Alessandra-Isabel Hager, known as Alisa, discovered her passion for sustainability after studying fashion design at art college in Berlin. Together with former fellow student and friend Stefanie Barz, she co-founded the online platform A-GAIN Guide, a Berlin-based website promoting repurposing and recycling of used clothing.
The Local: Many people outside of Germany perceive the country as very green – perhaps because Germans are known to care about the environment and recycling. Do you think this is true or is it a misconception?
Alisa: There is definitely a lot of movement in Germany in terms of sustainability, but it moves very slowly from states until something happens. It also depends on the sector. In fashion, I think England has a lot of initiatives happening on the business level that are being supported and pushed more so than here in Berlin. When Stefanie and I pitched our idea for the first time, we had to really explain why it is needed until it actually got anywhere. Germany is very slow in that sense, so there is definitely room for more action in Germany.
German cities are definitely at the forefront of the movement. There are many initiatives popping up in Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Munich. What also plays a role here is the type of government – in Berlin, with our past red-red-green coalition (SPD, The Left, Green Party), there was a higher chance of social and green thinking. It’ll be interesting to see how the new change in government will have an effect on this sector.
How did the A-GAIN Guide come about?
For Stefanie and I, sustainability was a big issue in terms of clothing. We knew there was something wrong with the industry. So, we created the “A-GAIN Guide” in order for people to increase the lifespan of their clothes. There is not much data on textiles, so we want to help with that and give a better overview of what happens, and what can happen, to our clothes.
The guide is geared towards young people – it is online, so can be accessed through your mobile phone. I’ve noticed that the young generation in particular has a greater desire to live sustainably. We therefore want to give these people the tools to be able to live more sustainably, but in a stress-free way.
The guide promotes the use and reuse of local resources. How important is it for you to promote the local workforce and businesses?
It’s so vital for our concept. We have people who can repair and reuse textiles and clothing right on our doorstep. We need to bring these people together structurally and make sure that they are not going under. We must re-attribute value to these small businesses, that fashion upcycling is an easy and ready option to us.
What is the problem with fashion recycling as opposed to fashion upcycling?
The problem with recycling clothing bins is that people think they are solving the problem, but the recycling industry is completely overwhelmed by the mass amount of goods, as well as the poor quality of the items. From 2000-2015 our consumption of clothing has doubled. With the huge volume of clothing, recycling came about as a solution, however the low quality does not allow that, and often only downcycling is possible. Clothes are exported abroad, but because of cheap quality materials, they aren’t of much use there either.
In Berlin there are figures from 2018, where, out of the old clothes, 60 percent were re-used, but of the 60 percent only two percent remained in Germany, with 98 percent of them being shipped abroad. In the end it lies around somewhere. The core problem remains the mass production and the quality. The only solution is to keep these clothes for a longer period of time, keep them in the cycle so that they can be worn longer, more often, which ultimately means people consume less.
READ ALSO: The complete guide to recycling in Germany
The second-hand movement is considered very “trendy”. Do you think this momentum will continue, especially given the climate protests and the growing awareness of this movement?
I believe it will continue this way and the trend will stay. The environmental problems behind fast fashion will not just go away, and the young people of today grew up with this awareness. The environmental issue is also becoming even bigger and more urgent.
We are human beings; we feel with other people and our environment, and we are compassionate. Especially if you have a child, it is a next level experience to consider their future. Sure, for yourself too, but for the little ones, who will be around even longer.
Many critics argue that sustainable fashion is unaffordable and unattainable. How do you feel about this?
Here’s the thing: you buy a huge amount of really cheap clothes. In the end, you may have spent more money than if you had only bought four items a year, which may have cost more but are really good quality and can accompany you for life. You can repair them, resell them – ultimately you are investing in quality. If you like it, repair it. If you no longer like it, sell it. For many people, this may be too much energy – we hope the A-GAIN Guide is a solution to make this easier.
Our hope is also to expand the guide to other cities. It is an ‘open-source software’ (OSS), meaning it can be accessed and integrated onto other platforms. We’ve already built this basic structure, so it would be a shame not to expand it further.
Our interview was edited for clarity.