1-on-1: Permanent

Permanent is a new, eco-minded addition to the Amsterdam streetwear scene. The goal: to make the fashion industry sustainable. Here we speak with its founder Iris van Melsen about its debut collection. You can catch the range at a pop-up store in the byAMFI space 24-26 May.

Hi Iris, tell us a little about yourself – where are you from, what inspired you to start this Permanent project? Hi! I am 23 years old and I’ve been living in Amsterdam my whole life. I feel inspired by the many different cultures living in the city, you can see people wear the most unique outfits in the streets. I graduated in Film and Literary studies from Leiden, so I’m interested in different art forms, but I ended up focusing on fashion. It all started when I found out how the clothing industry has such a big impact on the environment. I was already aware of child labour in the fashion supply chain and therefore tried to avoid going to these fast fashion retailers. However, I realised I could make a change after I learned that the fashion industry is the second-largest user of water globally. It’s almost unbelievable that the production of one cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water – the amount a person drinks in 2.5 years. At that moment, I thought about all the consumers that weren’t aware of how their consumerism is killing the planet. Therefore, I started to do more and more research. I read about exploitation, chemicals, dangerous working conditions, human trafficking, and pollution in the clothing industry. Then I decided that I wanted to make a change, and educate others, through fashion. Therefore, I started Permanent: a sustainable and fair-trade fashion brand. What’s the impetus behind starting a sustainable fashion brand, is it against something or for something? I started a streetwear brand to spread awareness through unique designs, which are available for most people. I do appreciate high-end fashion as well. However, it’s such a shame that most high-end fashion brands are not sustainable as they own enough money to invest it in researching sustainability. If I can make some kid think about their consumerism for a second, it would already be an accomplishment. The youth are growing up with the internet and therefore have easy access to information. I feel like they are open to change, and we should encourage that. We live in a society where cheap, fast fashion has become a norm. However, these low prices do not reflect the real value of clothes, as environmental and ethical aspects are not included in the price. These garments are not sustainable. They are not permanent. I’d like to spread awareness through Permanent, Permanent shows how brands need to see sustainability as the norm. I am against any kind of passionless fashion that is there just for the money, being too egocentric to care about others or our environment. Permanent is striving to reflect the unique individuality of the Amsterdam streetwear culture through conscious collection concepts, in a positive and sustainable way. I also hope that more people will get into upcycling through my collection. I’d like to show how one does not have to throw a clothing piece away if they don’t like it anymore. You can easily make patches out of a T-shirt or change the fit of a garment with little sewing skills. Therefore, the harnesses shown on the lookbook pictures are made from our bamboo lanyards. I hope to show how one could easily change an old piece of clothing into an amazing new piece. Your first collection is called ‘Water’ and wants to highlight the amount of water used and polluted by ‘fast fashion’, can you talk a little bit more about that? I’ve already mentioned that one cotton T-shirt can take up to 2700 liters of water to produce. Now think about the amount of cotton clothing pieces being sold daily. It’s crazy. A lot of people can’t imagine how the production of just a single T-shirt costs so much water. That is because people aren’t aware of the chemicals being used for growing cotton. These chemicals make it impossible to reuse the water. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. Another example is polyester, one of the most popular fabrics used for fashion. However, when a polyester garment is being washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibres that add to the increasing level of plastic in our oceans. These plastic fibres even end up in the food chain as plankton eat them, then fishes eat the plankton, and eventually the fish will end up on our plates. Often, cotton grown worldwide is generally modified to be resistant to the bollworm pest which reduces the pesticides being used. However, this can lead to even more problems eventually as “superweeds” can emerge. These weeds are resistant to standard pesticides. Therefore, they need to be treated with even more toxic pesticides which are harmful to humans. Permanent sources the garments from suppliers who provide organic and eco-friendly materials, as well as to improve the livelihoods of those that work in the fashion supply chain. The production process of our 100% organic garments utilises biological fertilizers and earthworms, instead of the chemicals typically adopted for making fast fashion, which means the water can be reused instead of being polluted and wasted. How are your designs playing around with this concept? I wanted to have a design that would remind one of vintage T-shirts, especially vintage band shirts. That’s how I came up with the idea for the “thunder wave T-shirt”. This shirt has a similar print as the other shirt I’ve made (wave shirt), they both have permanent written in a chrome letter type with waves. The thunder wave Tee also has rain and thunder. Hopefully the shirt will remind people of the day they bought a sustainable Tee just as they could be reminded of the day they went to a concert. Hopefully, all the garments in this collection will remind one of the water being wasted by the (fast) fashion industry. ‘Fashion’ and ‘Sustainability’ seem like quite opposed terms – do you have a vision to how the two ideas could be brought together? We should bring them together because they are the complete opposite. Fashion has such a big impact on the environment, and the best way to focus on this problem is by making a difference within the clothing industry. The consumer is the one who could make a change. If more people start to buy sustainable clothing, more brands will realise that they need to change. Tell us a little bit about the models in your first release video… The pictures and videos which are shown on my social media all include people which inspire me. You don’t need to be a model to be my model. You get me? I’d prefer someone who has their own style above someone who has generally attractive features. It was an incredibly cold day when I shot the lookbook pictures and videos and I need to thank them a lot. Everyone had such a positive vibe and it gave me hope that more people would share my vision and appreciate what I am doing. I can’t thank them enough!