Can llamas and alpacas help solve one of humanity’s biggest environmental problems?

Adriana Marina, founder of Argentinian clothing company, animaná, believes so. And she wants you to believe it, too.

by Tara Roberts

Top fashion companies across the industry all drew the same conclusion after a bevy of recent studies. Our fleeces, athletic wear and leggings release micro-plastic fibers when washed, and these micro-plastics, which are too small to filter out of the wash, end up in the ocean being consumed by marine life and ultimately, by us. We must, they realized, find alternatives.

Well, Adriana Marina has an idea.

Not only, she says, can harvesting the natural fibers of exotic animals like llamas and alpacas wean us off this widespread and growing dependence on synthetic fibers, but it can also help build a sustainable and thriving workforce deep in the Argentinian heart of Patagonia and the Andean mountains.

Animaná, created in 2008, brings together artisans and producers from around the Andes to model a localized solution. By using raw natural materials and tapping into ancestral know-how, animaná creates luxury contemporary collections with lightweight and strong materials for the rest of the world while helping to strengthen the local work economy. Adriana also founded Hecho por Nosotros, an NGO working with the United Nations to educate the world about the necessity of using natural fibers and to promote Latin American textile development.

Adriana offers her vision for a healthy fashion industry and tips for more conscious consumers.

On why developing the Andean region through natural local resources is important…

“We have the finest fibers in the world. Our animals live at very high altitudes and can resist the weather because of the hair that grows on their bodies. But young people don’t care about these animals and all the richness and potential is being lost. I see young Patagonians going to the big city, looking for a better way to live, leaving home. Since I was very small, I felt angry about how we were exporting our materials without adding value locally. I didn’t understand how this situation was possible. And I wanted to change it. Natural fibers are the main tool we have for local development and for improving the environment.”

On how the animaná value chain works…

“From the selection of the fibers, to the choice of yarn, to the use of specific knitting techniques, to the type hand loom, we work on every process along the value chain. Animaná is unique — we are the only brand of our kind that was born locally in Argentina, in the Andes. Our goal is to integrate the countries of Latin America, to promote collaboration and unity with producers, designers, artisans, businesses, NGOs and government. We are already living in a divided world based on ideology, but to stay divided is to not want to grow. I believe we grow best through collaboration.”

On why fashion is a great entry point to consciousness raising…

“If we move the needle forward in the way we conceive of fashion, I believe we can move the needle forward in everything we do. I have more than 100 young people working with me. And after I took them through the process and helped them understand what is happening in the industry, I saw that they looked at the world in a different way. They said, ‘No, I don’t want to be a part of this. Where else can I buy my shirt?’ And that was just the start. They have been growing more consciousness about more and more things around them.”

On why we must all become conscious consumers…

“Fashion makes us dream that if we wear this, we will be happy. It’s a lie — a very big lie. We have this system of propaganda that is so effective. But we cannot feel that we are wearing something that makes us beautiful and know that terrible things happened to the people involved in making it or that it is killing the environment. Our clothes must be made in a certain way.

We are also consuming too much. We need to focus on buying less, and what we buy needs to be of better quality. I want people to fall in love with their animaná pieces more and more every year they own them — not less. I do like the idea of the capsule wardrobe [a wardrobe typically of 30 pieces or less]. I have uniforms — basic pieces — that I always wear. I went to this big fashion event in Paris, and everyone was so beautiful, so fashion. But I also met a lot of rich people that day — and they were all dressed in the same way as me — so simple.”

On how not everyone can afford the high price tag of ethical fashion…

“I think what is pricey is to think we cannot afford ethical fashion. All fashion must be ethical. Of course, nowadays this is not yet possible — we definitely need an everyday brand of ethical fashion. But the fashion industry, an industry that often cheats us like a mercenary, cannot just change these principles as a way of marketing.”

On your vision for the fashion industry…

“The industry will go where humanity and society go. If we begin to request and demand ethical fashion as a law, the industry will change. We are working around the United Nations Sustainability Goals. We think each of the goals has a relationship with fashion, and so we present solutions and opportunities to make the fashion community a community of good. We are also building a map of sustainable fashion around the world. It’s important to make clusters in different geographic areas, to name good practices, to educate others and spread the message. I believe we can turn the fashion industry, which moves so many resources, into one that also adds — rather than takes — value.”

Adriana is a ‘Fabric of Change’ Ashoka Fellow. Learn more about Ashoka and C&A Foundation’s Fabric of Change Initiative here, or follow the conversation on Twitter at #FabricOfChange.