25.02.2021 202030

Interview with CARINA BISCHOF, Fashion Revolution Interview with CARINA BISCHOF, Fashion Revolution

"And I realised if there’s anything I want to use my design studies for, it’s to contribute towards a sensible orientation of fashion."

When she was just starting out as a young fashion designer, Carina Bischof, 36, went to London, where she absorbed the dynamics of the early sustainability scene in the atelier of upcycling pioneer Orsola de Castro. Later, she funnelled these experiences into aluc, her own sustainable label, and into the Upcycling Fashion Store in Berlin, but ultimately gravitated more and more towards educating and motivating people with regard to fair fashion and sustainability. Carina is project manager at STOP! Micro Waste and co-founder – and now also chairperson – of the association Fashion Revolution Germany. 

Interview: Uta Gruenberger

Your life and career basically correspond with the history of the sustainability movement, which spilled over from London to Berlin. Would you tell us about that?

Well, I studied fashion design in Sigmaringen (Baden-Württemberg) and then gained some experience in the conventional textile industry. But in 2007, while I was preparing a talk on eco fashion, news of the Aral Sea drying up went around the world and completely changed me. For the first time, I really delved into mainstream fashion production and its effect on our ecosystem. And I realised if there’s anything I want to use my design studies for, it’s to contribute towards a sensible orientation of fashion.

At the time, London was the only place where the whole sustainability thing was “fashionable”, a “hot topic”. Upcycling designer Orsola de Castro was one of the great pioneers. She had founded Esthetica, London Fashion Week’s sustainability platform, together with Filippo Ricci. I probably have my knowledge of Italian to thank for the fact that I got a job as her personal assistant right off the bat – what’s more, in London, the city of my dreams back then! At any rate, Orsola and I had close rapport from the start.

It was in her atelier that I first heard the term “cradle to cradle” and had the opportunity to work on the first high-street upcycling collection for Tesco. Generally speaking, the years I spent in London really left a strong impression on me. But in the end everything there was a bit too fast for my taste and too saturated. I wanted to do my own thing.

And that was your brand, aluc?

Exactly. There were four of us, and our label lasted for eight years. It gave us the opportunity to learn about all the practicalities and logistical challenges of running a sustainable label. But looking back, opening the Upcycling Fashion Store in central Berlin was a much more important step. It was a statement and motivator for the entire fashion scene. We presented high-end collections and were the European showroom and point of call for upcycled fashion. Soon our international customers were networking with one another; the designers began exchanging ideas. And our regular textile meeting once a month allowed us to get to know the scene inside out.
Since then, the sustainability community in Berlin has grown immensely. The interest – be it from consumers or companies – in new technologies and possibilities in the area of fair and green fashion is extremely gratifying.

And how did Fashion Revolution come to Berlin?

The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 brought about the birth of this platform for action. That shocking incident galvanised Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers to establish Fashion Revolution as a non-profit foundation and global movement. Today the community is active in more than 90 countries around the world. All of its campaigns aim to reform fashion production. It’s all about transparency, supply chains, fair working conditions – really about waking people up, educating them.

“Who made my clothes?”

That was the first social media campaign, back in 2014. It blew up in the media when millions of fans took selfies of themselves wearing T-shirts, or whatever, inside out and posted them with the hashtag #whomademyclothes. Even today, it is still a #fashrev hit and was named the Global No 1 trend on Twitter.

Then there was the “2 Euro T-shirt” experiment in 2015…

Yes, another great success that still echoes to this day. Fashion Revolution teamed up with BBDO to put up a 2 Euro T-shirt vending machine with turquoise stripes at Alexander Square. When people inserted the money for a T-shirt, the screen showed a series of photos with the names of the sewers at the textile factory. And it ended with the question, “Buy or donate?” Some of the reactions of the people looking at the screen were filmed, and the YouTube video of this viral campaign has had about 8 million views so far.

That sounds very motivating. Are you now building Fashion Revolution Germany on that success?

Of course it was an honour to be asked whether we wanted to be the German representatives of Fashion Revolution. This global structure gives us a much greater reach and impact. It makes all our campaigns, projects and educational offerings that much more efficient. It’s extremely exciting, especially because the platform isn’t preachy, but rather focusses on education and empathy. The 2 Euro T-shirt campaign showed that when people are educated and have a human association, their empathy almost automatically triggers a new awareness. And that’s exactly what we need if we want to develop a new kind of consumer behaviour.  

“Ecology, economy, social issues, culture and empathy”

In my opinion, these five points form the basis for a new, contemporary understanding of sustainability. And fashion is the perfect medium to propel society towards a new mindset. The pandemic has shown in plain terms how radically and instantaneously we can fundamentally change the world if there’s something that affects each of us personally. I definitely want to contribute towards fixing what humans have destroyed on this planet. And at the end of the day, I want to have had a hand in creating something beautiful.