POLITE: The ethical designer headlines at Bogotá’s B Capital fashion event

When you buy a pair of shoes, chances are the carbon footprint isn’t on your mind. When you wear that cashmere sweater, you’re most likely thinking about the weather – not climate change. The way we interact with the environment is at the heart of what we wear. The materials used: from wood buttons to plastic soles, natural or artificial dyes, fur from farmed animals, to name a few examples.

As our demand for clothing expands with population growth, so too our dependency on nature. While clothes are pleasing to the eye, they are not always good for the soul because they contribute to deplete fossil fuels as mega cargo fleets transport merchandise from factory to store. And, of course, there is the human tragedy of sweatshops.

“If we care about what we eat, we should equally care about what we wear,” states Carlos Polite, the acclaimed Colombian designer who this month presents his collection at B Capital, Bogotá’s business-to-consumer fashion show.

‘Polite’ is the namesake of the 42- year old designer who left his hometown of Ibagué, Tolima, to study art restoration at the Complutense University of Madrid. But, the prospect of sitting behind an easel for the rest of his life – realization he came to after a year as an apprentice in Madrid’s El Prado Museum – evolved into a fashion start-up with his mother, and grandmother, both professional seamstresses and experienced in all aspects of the clothing industry.”My life in fashion is not a coincidence,” states the designer who keeps a workshop in Bogotá for clients, and finds Colombia an unwavering source of inspiration.

“The importance of the artisan creating quality items is still very prevalent in this country, and it must be preserved” believes Carlos, as talk turns to globalization and how it increasingly removes the human element from the fashion industry, with its online retail, fast-fashion to dress us all in the same pair of pants, and, on a more sinister side, use of cheap labor, even child exploitation, to keep manufacturing costs low.

“Fashion can’t just be a statement. It must address reality,” he says.

Ethical fashion isn’t a trend for a new generation. But, increasingly, a necessity, believes Polite – whose name and brand are associated with a “waste-not” philosophy. Each item is made from start to finish by one person, either by the designer himself, or by someone within the team. There is no over-production as a commercial strategy, web promotion and sales guarantee a precise inventory.

As the creative director behind his brand, Carlos gets involved in every stage of the process, from production to marketing. At the heart of his fashion is the importance he gives identity, and breaking down gender stereotypes. The end result:Polite Women, his signature collection.

Since making his debut on international catwalks in 2010, POLITE is indelibly linked to women as much as in gender-specific terms as in attitudes and social values.

“The fashion industry likes to classify with labels, so Polite Women is my way of expressing the importance of being an individual.” Holding the industry to a higher standard when it comes to promoting and merchandising fashion with images of beauty and sensuality, Polite Women “appreciate the small details that give life value.”

For this year’s three-day fashion experience with B Capital, Polite presents 14 looks of the Autumn/Winter collection, and 30 of Spring/Summer 2018. To accompany the ‘I am an in- dividual’ performance, the designer teamed up with Luis Barreto Carillo and Amber Moelter,  the founders of the New York fashion film company Noir Tribe. Having worked on four productions for Polite, both Barreto and Moelter echo the importance of individuality in Carlos’ work.

Experimenting with diverse materials, patterns, bold prints and cultural references to the 1950s define the Polite look. There is structure in his designs, artistic nuances created to the dimensions of a specific individual.

The Polite approach to fashion is a calculated one. It looks to empower women through the garments it produces, and sees each piece as a totem capable of providing a sense of pride to women who ware them. “I am more concerned about the ethics, than the aesthetics,” says Carlos.

The world is spending more money on clothes than ever before, much of it ending up in landfills, rivers and oceans. Fashion may be fast to turn over, but slow to biodegrade, and the idea that clothes are disposable has plenty of adverse environmental consequences.

One way of making a change is to simply buy less. But, we are prone to temptation. Lured by things that make us feel good. Making an informed de- cision is becoming more important in every aspect of our lives, and what to wear is no exception.

As designers take up environmental issues, address social issues, challenge race and identity stereotypes, fashion as an industry can make a change for the better, and Polite understands the responsibility.

As a relative newcomer to a growing line-up of homegrown talent, he believes designers must take into consideration multiple issues when coming up with a collection. “It’s important that consumers take ownership of the garment, because clothes do not make the person, people make garments”.

Luckily for the industry, Polite joins a growing list of concerned designers, practicing fair trade policies and helping to educate consumers about the importance of the human element in fashion. “I’m not against the democratization of fashion,” says Polite, on the how the wardrobes of Bogotanos have changed over the years.

With our metropolis becoming warmer and millennials increasingly looking for functionality in clothes, everything now is valid, showing how fashion even blurs political divides. “We live in a capitalist environment, yet we all wear the same, like communists,” remarks Carlos. But at the end of a design day, what’s important is how we respect craftmanship, the person who isn’t a model, but – as the saying goes – a model person. That’s a polite way to explain POLITE, its ethics and a Colombian contribution to global fashion.