With an aim to reduce plastic waste on the island of Ibiza and support the region in achieving plastic free status by 2023, Ibiza Fashion Festival champions replacements for single use plastic and encourages circular textiles across the fashion industry. Renowned for its dual personality as a place where holistic spirituality and wellbeing meets iconic nightlife and some of the world’s best DJ performances, Ibiza as a tourist destination has become unsustainable in many ways over the last decade; from unaffordable rent and housing for locals of the island, to a reputation for generating 36% more waste per person than the rest of Spain.
Offering exclusive collections that include regenerated nylon swimwear and recycled plastic jewelry, Ibiza Fashion Festival celebrates the work of select international designers, including biodegradable sunglasses by Espirit, Medina Swimwear who work with local Mexican renewal of coral reef systems, empowering designs created by London based Oceanus Swimwear, made in Marbella swimwear by Virginia Macari and Ibiza’s own PlúsTic Lab, a hub based around circular creative design and social activation.
Sharing our insights of sustainable fashion, I spoke with Ibiza Fashion Festival founder Karen Windle about how the festival came to be and the goals ahead for the future. Celebrating their 5th birthday this year, as I learned of the personal connection Karen has with the island and her hopes for its future, I began to understand how much her efforts are set to positively impact the region, from its shorelines to its visitors and the locals residing there. Initially questioned and misunderstood for her direction towards showcasing sustainable fashion, Karen’s inner knowing for how important these methods would become in the future has resulted in Ibiza Fashion Festival becoming a key example of how the island can begin to implement sustainable solutions to help protect its identity for future generations.
Louise: Ibiza has established a certain reputation and an almost split personality between being a place of holistic wellbeing and spirituality whilst also offering a party lifestyle. What were your first experiences of the island and how did they lead you into setting up Ibiza Fashion Festival in 2015?
Karen: My first visit to Ibiza included a random 02:00am flight with a friend, it was a last minute holiday plan. I really fell in love with the island and especially the people, they are what has kept me returning. My first impression was that it is an amazing island with spiritual peace - even now, everytime I step off the plane I take a big sigh and feel immediately calmer. What I found during my third visit in 2012 was that there were limited fashion events in Ibiza, so a real gap in the market for something new; my background is in session styling and fashion focused styling for performing artists, music videos and during London Fashion Week.
The North and North East side of Ibiza is where the holistic energy is, the yoga retreats and areas that help you to return to nature within historical surroundings. To me, at the moment all of this goes hand in hand and I feel as part of our place within history for the island, a focus on sustainability is where we need to be. I have always wanted the Ibiza Fashion Festival to be more than just a fashion event.
L: What do you hope to achieve through the annual festival and collective?
K: Our main focus is to reduce single use plastic in fashion but specifically in Ibiza by using lower footprint materials. We promote repurposed designs and items with a second life, demonstrating how circular economy practises can be achieved. Each of the designs available for purchase through our store are made from ocean and landfill waste, available exclusively to us. We want to go to the core of the issue and reduce all of the plastic on the island as there is a real issue here with recycling plastic bottles used by tourists - Ibiza has only just set up a recycling plant and there is only one for the whole of the region!
This year we have partnered with charities such as Plastic Free Ibiza and One Tree Planted who we support through donations and promotional campaigns. Ratings and certifications are being introduced for individual clubs and eateries to highlight their efforts towards improved sustainable practise, which is something I am yet to see in the UK. Additionally, we are working with iBi Foundation - who have launched the world’s first solar powered catamaran - to build a larger boat that collects rubbish as it goes using a larger comber net.
L: You exclusively work with designers and labels that operate using sustainable, circular design strategies, using materials used as ECONYL, recycled lycra and recycled plastic for fashion jewellery. These materials and methods are becoming more commonplace, but what challenges have you faced between founding the festival and present day?
K: We look for unique pieces created with luxury and exclusivity in mind. Each design tells a story and what I always enjoy seeing at events is a customer who doesn’t realise that the piece is sustainably made because first and foremost they love the fabric or detailing. More people are now realising that they can have both - a beautiful design, made responsibly. This wasn’t the case a few years ago and I was often met with doubts about why I was choosing these sustainably driven designs.
Using my experiences in London and of the fashion industry, I presented my first show in 2016 in Ibiza with a focus on showcasing sustainable fashion and swimwear from a variety of independent and up and coming designers. Up until 2018 I was organising annual events in London and Ibiza but found logistically London was a nightmare - surprisingly Ibiza was much easier and far more receptive to the idea of sustainability. I find London is more about vintage and second hand.
L: Similarly, what issues do you find designers often face when it comes to improving their design practise?
K: Ultimately we want to replace plastic entirely with new fabrics and assist designers in making this transition. To do this we offer a consultancy service through a team based in Amsterdam who work directly with the labels and offer guidance to ensure they are not spending their money in the wrong place. It can be a real mindfield initially, especially as some sustainable fabrics actually have higher carbon footprints than non-sustainable.
