Sustainable Designers Thrive In Costa Rica's Fashion Hub

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May. 25 2019, Updated 7:26 p.m. ET

The world’s most sustainable fashion is now coming out of the most biodiverse place on the planet: Costa Rica.

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That tiny country in Central America boasts gorgeous views and incredibly diverse ecosystems, each of which is a perfect muse for designers increasingly opting not to separate fashion from nature. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the first-ever Costa Rica Fashion Summit, held Aug. 3 and 4 at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in Escazú.   

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Costa Rica’s fashion industry mirrors sustainable developments throughout the country. 

The Costa Rica Fashion Summit was held in conjunction with the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week San Jose. The summit is a non-profit initiative to incorporate fashion into the country’s ambitious commitment to sustainability. Today, 99 percent of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable resources, while 51 percent of Costa Rican land is protected as natural reserves. And if things continue along this path, Costa Rica will likely meet its goal of becoming the first carbon-neutral country on the planet.    

A Uruguayan philanthropist named Andrea Somma-Trejos, who is based in Costa Rica, started the Costa Rica Fashion Summit. The idea grew out of her realization that Costa Rica’s growing fashion industry could mirror the work being done with natural landscapes throughout the country. In that way, she figured, designers and entrepreneurs in the fashion industry could make a dramatic, trailblazing mark in the global fashion world that would serve Costa Rica’s economy and culture in a number of ways.   

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“We believe that Costa Rica has plenty of talent to share with the world and showing our support to local designers through the Costa Rica Fashion Summit is our way to contribute on their road to international exposure,” Ricardo Menendez, General manager at Real InterContinental Hotel San José, told the Costa Rica Star.

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The Costa Rica Fashion Summit was not dissimilar from other fashion events; with conferences, panel discussions, and putting hundreds of pieces, from accessories to clothing, on display. Only at this summit, fashion discussions include ethical concerns, social justice, environmental sustainability, consumer empowerment, corporate responsibility, and slow fashion.   

Some of those speakers included Carmen Busquets, Stefan Siegel, Araceli Graham, Karla Martínez de Salas, Gerfried Gaulhofer and Natasha Berros. Other notable guests included Costa Rica’s Minster of Finance, Laura Chinchilla (who also served as Costa Rica’s first female president), and Costa Rica’s First Lady Mercedes Peña.  

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The Costa Rica Fashion Summit was without plastic or carbon emissions. 

You hardly ever hear of a conference that isn’t producing a formidable amount of waste, from cocktail napkins to bottled water. Not so at the Costa Rica fashion summit, where Vogue reports glass was used instead of plastic, while yucca-based, biodegradable alternatives stood in for disposable items. What’s more, all calculated emissions were offset by planting trees.   

“Coupled with the fact that Costa Rica is the most-visited country in Central America, San José is emerging as a leading sustainable fashion city,” Amanda Hearst, co-founder of Maison de Mode, told Vogue. “We were excited to see the commitment to the environment by so many beautiful brands and designers, and we want to further our investment in artisanal work from Central and South America.”  

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 “[There is] no formal, organized fashion industry here, but tons of artisanal craftsmen,” Hassan Pierre, Maison de Mode’s other co-founder, added in an interview with Vogue. “It’s only natural that designers in San José would apply a conscious sensibility to their [collections]. There’s a common quote among the fashion leaders in San José that shows just how serious they are about creating a sustainable fashion industry: ‘If not here, where? If not now, when? If not us, who?’”   

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Sustainable fashion in Costa Rica is built to last, by hand. 

New, sustainably minded designers are emerging regularly in Costa Rica. A few highlights include:   

Cruda: Cruda offers handmade leather and wooden shoes assembled in Costa Rica with salvaged materials from Central America.   

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Obra Gris: Obra Gris is a Costa Rica fashion label founded in 2013 with a commitment to low and zero-waste creations. Obra Gris sells tops, bottoms and dresses coats and jackets as comfortable as they are beautiful—and all are zero-waste, seasonless, multipurpose, and responsibly sourced.  

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The Nomadic Collector: The Nomadic Collector, which makes absolutely gorgeous bags, bracelets, earrings and more derived from reforested wood and sustainable leather.

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Costa Rica Fashion Summit 2018 is already being planned—visit the organization’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date. 

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