Dacal: to reuse and give new meaning

Florencia and Lola Dacal run a sustainable undertaking in Buenos Aires.
Dacal works giving value to discarded garments or dead stock of textiles. Courtesy of Dacal.

Upcycling is the name given to the process of transforming waste materials or useless, unwanted products into something new, with better quality or environmental value-- a second life to objects. This creative re-use is the central core of Dacal. Florencia, a clothing designer; and Lola, an audio-visual entrepreneur, are the young women behind the Argentinean label.

As said, the Dacal sisters add value to garments and textiles by transforming them into a new one. As a result, their system of production implies a recycling process. And it is also inclusive: they think of all genres and body shapes. Moreover, it is a slow fashion brand, since it raises awareness against consumerism, produces small series in an artisanal manner and doesn’t follow fads, trends or seasons. In addition to this, Dacal also gives lectures and workshops on sewing and creating one’s clothes to follow our identity.

Únicos en serie (Uniques in series) describes the collection of re-made garments (most of them born from shirts), which are durable and comfortable due to their noble materials. Apart from this, the original undertaking looks for collaborating work with other artists and designers, sharing knowledge and joining forces. For example, they forged an alliance with Galpón de Ropa, a thrift shop of clothes. Thus, Dacal creates a capsule collection using discarded clothes from Galpón and moving them back to the racks.

We met the Dacal lovely sisters and had a conversation about this holistic project of clothing design.

What was your first approach to design?

Florencia: When we were little girls, playing at nap time.

Lola: We lived at a small town and nap was established as routine. Adults slept while we played.

Florencia: It was our free time. There was nothing else to do.

Lola: So, we arranged our stuffed toys, made clothes, dressed up, had runway shows and took pictures. Most things we still do today… so sometimes feels like deja vu.

On the other hand, our mother has always sewed, knitted and embroidered or made cakes. There was always something artisanal, hand-made and creative around. This was everyday life at home.

Florencia: It was normal for us to create things by hand. And our father influenced us when it came to organisation, the idea and the manufacturing process, to plan things. And from that combination, this came up. Besides, our grandfather used to film a lot. He had the habit of carrying around the camera. So, that’s where the documentary maker came from (pointing at Lola).

Lola: He recorded daily nature: from making a chocolate milk, to getting lice picked off your head and everything in between. And made some experimental and funny shots, too. His father also had the custom of taking pictures and recording. We have some old tapes of our grandfather at a zoo when he was seven years old, for instance.

How do you fuse each one’s formation?

Florencia: I have sewn since I was twelve years old. When I was in high-school I used to make clothes for me and other people. And then, we went to college. Lola filmed all her life.

Lola: Yes, our grandfather lent me the camera and I simulated to create a news channel or plays.

Florencia: I studied textile and clothing design for some years at Buenos Aires University. Then, I decided that I already had what I needed from that education and found my path elsewhere. I spent less than a week working at a factory and realised that I couldn’t stay there either. So, we started doing things together.

Lola: I studied documentary filmmaking, something related to self-management. She started mending clothes upon request as a first job. Afterwards, when she created clothes, I said “I have a camera, let’s take photograph and do something”. That started to grow and we experimented how to come up with images to display Florencia’s work.

Florencia: I had also other great teachers, such as Javier Arroyuelo and Delia Cancela. Then, I worked for other designers and costume designers. So, I was essentially formed by experience. I also teach without having studied the career. It is a path I chose as self-educated, so I pass on that sense of learning by yourself. I find it very valuable and it is close to what we do. Needlework, dressmaking and tailoring is generally taught from teachers to apprentices. There is not so much books and information involved.

So, what was Dacal’s origin?

Florencia: At some point, we decided to give a name to all of that we were doing and created a Facebook page.

Lola: We realised that I was always taking the photographs of her work. She started making recycled garments at a workshop with Delia. So, we decided to translate the idea into something more formal.

Florencia: And put a label to it. It’s not that we woke up one day and were what we are today. I tried working with knitting, paper and other projects before this one. It was ten years of experimenting and trying things from different angles, of training and finding ourselves. The first thing I sewed in my life was a recycled piece of clothing (a shirt transformed into a skirt) but it took me ten years to realise it.

My study with Javier opened my mind; then we created a recycled collection with Delia and everything was put together. It was everything already there, we linked all concepts and defined them as the brands’ principles. In fact, the project was pretty comprehensive, so we had to unite the parts. It is a process of transformation and search for identity carried out in several manners.

What is the message behind the label?

Florencia: We address environmental and social issues. Sustainability implies both of them, to some extent. In essence, our message connotes that we make clothing for all genres, bodies and seasons. This translates into an inclusive fashion that has to do with finding yourself and your own style in opposition to following trends. We propose an active participation regarding getting dressed.

