How a white cotton T-shirt begins
Not all that long ago, it would have seemed pretty crazy to build visits to cheesemakers and farms into our travels, or even to tour the winery that produces our favorite bottles. Now, of course, that’s all changed. It feels worthwhile, even important, to see where our food comes from.
What if we employed that approach to other things we consume, like clothing?
Portugal’s slow fashion brand ISTO. decided it’s a question worth asking. This week, they’re leading their first “factourism” event—hosted visits and guided tours of several of their factories in the manufacturing hub of northern Portugal. The idea for the first one is to follow the journey of a white cotton T-shirt from thread to fashion staple, starting with the weaving of the fabric and ending with the sewing-in of the label.
Some of their fans apparently agreed, because when they announced it on their social media, they got hundreds of inquiries, some from as far away as Singapore. (The first trip is capped at 20 people and full, but there will be more.)
ISTO. is a menswear label that was founded five years ago by three young Portuguese entrepreneurs who were turned off by fast fashion and wanted change their customers’ relationship with their wardrobes. “I’ve always had a thing about clothing,” says partner Pedro Palha, who was working in Mexico for one of those unsustainable startups that burns through all its funding before it can turn a profit before he returned to Portugal and started the brand.
A color library at one of ISTO.’s factories
Then he came across Everlane, a US fashion brand that was radical in its approach to ethical production and “radical transparency,” such as disclosing price breakdowns long before anyone else was doing the same. “No one had heard of Everlane in Portugal,” he recalls. And so he saw an opportunity. As soon as he met another Portuguese Everlane fan, he had his first business partner and ISTO. was begun.
The name, conveniently, is the Portuguese word for “this.” but also an acronym for Independent thinking, Superb quality, Transparent and Organic materials. (The last of these can be stretched to include natural fibers and recycled materials.) It was also important for them to grow organically, without outside investors, and expanding slowly and strategically only as their profits allowed.
Although Palha says he was ”amazed by the transparency” of Everlane, ISTO.’s independent thinking also includes doing away with seasonal collections—a refusal of the consumption culture that comes from fast fashion—and slowly introducing new pieces to the collection. Everything is a casual basic that’s meant to be part of a man’s wardrobe for years, not replaced whenever a new trend comes along. (Their independent thinking also extends to spelling, which is why I’m using so much midsentence punctuation.)
They’ve also introduced an on-demand approach, in which they can test new color options and reduce waste. Items like the popular work jacket aren’t made with colored fabric but garment-dyed at the end, only after the orders have been placed.
Seamstresses at work
The “superb” sort of speaks for itself. Palha and his partners vet their factories closely and visit them often. He notes that many of their suppliers are family-owned businesses in which the workers are treated with respect and in which the younger generation is starting to have a bigger stake in the business. These owners’ sons are often aligned with ISTO.’s sustainable and ethical values.
Transparency is arguably the main pillar, and one that the brand is best known for. Every price tag includes a full price breakdown of the item’s cost, from buttons and zippers to labor and logistics. In addition, the company releases a detailed report each year breaking down its operational costs, including rent on its three stores in Lisbon, salaries, marketing and taxes. With all that in mind, the prices seem more than fair—especially for “high-quality basics that stand the test of time.”
Factourism is the next logical step, says Palha, who mentions in passing that he daydreams about a glass house—“obviously using shadows” for privacy—as a future brand extension. “We want to demonstrate that everything we tell is true,” he says, “that it really is made [sustainably] in Portugal.”
To be informed about the next factourism day, sign up at isto.pt/pages/factourism-day.
Sustainable Fashion Moves Into Travel: Portugal’s New Factourism – Forbes
How a white cotton T-shirt begins