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Tiempo De Zafra on how developing countries suffer from overproduction

The creative collective has had enough with the fashion industry’s obsession with more. This is what they do to fix it

Tiempo De Zafra on how developing countries suffer from overproduction

It’s no secret that the fashion industry is producing far more clothes than the world’s demand for them. What’s not so clear, though, is what happens to a piece of clothing when it’s not sold. What happens to all the ripped or stained clothes that people get rid of? What happens when even second-hand shops or Salvation Armies don’t want them? Where do these unwanted pieces end up at?

Born in the Dominican Republic, in a family of tailors, and raised between New York City and Boston from the age of eight, Edgar Alejandro Garrido got to see both sides of the fashion industry; first, the factories that produce the clothes and then the H&Ms of this world stacking up mass quantities thanks to the cheap labour. Seeing this, Edgar started experimenting with excess clothing in his late teenage years, making garments out of what had already been made instead of buying new fabrics.

While Edgar’s work was led by sustainability concerns, he admits that it was also a matter of cost. “I’d shop in thrift and dollar stores in hopes to find anything that could potentially be repurposed into new clothes, from a random tourist or promo T-shirts from some years ago to curtains and laundry bags,” he explains.

 

“Not only does all the unsold surplus from the outside world is being sent to developing countries like here, it only adds to anything that’s already not wanted by the locals and ends up piling up into landfills, and basically becomes trash.”

Upcycling planted the seed for what would later become Tiempo De Zafra (TDZ), an overconsumption awareness project that he is now embarking on with his business and life partner, Stephanie Bazzarae Rodrigues, whom he met in NYC. Now based in his native country, they make clothes with what is quickly growing around them— mountains of excess clothing and textile waste.

“What’s happening here is that there’s no service to help recycle clothing,” says Stephanie. “Not only does all the unsold surplus from the outside world is being sent to developing countries like here, it only adds to anything that’s already not wanted by the locals and ends up piling up into landfills, and basically becomes trash.”  By observing the residents, the couple realised how they weren’t the only ones making the most out of what they had. One day they saw a taxi driver in a car made out of a variety of different-coloured composites, with one door painted white, another cream, and the others in two shades of grey. After encountering this man, whose name is Agustino, they made a custom shirt out of panels in the same tones of the car’s colours, which is now part of the brand’s permanent collection. They then gave it to him while documenting him riding in his car, asking him about his story of repurposing car parts.

“Poverty is a real, communal issue. So when people work with what they’ve got, it’s out of necessity first and foremost. Repurposing isn’t just a trend here, it’s about making ends meet.”

Produced under their own independent production house, Modern Art Service, they want to capture these kinds of encounters to get reference points they can use when designing clothes for TDZ. “The reality here has nothing to do with what’s going on in New York or in Europe,” says Edgar. “Poverty is a real, communal issue. So when people work with what they’ve got, it’s out of necessity first and foremost. Repurposing isn’t just a trend here, it’s about making ends meet.”

The way they manage to run a permanent collection that’s almost entirely sustainable is by scouting materials regularly. Sourcing from the flea markets around the city of Santo Domingo, as well as collecting the leftovers of the surrounding tailor shops

The way they manage to run a permanent collection that’s almost entirely sustainable is by scouting materials regularly. Sourcing from the flea markets around the city of Santo Domingo, as well as collecting the leftovers of the surrounding tailor shops, they’ll take anything that’s in a decent condition and that speaks to them. Then, they tear down their finds into pieces of fabric that they turn into new clothes and accessories such as handbags and hats, all of which can be ordered online. Of course, given the nature of the recycling process, the l outcome of an item depends on the fabrics they have on hand at the time of ordering. But this is, after all, the whole point of their brand.

Colourful garden gat by Tiempo De Zafra
Garden Hat by Tiempo De Zafra

That very aspect of customisation and the way the customer is involved all along in the making of their order is what makes Tiempo De Zafra so interesting: from the moment someone buys something, they’ll get to chat with Edgar — who’s mostly in charge of elaborating the designs and the patterns — through facetime calls or text messages so that they can customise their purchase to their liking. For example, at the moment, Edgar is working on a reconstructed pair of chino pants made from old khakis that are going to feature numerous pockets, 15 to be exact. A number which he and the customer agreed on after chatting. Talking with them, he confirmed that and the sizing and fitting, too.

Bag by Tiempo De Zafra

“Doing so,” Edgar goes on, “we’re starting a conversation with our customers, teaching them about the actual process of making clothes. They get to see how many steps it takes to make a piece that will fit them properly. We hope they’ll get something away from it, and that after that maybe they’ll think of going to the tailor the next time they need to buy clothes, to get something that lasts.”

If there’s a positive side to the textile factory model, it’s that the textile workers become self-sufficient in terms of making clothes for themselves and for others. Eventually, some open a shop to offer tailoring services. “Most men get their shirts and suits custom made, and so do women with their clothes. The culture is very hands-on,” he says.

“If we’d support sustainable businesses more often, though, it would force larger corporations to change. We all know how the big brands go after the money, and that’s the power the customer has.”

That said, it doesn’t make up for the poor working conditions to be found in factories where in some cases, textile workers are paid according to the number of pieces they produce in a day — at a rate of 350 Dominican pesos per piece if they’re making Chacabana shirts, which is equivalent to about five pounds. Edgar points out that on a good day, a productive worker could get away with five Chacabanas, making a daily pay of RD$1750/£25.

“The way advertising campaigns sell, the consumer is so disconnected that they have no idea about where, in what conditions and by whom the clothes they buy are made,” Stephanie says. “If we’d support sustainable businesses more often, though, it would force larger corporations to change. We all know how the big brands go after the money, and that’s the power the customer has.”

Menswear look designed by Tiempo De Zafra
Menswear look designed by Tiempo De Zafra

By raising awareness of the fashion industry’s well-kept secrets, Edgar and Stephanie and everyone that’s involved in some way or another in Tiempo De Zafra — from the seamstresses they occasionally hire to Agustino the taxi driver and all the other people they meet in the streets of Santo Domingo — are hoping the project will open people’s eyes and change their consumption habits. Before getting rid of something, there might be a way to repurpose it. And if it’s something we just don’t feel like keeping anymore, maybe we didn’t need it in the first place.

1 Granary

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