August marks my four year anniversary living in Barcelona. Over these years I’ve had the good fortune to encounter many interesting and innovative projects led by men and women, who are themselves even more interesting. The truth is that Barcelona has so much to offer in terms of innovation, sustainability and social change. In this city that I am happy to call home, the initiatives that choose more ethical, conscious and planet-aware ways of doing, living and consuming are growing exponentially.
We at Hola Tomorrow want to lend visibility to these projects and to the entrepreneurs that launch them, whom I consider business-activists. In doing so we hope to promote their businesses and thereby a different economy. We also hope to bring our readers closer to them and strengthen the sense of community: see their faces, hear their stories, and — by dedicating time and space to them — thank them for having had the courage to take risks, question the status quo and open doors for the rest of society to do the same.
In today’s post I want to introduce you to Carolina Simón Coronado, the mind, body and spirit behind the first certified sustainable clothing store to open in Barcelona, some 20 years ago: GreenLifeStyle. Carol (as many of us call her) is pure dynamite, the mother of Marcel (5 years old) and a pioneer in the world of sustainable fashion. We met to talk about her project three days before we all went into confinement. This is a shortened version of her story as the owner of GreenLifeStyle:
- Hello Carol. Tell us about yourself. How and when did GreenLifeStyle come about?
Hello! Since I was quite small, and without being fully aware of it, I always had some contact with fashion. I am the daughter of a seamstress from Jaén and I grew up with the sound of a sewing machine always in the background. It took me a long time to realize how much that experience shaped me.
In my late 20s, and after having lived for some time outside of Spain, I experienced a change. Sustainability entered my life, and adapting my profession to fit my values represented a big switch.
In April of 2011 I opened GreenLifeStyle; when I look back on it I feel like it was all a series of coincidences. I was searching for emerging independent designers on the peninsula, but back in 2010 I wasn’t finding them. So in January 2011 I decided to go to Germany during the Berlin fashion week. I remember going into Bread&Butter and being astonished at the more than 1000 brands participating in the festival. I visited them and as they explained to me how they worked, how they did production, and what their values were, I knew that they didn’t fit with my values, my new path.
As if by coincidence, while having a coffee at a modern café in Berlin, I noticed one flyer among all the others; something about it drew my attention. It had a picture of a beautiful Asian girl (I still have the flyer) with a finger over her lips as if to say, “Don’t tell!”
The flyer was advertising an underground festival of sustainable fashion designers. I went right away. Immediately I fell in love with the project and the values of all those designers who believed that a different kind of fashion was possible.
I went back to Barcelona, found a storefront that suited my needs in the neighborhood of Gracia, and with other designers — one from Austria, three from Germany and one from Italy — I opened GreenLifeStyle, the first certified sustainable fashion store in the peninsula. The rest, as they say, is history.
- What have been the greatest challenges to making this project work?
As an entrepreneur, getting a project off the ground is always a challenge! And when it is a sustainable fashion project, even more so. GreenLifeStyle has been and continues to be a very slow road, but as I tell myself: it couldn’t be any other way! In the end, that is the idea, to promote “slow fashion” and along with it, a more conscious way of working that takes into account social and ecological impacts. When you work like this, there are even more challenges. There are no shortcuts.
- And what achievements have been particularly gratifying?
I have to say there have been many gratifying achievements over these years, but if I had to name one, I’d say my greatest accomplishment has been helping to construct and spread the idea of sustainable fashion in Barcelona. It is very satisfying to know that, thanks to the interest of the media when I began and even now, we have managed to make a different kind of fashion possible.
Moreover, having a sustainable fashion store is a source of daily satisfaction. People feel very grateful that these options exist, and they express their appreciation every day.
- What are your favorite brands or brands you consider are doing things especially well?
Honestly, all the brands I chose for the store, season after season, are brands I admire for their transparency and their way of working. When you are a small brand and you grow in the world of sustainable fashion it is because you are working well in all different ways, not only in terms of sustainability.
For example, the trajectory of Suite 13 is impressive. In 2014 they began with very small collections, selling in Mallorca. Today it is one of the most recognized brands in Europe, with large and varied collections. Other brands I’m in love with are Cossac, Kuyichi, Nago, Les Racines du Ciel and Aikyou, the most comfortable and beautiful organic lingerie you can imagine.
- Have you seen a lot of changes in sustainable fashion in the years since you began the project? What would you say is the most significant change?
Without a doubt the most significant change has taken place within people, the consumers. When I was starting people would ask whether the fact that the cotton was organic meant you could eat it, and when I talked about certificates, modes of production, sustainable fabrics, etc. to consumers back in 2011 it was all Greek to them. But today consumers know about sustainable fashion, what it means, for the most part they are aware of the certificates and are increasingly familiar with the designers.
- How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the fashion world and specifically the world of sustainable fashion? How has it impacted you, as a pioneer in the sector and as owner of GreenLifeStyle?
I think COVID-19 has impacted the fashion world enormously. Many ‘fast fashion’ companies have been seriously harmed by the crisis, and unfortunately they have managed it very poorly. I don’t know if people are aware what it means when big companies like Inditex, H&M or El Corte Inglés stop paying their factories in China or Bangladesh, but the consequences are dramatic for the workers, who already work under terrible conditions in the production line. The workers have been the hardest hit in all of this. The factories have been closed, and as the conditions are exploitative and unregulated, the workers have simply not been paid!
As for sustainable fashion, I think there will be a very positive impact on the sector. I want to believe that this crisis is helping to make people a bit more aware.
- What would you say to someone who is just getting started in the world of sustainable fashion and is trying to make his or her wardrobe more sustainable?
Whenever someone says to me that they are trying to be more sustainable I say the same thing: bit by bit. These days the phenomenon of ‘fast fashion’ has us all rapt, and for most people what makes them anxious when it comes to sustainable fashion is all the money it is going to cost them to acquire a sustainable wardrobe. But as I always say, the most sustainable wardrobe is the one you already have. From there it is simple: you need some jeans? Ok, you begin with that and buy your first garment of sustainable fashion, and so on, bit by bit. I have to say that once you start to buy garments with such a great story behind them, you inevitably fall in love with the garment and you wear it all the time. Besides, the quality is beyond compare. Organic fabrics are very comfortable and feel great on the skin. Once you become conscious and start, there is no turning back. You are here with all of us who love fashion but want a fashion based in respect, both towards people and the planet.
After two months of uncertainty, GreenLifeStyle has opened its doors again, at C/Torrent de l’Olla 95 (in the neighborhood of Gracia, in Barcelona). Carol has managed to display the new summer collection while respecting all the relevant safety and hygiene measures. It hasn’t been easy. If you are in Barcelona we encourage you to visit GreenLifeStyle (it is much more than a clothing store!) and to meet Carol. If you are in any other part of the planet, we encourage you to visit her webpage and IG account. For all of us who love fashion and understand it as a creative outlet, let’s push in a firm and coherent way to make fashion what it once was and not a mechanism of destruction.