“We have to go back and look at clothes as functional, long lasting, even beautiful pieces of our everyday life. They can contain magic, support and be a piece of art and expression of nature.”
We spoke to Ivana Biočina, the founder and head of the recently launched Institute of Sustainable Fashion (IOM) in Koprivnica, a project focused on local production of sustainable clothes, education and spreading the idea of sustainable fashion.
What is the Institute of Sustainable Fashion and how did the idea develop?
The Institute of Sustainable Fashion, or IOM (Institut održive mode), is my business project focused on local production of sustainable clothes, education and spreading the idea of sustainable fashion.
Clothes in IOM are handmade in responsible manufacturing, with minimal waste, toxin and plastic free, made with natural dyes and with vegan, organic and biodegradable materials. The idea was born in the summer of 2019. I was preparing for a lecture about sustainable fashion, and in my free time exploring natural textile dyeing. My husband and I moved to Koprivnica at the end of that year, and I was inspired by the progressive atmosphere in Podravina, with a lot of workshops and rich textile past.
I must say that the idea of IOM is still evolving, I am focused on organic development of IOM, I want to listen to the local women and follow their needs. Also, be the voice and a platform for young students and businesses that want to go in the sustainable direction. I’m definitely learning and evolving every day.
Why did you choose Koprivnica as the place to launch IOM?
We moved to Koprivnica because my husband is a knife maker and we couldn’t find a workshop in Zagreb for his needs. Koprivnica is a small city, and I grew up in a similar atmosphere in my hometown Samobor.
I think that I’m inspired by nature, I just function better when I’m in nature, when I can feel that connection with nature. I’m a country girl, what can I say. Also, I felt that Koprivnica and NW Croatia were a perfect place for sustainable business, Koprivnica got it’s name from nettle, my favourite plant, Drava is a part of the Amazon of Europe, and Podravina is advanced in ecology. I love Podravina, it is a magical place. No wonder that naive art began here, there is something in the air and the land, for sure.
What does the term ‘sustainable’ refer to in the name of your Institute?
Sustainability is connected to every part of the production. From materials, design, sewing, packaging, end-of-life of the garment, to the way I approach sales, my customers, my business model. I am a big believer that sustainability is a path, a journey. Along the way I will try to advance every step of production, end-of-use and education. That’s the whole idea, start with what you got and then keep pushing forward.
You make and dye the fabrics yourself. What materials do you use to make fabrics and how do you find them locally?
Unfortunately, I don’t make my own materials. That is a big dream and goal of mine, but for now I buy them locally and in Europe. Locally I use hemp, linen and up-cycled cotton from Podravina, organic cotton and recycling mix of hemp and organic cotton from Germany, Pinatex from Spain and nettle from Finland. I do naturally dye the materials with local plants.
You use nettle powder, avocado seeds, organic green tea and seasonal fruits from Podravina to dye fabrics. How much more expensive and difficult is the process because of that?
It’s a challenge. Natural dyeing is a process that you cannot always control, and the colours are more organic and alive, with little spots here and there. It’s an experiment, you have to be prepared that everything is not going to work. But I think that’s the whole purpose, try, fail, try again.
Consumers are also skeptical about natural dyes. For sustainable fashion to work, you have to be prepared for some challenges and experimentation. For me, that is just a part of the journey, we have to stop looking at clothes as something that is cheap and made for fun, quick experience. We have to go back and look at clothes as functional, long lasting, even beautiful pieces of our everyday life. They can contain magic, support and be a piece of art and expression of nature.
In addition to having a master’s degree in textile technology and engineering and entrepreneurship, and as an author and textile industry researcher, you have been rethinking fashion for many years. What do you think is the role of fashion in creating a better, more sustainable world?
It is huge, I believe. Textile industry is one of the most globalized industries in the world, and also it is one of the biggest pollutants. On the other hand, it is the industry with the least innovations and steps towards sustainability.
Textile workers and consumers are mostly women. But it is also the industry of monopoly, 35 brands hold 60 percent of the global industry and market, and biggest 10 hold 40 percent. As in nature, everything is connected, so everything, every part of the industry has to change. But in the fashion and textile world we need to push harder and faster.
We as manufacturers must stand together, not look at each other as a competition, but as partners in building a better industry. Also, as consumers we have to know that every time we buy something, we vote. We vote how will the future of fashion industry look like.
You are the author of the book Made in Croatia. In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the Croatian textile industry?
We have a long tradition, rich textile past and experience. We are part of the EU. That are our biggest advantages. On the downside, our rich textile past is filled with bad decisions, hardship and disappointments. Croatian textile industry was left to die. Now, the biggest challenges are branding, marketing, investments in new technologies, innovations and specialization.
With the pandemic industry is hit by yet another crisis, some factories did recognize the new global directions in the last decade, especially in the northern Croatia. But it is definitely going to be a hard year. I hope that we will learn from the past mistakes, but, as we know it, that hardly ever happens.
You can follow the Institute of Sustainable Fashion on Instagram here