“I like fashion but for me it’s also a way to have an impact on the world, not only environmentally but in other ways,” Ortega told Delano.
The Granada native, who moved to Luxembourg five years ago, first found his feet in the clothing market when he met his partner, whose family were involved in the industry in Turkey. He began a successful venture selling branded socks online, but something was missing.
In September 2018, Ortega finally quit his job and embarked on the business. He spent two weeks working with the factory in Turkey to understand the manufacturing process, so as to limit waste as much as possible.
“It makes the production volume lower but I think it will pay off,” he said. Based on that experience, Ortega has designed a colourful and creative line of organic cotton socks for men and women, which he took to the Berlin Fashion Show in January 2019.
“We’re very happy because we took a lot of contacts for shops in Germany, Switzerland and Austria,” he said, adding that the next steps will be to make special edition designs to raise the profile of certain causes, and work on other projects such as upcycling and circular economy.
Funky socks have become a major fashion trend in recent years with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau among those giving them the limelight. Ortega, himself a big fan of wearing colourful socks, said it was with this in mind that he got into the line. “I really see socks as a way of expressing yourself, especially when you’ve a dress code at the office. It’s something people really pay attention to.”
The business is among a growing number of sustainable clothing brands in Luxembourg, like What Eve Wears and Impashion, which was also present at this year’s Berlin Fashion Show. There are around three shops selling sustainable clothing in the capital, a number which Ortega says is impressive considering the country’s size. For now, he sells most of his products online, to markets where the demand is more established, like in Germany. But that could change in future.
“In Luxembourg people have money to afford more sustainable fashion. They understand that the price is higher because they pay fair prices to the people who farm and make them,” the entrepreneur said.
According to the Changing Markets Foundation, a fifth of all water pollution is caused by the textile processing, making it the second-biggest polluter of fresh water on the planet. At the same time, the safety and welfare of workers in the industry is too often neglected as the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, which killed 1,134 people, shows.
But there is hope as even big brands are starting to change. High street clothing chain H&M announced plans to ensure all cotton in its range comes from sustainable sources by 2020 and it is turning increasingly to using recycled polyester and textils like Econyl and Tencel in its manufacture processes.
And a more accountable public conscience means that consumers are becoming increasingly discerning about the origins of what they buy.
“Right now, it’s a niche,” Ortega said, adding: “I hope organic clothing or organic socks will become mainstream, so you don’t need to look for them, even though that’s bad for my business. Then I will move to something even more organic.”
Find out more about the organisations working to reduce the damaging impact of fast fashion and supporting the “Rethink your clothes” campaign at the Fair Fashion Days exhibition from 5-7 April at the Rotondes.