Lola: It means raising awareness of what is clothing and fashion and to understand that you don’t tend to see what’s behind them. We all get dressed every day. We choose what to wear and why we do so; what’s our image, which we choose to show to others and who we are. However, there are people that doesn’t know or realise that there are many elements that affects your life and other’s.

For instance, the diversity of sizes: if you don’t have problem finding clothes in your size, you don’t know that there is an issue there. There are others: the environmental impact of clothes, fast fashion, and consumerism. Anyway, a lot of problems that alienate persons.

Florencia and I had always an active role in making our clothes, wearing certain things and knowing this, so we like exposing that there is a hidden value in making your own clothes, creating your image and leave the standardised commercial circuit. It all generates a sustainable whole.

Florencia: Sustainability is comprehensive in itself and it reveals several forms in several projects. We aim to develop an identity, a capacity of transformation and offer tools to do so. It means transformation in every sense of the word. Not only in the material sense, but also spiritual: to become conscious.

Before prêt-à-porter, our grandmothers used to have a dressmaker that made their personalised clothes. In my view, that’s a version of accessible luxury, democratic and just. That’s the reason why I used to make personalised clothing: even though it involves more work and a different system, it is healthier. Fashion industry is one of the most polluting and is the diva of consumerism. It’s all about finding an alternative way and introduce small changes that will make a difference.

'Inclusive fashion has to do with finding yourself and your own style in opposition to following trends. We propose an active participation regarding getting dressed'. Florencia Dacal
Do you use shirts as Dacal’s only raw material?

Florencia: We use shirts and also old textiles which are recovered from closed factories or stores. Shirts are a symbol for us and are also a garment of high quality material, easier to recycle. This is why we decided to use it from the very beginning. The fact that it has a classic typology makes it simpler for me to work in series, as well as to teach (everyone knows a shirt).

Nowadays, I’m experimenting with other tailoring pieces such as trousers and jackets, to complete the outfit. On one hand, I think it is great being identified with shirts because it is a common garment, worn all the time. On the other hand, this other path is also to widen the project. But why fix something that is not broken? In short, we are more of a process, than a product.

How do you obtain them?

Florencia: Through thrift shops and friends and family members who give us clothes they don’t use anymore or are worn out. We went on tour to the north of Argentina and found some fairs with a lot of imported garments of high quality and a variety of sizes, things that are becoming scarce here. We accumulated a great quantity of material. That’s the whole point of the tour: visiting new places, offering our products and seeing what we can add to our undertaking.

How do you face the transformation of each garment into a new one?

Florencia: First, we have to select and buy the material. Then, it is important to look at each garment and analyse its potential. Afterwards, there is the cleaning stage, done with neutral soap and small quantities of water. We also use natural elements (lemon juice, baking soda, etc.) to remove stains, a process that usually involves a lot of chemical products. And above all, it requires time. Futhermore, love for the detail: I’ll put soap right here on this stain. We disassemble each piece and take all labels and buttons out. Next, I chose the models to make, separate the items and the creating process goes on.

We work with clothes’ rack, let’s say, not by piece. We call it Únicos en serie (unique in series) as a pun. Each garment is unique and worked on individually, but the processes involve a series to create a rack. For example, we’re working on fifty or sixty shirts right now.

I believe that what we do concerning environmental impact is really small. The importance is the idea, to transmit it and take it into action. Our processes imply a great deal of energy and it doesn’t have a great impact. There is approximately seven tonnes of disregarded clothes in Buenos Aires. So, we’re not offering a solution to the problem. Actually, recycling is not a concrete solution but an important concept on cultural basis.

How does the Social Club of Needlework function?

Florencia: I have been teaching needlework for about six years. I used to dictate classes at fashion or design schools and at my private atelier. I met Romina Palma, from Fauna Brava and who also taught sewing, at a fair of responsible consume. We started working together, exchanging knowledge and work experiences. Each one developed her project but accompanied: we applied to grants separately, then sewed for her deadline one night and for mine another one, etc.

Romina and I decided to create the Social Club of Needlework because we wanted others to be able to do the same as we do. In other words, to generate a space dedicated to an exchange in sewing; to learn in the company of others and make something at the same time. Both of us are self-educated and agreed in teaching with certain didactics and methods to show mouldering, the process of understanding your body and making clothes for it, and give value to dressmaking when it comes to buy clothes.

For us, a sewing machine is more a toy rather than an instrument; whereas. the public come afraid of it. Nevertheless, in three hours of classes they are already sewing something. To sum up, it’s about taking a tool and making it your own. Here we are, helping people overcome their fear of the sewing machine.

How are the Free Needlework classes?

Florencia: I used to give them at my atelier in small groups, to create or recycle a particular piece. It is similar to our “Recycle your own shirt” workshop, which is done from time to time by Dacal.

