Inspiring us to become better: HEEL Athens Lab (GR)

HEEL Athens Lab (HEEL is the acronym for Hellenic Ethical Eco-friendly Lab) was established about 35 years ago. The brand originated with the goal of introducing an alternative style in the Greek fashion market, but as the years progressed this goal was enhanced with the environmental concerns and aspirations for our planet. HEEL Athens Lab reflects, among other things, on their environmental impact, the importance to produce locally and the powerful effect of word-of-mouth marketing. 

HEEL Athens Lab, how do you define yourself? 

Heel Athens Lab is a team of creative people who come together with common concerns and life ethics. As our team representing the brand we have always actively made sure to assist our community and various non-profit organisations in Greece that share our concerns. This is something we prefer to not advertise, but merely inform our consumers discretely of the different life choices and acts available.

What is vegetarianism/veganism for you? 

We are a multicultural team of people and each of us has own approaches on vegetarianism and veganism. Some find it to be a way of life, others a goal to achieve but we all understand its importance.

What were your reasons being establishing the brand Heel Lab? 

The chemicals used for the fabrics and trims commonly supplied in the market, along with the vast amount of waste produced by the fashion industry worldwide and the overall environmental footprint that impacts our planet every day, were the reasons for our new goals. 

Creating each season a collection from natural fibers, produced mostly in house and washed with hot water, making sure to reuse and up-cycle our “waste” so that we can be sure of the quality of our designs and of our personal environmental impact.

It is an exciting path that is always challenging us to become better.

Why is local production important to you? 

Designing, creating and producing locally was an ethical choice not a business one.  Producing locally helps us enhance our local economy, monitor our transportation (carbon emissions) and supervise all the production steps to ensure our products quality and our employees ethical working conditions. This is not the most financially beneficial production choice for us, as it is more expensive and classifies our product in the niche market making it less accessible to all.

You believe in fair and transparent working conditions, and that it is important to look after people. What does it mean in practice?

Choosing to produce locally we can ensure that our employees work within a creative, healthy and aspiring environment. Making sure we provide the financial benefits that are suitable for the needs and qualifications of each team member accordingly, in an economic crisis we have always tried to keep our standards high.      

You promote recycling, upcycling and sustainability as such? What do recycling, upcycling and sustainability mean to you, also in your daily life?

Recycling and upcycling for us started as a means of producing less waste as a Lab, but this escalated to a creative expression for our team. We use our scrap fabrics and trims to create necklaces and scarfs, headpieces and bags, we also create tops and blouses that are designed especially to use all the fabric that is left over after the production process every week. There is an invigorating and exciting feeling in the process of giving life to something that would end up in a bin.

How do you see recycling and the use of recycled materials, upcycling and the use of upcycled materials in (fashion and product) design? 

We believe there is a hope for recycling and up-cycling becoming a way of life in general, as it is a solution to some of our financial challenges and especially during an economic and health pandemic. We have a lot to learn in terms of recycling ways and solutions in Greece within the fashion industry, it is a journey that needs imagination, inventiveness, teamwork and creativity. We as a team believe we have reached our goals as a sustainable brand only to a very small percentage there is along way to go but the outcome is worth all of our effort. The most enchanting aspect of a recycled or upcycled product is its uniqueness and character, some of the most important aspects that are fading in the fast fashion world.

How do you see sustainability marketing? 

To be honest we have not been a brand that focuses in marketing our sustainable ethics. We only find important to inform our customers of the way we produce our designs and the materials we use as well as any other product that we include in our stores that is organically produced. We have been collaborating in our stores with a few Greek brands that produce organic products, such as soaps, lavender oils, recycled calendars, organic tea and so on. We believe in informing our customers in a variety of products including ours that provides them with a more sustainable choice. In this way we are trying to create a domino effect of word-of-mouth “marketing” that presents a more sustainable way of life.

You also believe in zero waste movement. Just in one phrase, what does zero waste (lifestyle) mean to you? How do you implement zero waste priniciples with regards to the brand? 

In one phrase: zero waste is a goal not yet reached by us, it is a work in progress, it is our future. As mentioned above, trying to use our scrap fabric to create new designs is one step. On the other hand being a production lab and a team of people working together creates an everyday challenge for minimising our waste. It is difficult as there are no ready solutions or answers for the problems we are faced with, it has made us to think more creatively to come up with practical sustainable solutions. Like sewing fabric bags for our clothes transportation from store to store that we wash and reuse, making fabric towels out of our waste fabrics and use them instead of paper towels for cleaning etc. But the ultimate zero waste lifestyle is far from achieved yet and there are many steps that need to be taken. One of our many goals is to upcycle all of the fabrics or stock clothes that we haven’t been able to recycle and make them into thread, so that we can reuse it for our future collections.  Another issue is to find a way to digitise the products information of synthesis and pricing, size and color instead of having price tags that uses paper and creates waste and so many others. 

What are the main ways both producers (incl. brand makers and designers) and consumers can contribute to positive environmental and social impact?

Slow down, create products with a longer life span that are meeting more of the consumers needs, not just a seasons color or fashion trend. Create products with respect in our planet and consume with consciousness. 

What are the grand challenges in producing environmentally and socially responsible design?

The practical aspect is that there is a lack of solutions in fundamental problems such as solar energy for the electricity in the buildings our brand is housed in, the stores and the production center. In Greece we have no facilitation that can house us so we will need to create our own at some point. Locally produced organic cotton is one of our basic needs, we now need to source it from outside our country making our carbon emissions more than necessary. A machine or company in our country that can recycle old clothes and scrap fabrics into yarns so that we can use it for our future designs.

Socially it is a matter of “trend”, fast fashion is like a train riding to a destination with everyone on board, getting off it is a choice and a way of life. If more people make this choice the train will stop.

Get inspired!