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Tiempo De Zafra – How to save a Caribbean’s lost paradise believing in crafting

«When it rains, water rises out of the river and takes the waste with it» Stephanie Bazzarae Rodrigues says: «All of that funnels into the Caribbean Ocean»

Tiempo de Zafra founders’ combating the global issue of waste management and landfill

In July 2018 a tropical storm saw the beaches of Santo Domingo become inundated with rubbish. «That was when everything changed for us» says Stephanie Rodrigues, who moved to The Dominican Republic’s capital from New York with Edgar Garrido in 2017. The couple, both 32, also relocated their company Tiempo De Zafra, launched a year prior, and together have been working to raise awareness and combat the global issue of waste management and landfill. Garrido, originally from The Dominican Republic but who migrated to America at eight years old, developed the brand with his father in Harlem, New York. His grandfather was a tailor, and his motivation was to learn the family craft. Since his teenage years Garrido relied on thrift shops like Goodwill, or the city’s dollar stores, to source second hand clothing to deconstruct and then rework, giving discarded items new life. They started selling through the business in 2016, the same year Garrido met Rodrigues, who is Brazilian, and was born in Florida. Garrido was first enticed back to Santo Domingo for an industrial pattern making and tailoring course. A year later, as he and Rodrigues documented the density of waste unloaded onto the shore after the 2018 storm – Ocean protection charity, Parley recorded clearing one thousand tons of debris in eleven days – they reached a turning point. «There were car parts, jugs, cleaning products, glass bottles, wood, refrigerators», Rodrigues remembers. «That was when we realized we should stay here after Edgar finished school. We thought, let’s build our business here so we can bring further awareness to these issues»

Changing customers’ opinions for a new fashion business model

A lack of the transparency Garrido and Rodrigues offer in terms of production or brand practices has caused public issues for far larger clothing companies. With waste disposal, the September 2018 discovery that luxury British retailer Burberry burnt their excess stock highlighted another issue of over manufacturing. The New York Times reported that it had destroyed thirty-seven million US dollars of clothing and cosmetics to maintain brand value. For Garrido, this kind of irresponsible production and mismanagement of products is what needs to change. «The main questions brands need to ask is how much are we creating? How much of this is actually going to an intended client or customer? And if they don’t sell, what happens to them?». The World Bank reported in 2019 the global consumption of apparel was sixty-two million metric tons with a predicted growth to one hundred and two million tons in the next decade. That same year, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated less than one percent of used clothing is recycled into new garments, a loss of five hundred billion US dollars. Tiempo De Zafra’s business model capitalizes on this, and in working only to order, eliminates over stocking. It does, however, function on a different scale. «These ideas work well with smaller businesses», Rodrigues recognizes, but hopes that changing customer opinions will force leaders higher up to listen. «Companies and brands will have no choice but to conform to what the buyer wants at the end of the day». Having set out to answer the question «where is this waste coming from?», they discovered a series of problems on the island. «There is not a proper waste system here, and people dump things into the Ozama river. Out of sight out of mind. And in neighboring towns when it rains, water rises out of the river and takes the waste with it», Rodrigues says. «All of that funnels into the Caribbean Ocean». While clearing the beach is good, it is not a solution. There must be structural change and a cultural shift to understanding, and caring, about these complications. «There is a problem here, and it’s not going to change if we only focus on the surface of the issue»

