[Jimmy Pham, Industry of All Nations Ambassador, and Fernando Gerscovich, Industry of All Nations Co-Founder]
Fernando Gerscovich and his two brothers are changing the way companies and consumers think about the methods of production for consumer goods. Since 2010, Industry of All Nations has structured its brand around reviving the connection of local manufacturing and world fashion. The idea is to develop iconic everyday goods through a horizontal collaboration with the local communities where the products and materials are inherent, and then to introduce them to an international market. Part of this process is bringing an environmental and social awareness to the consumer while promoting globalization and fair trade business tactics.
There’s a common sense to IOAN’s structure — build the product where it’s built best and let that community thrive. Gerscovich tells us about his hopes in furthering the IOAN ideals and how tradition and technology both play important roles in the future of manufacturing.
Chelsea Burcz: When did you start thinking about methods of production? Why did you and your brothers decide that this was something you wanted to tackle and bring awareness to?
Fernando Gerscovich: We are always admiring brands and products as kids. In the summer on the beach when we were 10 years old, we’d be drawing logos of companies in the sand. Ever since we were children we imagined building an iconic brand. And then we were always interested those existing products that had cultural significance, like the cabrales, which are basically old man slippers. We’d see the old men hanging out in the streets of Buenos Aires listening to the football match on the radio wearing them. I would think about how it was such a simple product with so much connotation. We realized those are the type of shoes the men also wear in Spain, in Italy, in Argentina — it’s part of the common life in so many places. I find that beautiful, no? Everyday products and just finding the beauty in them. Even though we are designers, we are also architects, so when we design we are trying to come up with new designs and new stuff, but we are also so excited by things that have already been designed and have been around forever.
Two of us went to architecture school for many years, the younger brother was in finances. We had our fair share of time working in architectural offices and design studios but we always had a more product oriented approach to design, thinking about products that can be repeated and reproduced.
And then like those grandpa slippers worn in Buenos Aires worn by the older guys, there are so many products that we already knew — like one of our first products was this Argentinian espadrille, and that’s a shoe that we saw on the countryside as kids, the gauchos there would wear them to work and ride their horses. They’re great. So it’s the same thing, there’s no design there, we didn’t put an input on them. Basically, it was convincing the factory that has been making those shoes for more than a hundred years — that never worked for anyone else — to start working with us, and to take that shoe to every corner of the world. So that was the interesting process, just convincing the factory to work with us.
CB: So how was it finding these factories — the ones making the original version or the really good quality versions of these products?
FG: For example, going back to the cabrales, we were looking for a the manufacturer of those shoes since we were 17 years old. We met a few in Argentina, but we didn’t really meet any good ones. Ten years later I was in Mexico and I stumbled into this little galeria and they were selling these grandpa shoes, not stylish, just for the average guy. I wanted them for myself so I started trying them on and I realized that this was the one we were looking for for so long, it was so good! They were perfectly made. The name of the factory is on the shoe, that’s the brand, it’s just the factory. So we contacted them right away.
In most cases, the manufacturer has been doing something good but at the local level. And suddenly, we come into the equation and we start working together, and the opportunities for the product they’ve been doing for so long completely changes. Suddenly that grandpa slipper that is sold in Mexico can be sold here at Pilgrim in Williamsburg, and be in Paris, in Tokyo, in Singapore — any place in the world and everyone is appreciating it and loving it. That’s pretty magical, no? We are taking it out of context and completely changing the perception of it.
Then in the case of the our Clean Clothes Project in India, we were thinking about making something quintessential, like a t-shirt. So, how are we going to do it? Are we going to do it like every other t-shirt manufacturer? Find a factory, and if the quality of the garment is good, see what colors and prints we are going to do? How can we do t-shirts that, first, don’t pollute or contaminate? So then you have two options: don’t dye the t-shirt or find a way to dye without polluting. That’s when we decided to go to India. In India, they figured out how to dye 3,000 years ago, it’s not something we have to invent, they already invented it. It was just a matter of finding out who was still doing it after the petrol chemical industry took over not so many years ago. But because it’s so inherent to them and so much a part of the culture there’s still a lot of people who do it, but more for personal use and tradition.
CB: As you grow as a company, how have you grown the production with using these types of methods?
FG: That’s the whole challenge. How can these super old methods be applied to the modern world? From consistency and deliveries, to price point. That’s where it gets interesting — complicated, but interesting. Because that’s when the tension of the old world traditions and the new demands of the new consumer of the new world — that tension is Industry of All Nations, it’s how to manage those two worlds. And that’s what is super interesting about the relationships with the makers, they don’t know about deliveries, they don’t know orders can be canceled, because that’s not the standard in their local markets, so to get them on the same page is hard but that’s where we spend most of our time. It’s more about us adapting to their methods than them adapting to the new world, so understanding that is the secret to success. Adapt to them.