The way we have approached working with a variety of independent designers to ensure they are able to fulfill orders in the most conscious way, whilst also making sense for business, is by acting as a landing page for individual collections. Within these, 24 pieces are made and held of each and for every sale the designers are responsible for fulfilling the order and shipping. They are in control of what is going in and out and should they want to replenish stock, this decision is up to them.
To achieve the balance between not making or holding too much stock at one time, each designer receives a notification for when stock begins to get low. Often we find that if a design isn’t available, this only increases desirability further. The system is as close to ‘made to order’ as possible, ensuring that there is as little waste and financial loss as possible.
L: How have customers and clients mindset and approach changed when it comes to shopping sustainably? Have there been any surprises?
K: I always enjoy seeing the surprised expression when someone really likes the look of a design but then reads the tag or talks to a designer and learns that it’s actually been made using recycled fabrics or alternative materials. In the last few years people have become much more interested and open minded to this. We are still transitioning out of the misconception that a sustainable design must look earthy or natural and I feel the designs we stock really prove otherwise. I find whenever I spend time in Ibiza my wardrobe is very minimal anyway - a cut off pair of denim shorts and a couple of bikinis in rotation. A lot of visitors spend money on an extensive holiday wardrobe when actually the lifestyle here doesn’t require it, it’s very casual.
People are becoming more aware of waste but the penny has now dropped that designs can be mindful but also glamorous and fun - we don’t want to be a fun sponge, but just encourage people to be more mindful. The price of buying consciously is more but when you start to break down why and understand that it can’t be compared to fast fashion in any way, a greater appreciation begins to develop. There is also the additional element of exclusivity, if there are only twelve of those designs in the world it makes them extra special.
L: What have been your favourite moments as Ibiza Fashion Festival has developed and progressed?
K: Every year has been very different. Of course in 2020 the island took a very different turn but actually through me being temporarily stuck here, I was able to have meetings that would never have happened otherwise. The pace became slower and I met some really incredible people such as Victor Spinelli, a photographer, producer of Madonna’s book ‘Sex’ and co-founder of Burning Man festival, as well as Kim who is the main photographer at Vogue who wasn’t able to get back to New Zealand. On top of this, I met the creators of a sunblock made from plants who have now become new sponsors of ours. I really felt in my element, surrounded by these amazing people who allowed me to see Ibiza from different perspectives. Thanks to conversations surrounding a common incentive - to get Ibiza plastic free and to protect the environment - out of a crazy year came something really special that has directly impacted the future of the festival.
L: And what do you feel the future is?
K: This year is the 5th anniversary of Ibiza Fashion Festival and I really hope everything goes to plan in September - last year the event was called off just 3 weeks before due to the Coronavirus outbreak. We have 250 VIP guest tickets and 100 standard guests, with a live stream for those who can’t make it here and another platform made available for influencers. We have begun collaborating with Shameless Selfies so that our select designers have more scope to collaborate. I feel influencers need to improve on the products they are promoting but I can also tell that they are excited to be able to talk about something new whilst presenting it in their own way that is in tune with individual brand character.
Tourism is set to return to Ibiza in mid to late July with clubs trialing overhead misters and other methods to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. The majority of the ocean clubs are outside anyway but for the festival our after-party entertainment will be very low key with no major DJs this time. We are planning to use the original Festival Club site which is an old amphitheatre that was built in the 1960’s - the very first Ibiza club. I would like Ibiza Fashion Festival to be a go-to event that people will want to watch.
Everything that we are trying to do is a lot of hard work but is going to make a difference. I am very excited. Big seeds have been planted this year and there is a larger PR element included; we now have an outreach of almost one million. We are currently working towards B-Corp certification and have approached a company in the Netherlands who are developing a hard wearing fabric made from seaweed, grown using their own seaweed farm. We plan to send it to our designers to trial and hopefully incorporate into their creative process.
L: ...and what about the island itself? Do you feel it is coming full circle back to its holistic roots?
K: We are supporting the goal of Ibiza operating purely on clean energy by 2035. The island is currently supplied by coal but more sponsors for clean energy are coming on board; there is a real rush for these providers. The island doesn’t have its own fresh water source and we are experiencing an increase in water shortages which affects the livelihood of local farmers. There have been discussions around the idea of introducing a large seed bank here, almost like another Eden Project (Cornwall) and the planting of new trees will begin very soon. I feel for the majority of the UK there are a lot of corporate barriers and as a country it is actually much slower to implement environmental change, but Ibiza is fairly independent and those living here are really responsive to making positive change.
The power of social media can’t be denied and it is a real benefit for us during this time. Younger people, such as my daughter, are asking companies really fantastic questions and expect results - we didn’t have this same attitude during the 1980’s. I think in comparison to the lifestyles in Ibiza during the 1960’s to the 1980’s we are becoming closer to our roots with an increased appreciation for and connection to nature, but with the new bonus of high tech solutions and futuristic possibilities that are going to help us to make lasting changes.
Ibiza Fashion Festival will take place on September 15th 2021. For ticket information please see here.
Precious Plastic (@realpreciousplastic) (South West UK locals a Precious Plastics hub has been setup in Plymouth - email me if you would like a connection)