Lampoon reporting: Tiempo De Zafra’s made to order clothes with excess fabrics

Since then, Tiempo De Zafra, ‘time of harvest’ in Spanish, has been a two person in-house design and production team, working on a made-to-order basis using only excess fabrics sourced pre- or post-consumption. This involves textiles found either before they are made into clothes, such as off cuts from tailors in their local Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, or second hand garments sourced from ‘La Pulga’ flea market nearby. The latter is another strain on the island’s waste capacity, as Rodrigues says plastic wrapped cubes of old clothing, called bales, are shipped in from abroad. «These are things someone has donated and no longer wants. It’s likely not all will be sold and it ends up in the trash once again». This time, in the Dominican Republic. The USA and China are the biggest exporters, says Garrido, and items like «t-shirts that were once made for events, charities, marathon runs, and even different businesses», end up clogging the system further, entering landfill or are dumped to one day wash up on the beach. «What we make is dictated by our finds» says Garrido, explaining the production of the Pre-Consumer Turismo Hat. «We were walking and found a factory that specializes in these tourist shirts with a tropical print, and we found a lot of their fabric. Whatever they don’t need, they throw out with the notion that someone’s going to pick it up. Here, there is a big culture of people waiting to collect these discarded things». When back in the studio, the pair work together in all aspects of the design development until the sewing stage, which Garrido completes. A long process of experimentation takes place to discover the new subject’s qualities – durability, size, response to techniques. Then the decision is made on whether the final product will be one off, or a permanent design sold on their website. The Turismo hat will now be on sale, priced at one hundred and fifteen US dollars, until the floral shirt cuttings run out. 

TIEMPO DE ZARFA, CONVERTIBLE SHIRT

Legislative action in enforcing a shift

Aside from altering demand, Garrido believes legislative action is important in enforcing a shift. «In terms of production there needs to be some kind of mandate regarding the lifecycle of objects», with the aim of stopping garments designed for minimal wear, then landfill, being created at all. But, in the couple’s position as a newer company with narrower profits, there is only so much they can do. «Being the small guys, are setting a precedent», Garrido says, «but we need someone in politics who is willing to push this further. And people in fashion too». Why have they chosen not to progress their cause through legal work? «Not everyone is as open to the structured, political standpoint» says Rodrigues. «Being more fluid, and taking the creative route, allows people to connect with us in a way they might not have otherwise». It is also what they do best, says Garrido. «That’s what our skills are. They are the tools we have available to us. And for everyone else, whatever tools you have available you should use as well». It is not that they are restricted only to selling and promoting garments, though. Tiempo De Zafra runs free workshops teaching local people to craft their own waste, events that have taken place in The Dominican Republic and New York so far. «With these workshops, we are trying to show people that you can do this yourself», says Rodrigues. «We ask people to bring an article of clothing, and take them through how to make a bag out of it. Either with a shopping bag pattern or we take your garment and see how we can arrange it». It is part of a plan to open up and reach more people. Rodrigues recalls one in Santo Domingo, «Not only everybody left with a bag, but people were talking about how they could change their consumption habits». 

Future perspectives

Looking forward, the pair are working towards their first capsule collection to present a full set of designs. «We want to show a little bit more versatility. We do sell garments, but we tend to have more accessories» Rodrigues says, of the project which is planned to be finished this year. The other goal is expansion, and with it the opportunity of broadening their team. «We want to get to the point where we can hire people locally, and pay them more than what they are paid now» Garrido says. Five years later, and after three in the Caribbean, Garrido and Rodrigues are not faltering in their mission to expose what blind consumerism is doing to the environment, the effect shipping off used items has on less developed countries, and offering new perspectives on dealing with waste. «We still live by the beach and still we see a lot of this stuff wash back up» Garrido says of today. But they are continuing to push. «If we make a dollar, we put it right back into what we are doing. It’s our money, our time, our energy, our thoughts. We are seeing what happens next».

Tiempo de Zafra

Tiempo De Zafra is a fashion brand that creates custom on-demand designs from excess textile waste since 2018. This is an idea from Edgar Alejandro Garrido who aims to raise awareness about overconsumption. After witnessing the massive quantities of discarded textiles from garment factories, he decided to make clothes from waste materials instead of buying new fabrics. Together with his partner Stephanie Bazzarae Rodrigues, he sources textiles from flea markets around the city of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where he was born. 

Joe Bromley

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
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Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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