The Fashionable Solution

“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.” Says Javier Goyeneche. In 2009 he founded the fashion label Ecoalf, and since then, his company has been converting plastic waste from the oceans into fashion – making people look better in the process.
Text Matthias Mederer
Photo Ecoalf

Mr. Goyeneche, let’s get this question right out of the way: Which pieces of clothing does a man need?
Javier Goyeneche: Well, if you had asked my father, he would’ve said: “You need a good pair of shoes, a well-tailored blazer and a nice shirt.” I’ve never really liked posh shoes. I always wear a white shirt, jeans and white sneakers. That’s enough to keep me happy.

You’ve been focusing on fashion for some time, haven’t you?
Yes. I owned a fashion company that I had founded in 1995 and sold at the beginning of 2009. To be honest, I had grown a little tired of the fashion business. I was interested in sustainability. I spent almost a year trying to find a foundation in Spain that I’d be able to cooperate with. This turned out to be really difficult or even impossible.

Then you founded your own label…
Yes, my two sons Alfredo and Álvaro were born in 2006 and 2009, so that’s how I came up with the name Ecoalf. I wanted to start a new generation of fashion companies, and then I came across the topic of recycling.

…which initially doesn’t sound very sexy.
But it addresses one of the problems I mentioned earlier. Many people associate sustainable fashion with hippies. They think it’s about converting granny’s old blanket into a backpack that’ll then look accordingly. I want to produce high-quality products. Fashion with a cool design. And it’s all about technology and innovation – as with electric cars.

Electric cars?
Yes, electric cars are also about sustainability, but design and quality play very important roles, too. Sustainability has to be accompanied by high-quality design and technical features.

And by a good feeling.
Yes, I think fashion can no longer only be about looking good. It also has to be about doing the right thing and feeling good doing it.

What about fashion as a status symbol?
Let me answer that with a question of my own: Won’t fashion serve as a status symbol as soon as it stands out from the short-lived trends that we are confronted with these days?

»I’m convinced that we have to find a way back to quality over quantity. We have to buy fewer, but better clothes.«

You’ll still have to convince the customers.
Unfortunately, there’s still a huge number of people who just look for the cheapest prices. That has nothing to do with a person’s age, by the way. I often go to universities and talk to young people who are politically active and worried about the planet, but in the end they still want to be able to buy twenty T-shirts for six euros. I always tell them this won’t be possible. We can’t go on pretending that everything is just fine and living on this planet as if we had a planet B. The fashion industry is one of the most important consumer industries and the second biggest polluter. By 2050, there will be another two billion people living on this planet – and there’s not enough space to plant more cotton to produce T-shirts for six euros. There’s definitely not enough water. The production of every cheap T-shirt needs 2,500 liters of water. Recently, I read that a big company burned down 7,000 hectares of forest to be able to plant more cotton. To produce cheap T-shirts. That’s totally crazy.

Talking about crazy: how have you experienced this year?
Of course, these past few months have been difficult for all of us, but then again it was a good time to reconsider things that actually haven’t been working for a long time. Like the fashion industry. The fashion industry is based on a business model that is defined exclusively by consumption, rebates and new trends. There’s a permanent pressure on producers to make even more profit. Unfortunately, it’s fashion itself that’s to blame for this unhealthy rhythm, for the fact that trends are thrown onto the market at an ever-higher pace, without taking demand or even seasons into account. I mean, who wants to buy light spring trousers in the fall?! I think that summer garments should be sold in summer and winter garments in winter. I recently went to a fashion innovation summit in New York where I talked about the crisis as an opportunity for change, saying that nothing would be worse than a return to normality. After this summit, there was a meeting of eighteen fashion labels, but after this exchange, Ecoalf was still the only label that didn’t want to grant any rebates when shops were reopened after lockdown.

But you’ve been standing strong on that.
I’m convinced that we have to find a way back to quality over quantity. We have to buy fewer, but better clothes.

But you have to admit that a lot is changing about the way in which brands are perceived.
Absolutely. There’s an increasing number of people, a new generation of customers, who want to support brands that stand for certain values. And I have to say that I’ve perceived a significant change in the last two years – in many countries, among customers and consumers. When I first started fishing plastic out of the oceans with three fishermen back in 2015, nobody was even talking about the oceans. Today, plastic waste and microplastics are all over the media.

Your brand has been awarded many prizes – one might even call you a hero. Who are the people that you feel the most respect for?
To be honest, it’s the doctors and paramedics in Spain who currently are my heroes. They work 24/7 and, if it wasn’t for them, there’d be total chaos in this country. The crisis has been managed terribly by the Spanish government.

Javier Goyeneche was born in Madrid. He studied at the European Business School in London and got a master’s degree in International Marketing Strategies at Northwestern University in Chicago. In 1995 he founded Fun & Basics, a company producing accessories. In ten years’ time, the company opened seventy shops. He then sold the company and founded the label Ecoalf in 2009. He has also set up a foundation with the aim of cleaning waste from the oceans in cooperation with the fishing industry and using recycling and the principles of the circular economy to give plastic waste a second life. Goyeneche’s fashions are now sold all over the world. The latest flagship store was opened this year in Tokyo.

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