by Lilian Vos·
SchoolofLifeProjects (or SoLP) started in September 2019..
In May 2019 I was at a point in my life, after having worked for more than 20 years in a Fast Fashion environment, where I did not know how to continue from a career perspective. The iron grip of a few huge players in the Fashion Retail market had hardened the grip on the retail environment and sourcing market. Lower prices, bigger volumes, faster rhythms had a huge effect on the people working in the industry and most definitely on the global environment.
My eyes were really opened when the team I worked with and myself were starting to receive messages in 2018 from our Chinese suppliers in which they were talking about production restrictions due the G7 Top that would take place in China. Due to leaders from all over the world visiting the country the Chinese government had decided that the production capacity had to be cut back by sometimes 50% to make a positive environmental impression on the visitors. What that meant I saw myself by arriving in China by plane a few weeks later; For the first time in years we saw blue skies when entering the country, it was easier to breathe once on soil, the chemical smell and smog was gone and we saw beautiful freshly blue painted roofs on factories. It needs no explanation that 3 months later the situation was back to 'normal', with a lot of Chinese entrepreneurs spreading their business further across South East Asia due to price pressure, and of course also bringing along the same collateral damage as we knew so well from 'older' production countries like China. All of this started to raise a lot of personal questions on the sustainability of the business model I was working in and definitely also on the ethical side of the industry.
During our trip in May 19 we visited a 'museum' weaving factory specialized in blankets which is part of a local, circular economy in the middle of the Beira Serra da Estrela region in Portugal. In this system Humans, Nature and Crafts keep each other in balance without any strain on the environment. This wool factory and her position in the local social structure were fascinating me that much that I have been knocking on the door of the owner for more than four months. At that point, the owner, Isabel Costa, allowed me to create a small collection on her 150 year old machines, obviously with the help of her weave masters who are familiar with these machines since their childhood when their fathers took them to the factory to teach them, from one generation to another, obviously without any books, leading by example. We know that words like 'artisan' and 'ecological' are the most abused words in the industry; More and more consumers get worldwide access to cheap Fashion, which is creating an incredible amount of waste and invisible damage done to people and the environment in the production country.. In Portugal the team and their way of working were actual showing and teaching me about the opposite side of the production spectrum and its opportunity of really giving meaning to words like crafts and circular development.
Together we built the first SoLProject; a collection of poncho's and blankets in which a study of the boundaries of existing local craftsmanship, organic materials, ethical entrepreneurship and modern design were key. We produce in the museum factory where under non Covid 29 circumstances people visit the factory every day to get a glimpse of 'what has been and what could still be part of our future' Covid 19 hit very hard in this community, where governmental support and tourist related income are desperately missed. SchoolofLifeProjects has not left Portugal and its factories during these hard times, we bought and paid for the collection which we currently launch. Production and hand finishing is being done in local communities, so that the cash we pay for the goods is maintaining the local community and does not disappear into the pockets of a few Fashion Billionaires. We aim to do 0 harm to the environment and start from a 'zero waste' principle as much as we possibly can. SchoolofLifeProjects does not follow the Retail markdown calendar which we know from regular Fashion Retail and works from Slow Fashion Principles. Very soon we will add a 'Second Life' page to our webshop where people can sell on the product they don't use anymore and also we will be helping you with the eventual repairs that consumers might need. For the short term we focus on bringing our collection to the attention of as many people as we can, offering beautiful products which could become life companions..