could be fabric, leather, wood, plastic or any other material. Every vintage piece has a great history behind it, I respect the talent, the time, the passion and the effort those hands crafted that piece.

Because they are an important part of our modern history it would be a shame not honoring those vintage pieces not wearing them.

Now I don't buy and wear any new real leather pieces, but I do sell/wear vintage leather accessories.

Having initially traded as a physical retailer near Palazzo Pitti, what are the differences/merits of selling online compared to selling in a physical boutique?

The big difference I suffer is having the real personal communication with people. Having an online shop is double the work, you have always have to look for new customers all over the world which I love. I am still learning about selling online, SEO, photography, marketing, social media, even with the English language (my mother tongue is Spanish and I speak Italian) so everything is so different now, having a retail shop was easier.

I like big challenges though :)

What can we expect to see next from Pitti Vintage and its eclectic vegan leather collections?

Expect always new vintage items, and a online shop with a fresh modern look. Now I am working on my new fall winter vegan handbag collection with new colors, shapes and styles that hopefully will help people becoming more conscious about the importance to start wearing a cruelty-free vegan bag without compromising their style.

Pitti Vintage's vivid vegan leather collections are available to purchase directly from pittivintage.com, alongside the online boutique's colour and print-filled vintage garments and costume jewellery. Clicking here will transport you to their Etsy shop, where a summer sale is currently brewing across all coveted collections - while following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will ensure you're kept fully up to speed with boutique announcements and sartorial arrivals.

Amelia xx

La Femme Éclectique