We all go for a shirt and each person finds its creative path. It’s lovely because it leads to a wide variety of garments. In the end, these classes are about didactics at the service of the needs of people. It begins with questions like: which colour suits you better? How long would you like it to be? What do you do every day? What would be useful for you?

Lola: It comes down to be conscious of your identity, again.

Florencia: And it puts me to the test as well. Students come up with unimaginable ideas, their fantasies and enthusiasm. It is a double-edge sword because some may arrive with too high expectations and I may be able to sort out a garment on one afternoon but not everyone can. Free needlework classes aren’t for everyone because you need a basic knowledge of sewing. Many come to the Social Club for a couple of basic lessons and then try the free needlework. Besides, recycling means to start by disassembling, which is not simple since it’s a whole different process: to work backwards.

How did the collaboration with Galpón de ropa come up?

Florencia: I was at a fair and the man responsible for the sustainable area of Galpón contacted us. He told me that they wanted to enhance a sustainable project within Galpón (which is already kind of sustainable because it is a thrift shop of clothes). They have a completely different target public from ours, because they make fast circulation fashion at low prices, while we develop slow fashion at medium prices. Both undertakings aim to different scale and niches.

Actually, it is particularly interesting for us to be able to reach people who are half-way, because they consume identity and fast fashion but with a different consciousness. Galpón must find it attractive too because it adds something more artisanal and profound to the store.

In the end, it is good for sustainability to become massive and these intermediate level projects will help to get closer to that goal. They have a great circulation when it comes to volume of products and customers, so it is a good complement for us. It only goes to show that opposites may work together just fine.

Lola: The idea is to go in depth with Galpón de ropa’s sustainability. Thrift shops are so well-known that you may overlook the fact that they are sustainable. Our collaboration might help to strengthen the raise of awareness.

How do you construct Dacal´s image?

Lola: We try to find a colloquial way to communicate all concepts comprehended by Dacal. It is hard to define it because it covers a lot of things and it is original. Somehow, we work intuitively and we are building a particular image, to define us and to grow at the same time. Our aim is to communicate our process transparently, so that you can see fabrics, the details, textures… to transmit the sensations inspired by wearing sustainable, unique clothes made of noble materials.

Florencia: Both of us share the observation skills. She’s a documental filmmaker so she’s used to being in the right place, at the right moment, with the right camera. She has a great sight for details. I mean, Lola and I talk about the same things through different languages. We’re doing the same thing, each one using her tools, in order to reach more people by applying several codes. Dacal’s image has to do with details, with something neutral that gives participation to others, and with something intimate that can be transmitted by the fact that we’re sisters, so the familiarity transcends.

'As the undertaking grows constantly, it redefines itself. And we must keep transmitting it in new ways, showing this evolution through clothing as well as the photographs and videos'. Lola Dacal
Which is the impact sought through Dacal?

Florencia: We are looking to expand the brand. I feel like travelling since it was great going to the north, meeting people and broaden our network. However, we are developing our website and new products. So, we need to stop and go back to our roots again to reassure some concepts. For example, we decided that social networks were needed to communicate our brand in the past and now we’re adding a website.

Lola: It’s only natural with a self-managing undertaking. It means a progressive and continuous growth. So, you have to try out things and learn new stuff. It’s like taking another little step up the ladder. For instance, we have to communicate the same things as before but now we’re adding trousers and jackets to our racks; we have to document our travel; and there are new projects getting close, there are collaborations, etc. As the undertaking grows constantly, it redefines itself. And we must keep transmitting it in new ways, showing this evolution through clothing as well as the photographs and videos. We also want to start selling abroad and it implies a new level of production, a different communication while adding English as a language.

Florencia: And a new perspective on our overview of the project. A new public forces you to a different way of looking it. I think that there is more information when it comes to sustainability abroad, so we have to reach another level and explain other things from that point forward. Here, we needed to explain the importance of recycling when we started. Now, people know about recycling but are asking about sustainability strategies and why Dacal is sustainable.

In conclusion, the near future involves a contest in Rosario (a city located in Santa Fe province) and to make a presentation there; the website; the new production of clothing; the communication of our northern tour; and to start selling our products abroad. All of this is thought to happen between the next few months and the rest of the year. So, I think it is enough activity for now.

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    Lola and Florencia Dacal, creators of this unique undertaking. Photograph by Juan Francisco Sánchez. Courtesy of Dacal.

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    Recycled shirts are the signature of the project. Courtesy of Dacal.

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    Upcycling, slow fashion and Identity are the pillars behind the label. Courtesy of Dacal.

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    It is also all about the detail. Courtesy of Dacal.

  • Image of a sewing workshop dictated in the northern tour of Dacal. Courtesy of Dacal.