[The IOAN dying and printing process in India. Photos courtesy of IOAN.]
CB: How do you keep the productions in check if they are spread around the world?
FG: Juan, my brother, is in India right now to give a last check to the spring/summer production. We are the people who check. There’s production managers in each of the projects, but they are hired by them, not by us. Ideally, we would need to have our people based in each of these locations as we grow.
CB: On your website you state shopping is just as important as voting. Could you talk about that mindset of ethics?
FG: Not too many years ago people didn’t care much about all these issues, about the environment or social aspects of something as simple as making products to buy, but now people care finally. We say buying is like voting because it’s one of the most simple everyday things we do, we buy stuff. Buying used to be thought of as superficial, but it’s actually a very important decision to buy something against buying something else when we know now how each product is made affects the environment, the people, the economies, the society, and the way production has been done, like in big factories in China.
In history, products had so much significance, not only to who buys but also to who made it. There was a reason why these alpaca sweaters were made in the mountains in Bolivia and Peru, it’s because alpacas are there and their culture and tradition is about raising the alpaca and knitting by hand. Then everything started being made in factories, and the people working there are sewing a sweater one day then they are doing a handbag and then they are doing a cell phone. The meaning in making stuff is just completely gone. We try to recover that, that’s what its all about for us. It’s about bringing back the culture to the products, and everything that involves that: the family, the community, the economy, the materials, everything that has a reason to be there.
But going back to the alpaca production in Bolivia, the great thing about them is they are a cooperative, they all own pieces of land in the highlands and they take care of their alpacas, they breed them, shear them, etc. Now the co-op has grown, not only are they farmers but they are also part of the processing plant where they process the raw fiber into wool ready for knitting. With us, they are also knitting the finished product, so all the way from the land where they are raising the Alpaca to the final sweater is done by all the same people, the same families, the same company.
The women are the ones who knit typically, there are some men, but especially by hand, it’s mostly women. So they go to the co-op processing plant and they get the materials and the specs and with that they go home. Instead of working in the factory, they can be with their kids and babies. You get used to people emailing tech-packs to China, but these women are actually picking up the specs. The way it works when there’s a new production, the production manager will divide up the work. So they’ll say, ‘We are going to give this particular style to this woman because she’s good at doing this type of thing.’ Then she makes a sample and she shows them, and it’s like a test. And if it’s good they give her all the wool and she makes the sweaters. They are so used to knitting that sometimes they are walking from home from buying groceries with their baby on their back and they are knitting a sweater.
[The IOAN alpaca sweater production team and co-op. Photos courtesy of IOAN.]
CB: Do you see or do you hope that other brands can eventually adopt a way of stepping away from mass production?
FG: I don’t know, but it should. The industry has to change, I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to change into handicraft, but it will probably be a new kind of handicraft. The consumer is demanding back the environment, and the planet is getting polluted by mass production, at least the way it’s being done now. Exactly how it’s going to change, I don’t know. We have to use the tradition, but we also have to use the technology. For example, companies are figuring out how to dye without water, it’s not that they are using natural dyes, but at least by not using water you don’t waste all the wash off of chemicals into the water system. That’s pretty cool. That’s more about technology. But I think it’s hard also because of all the emerging markets in Asia that are becoming the biggest consumers in world, it’s hard getting them on the same page.
CB: I think that’s what special about your brand also, there’s that education and community aspect to it outside of just a product. Do you hope to expand on that and bring that education to a broader market?
FG: Yes, we’ve been shooting our videos in Bolivia. We’d like to make whole documentaries about our product.
CB: What do you hope to see IOAN accomplish in the consumer market?
FG: Mainly it’s to make people aware about the makers that have been doing stuff for so long. It’s so cool and it has so much to do with their places, their traditions and their lives. The products should have meaning, and we should know the meaning. They shouldn’t just be made magically in factories and suddenly arriving on a shelf without any knowledge.
Ultimately, it would be to grow productions and represent more, because if we keep all these things that we are talking about at a small scale, it will not have much impact in general on the world. For these communities, it already has huge impact for them. Working year round and making alpaca sweaters for Industry of All Nations, it has already transformed them. We also have to figure out how we can scale these projects, that’s what is so challenging but so interesting for us.
CB: Do you see IOAN sharing these processes with other brands in the future?
FG: If only a couple of brands are doing it, there’s no real impact. I think we are sharing the information, in every video, in every picture that we do, we share the information of how it’s possible to manufacture, and we’re saying in what countries. If other companies do a little bit of work and spend the time, in a couple years they will be able to develop their own communities of makers to produce stuff, and we encourage that.
– Words by Chelsea Burcz