Meet Sylvia Calvo BCN Moda Sostenible

By Patti De Sante

Eco Fashion Week Australia 2017 images by Harry Leonard Imagery


“I do it from my heart. I am a designer from the inside out.”


 Eco Fashion Week Australia 2017 

Eco Fashion Week Australia 2017 

I felt Sylvia’s presence first, before I actually had a sit down conversation and interviewed her. I was nervously preparing myself to fit the models to the 21 looks that I had brought to EFWA from Malawi. I was anxious to not let anyone down. This was my first opportunity to curate a show and I was finding myself, “Riding bareback up a mountain of ignorance.”

This anxiousness resolved itself almost immediately once I realised this infinite mountain of ignorance had partnered with BIG LOVE; love from the incredible volunteers that had come to gather and support this inaugural eco-fashion show curated so meticulously by founder Zuhal Kuvan-Mills, and love from the most beautiful gathering of models imaginable, beauty that is both external and glowing through a shared field of engaged enthusiasm. There were no 'divas' present.



There was another BIG BIG I turned around in the direction that I could feel it was sourced from, and there sitting stitching fabric, was Sylvia Calvo, a Spanish designer from Barcelona.

We were gathered in a dark corner,in the basement of a very congested and active fashion day. Sylvia was situated slightly higher than the rest of us and had a vantage point to see all of the people united with intention to make the event, down to each detail, a shining example of how an eco-fashion event could embody sustainability in every moment.




Sylvia's quietness and self-assuredness created a ground from which I assumed leadership sprang from.


Sylvia: Hand stitching creates calm. When I was looking at the designs I had brought, I noticed there was something broken in one and I needed to find a solution to fix it, so I began to stitch. Just begin. I had to give it a try. If we try with strong intention, we start to manage our lives with patience. The discipline of patience allows us to find solutions. I could have gotten mad and then the piece might not have been on stage. I simply paused, just like the pause you practice before you dress and a solution came to me. When you are committed to something, solutions do arise.


Patti: What does being fixed mean to you?


Sylvia: In that particular situation. “Being fixed,” meant enabling the model that had shown up to wear it. I was really committed to the model’s happiness. I had already shown the particular piece at the media gala and I needed to prove to myself that when I encounter a bump on the road I can get over it. It was more than just fixing a zipper.


“I mainly work with recycled coffee bags. It is a challenge to work with a waste material and to make something nice to wear or a complement out of it. Coffee bags have a history, and were made for a very different purpose. Now after they have been cleaned and treated with care, a new life and a new purpose awaits them. They go back into the production point and a new lifecycle begins. 

I also work with end of stocks, materials of other garments, and organic cotton or organic hemp, … I also like to collaborate with others artists and I have used handpainted organic cotton by Spanish artist Esther Ramos, or handwomen fabric made Rosa López. In both cases art and couture go hand in hand.” - Excerpt from Marilyn Wilson’s EFWA senior editor’s article


Sylvia: I love books. The first thing I did when I got here to Perth, is I went to visit the bookstore to look at the fashion design shelf. I bought five books, and there was just one book on sustainability.

Mentioning one of her favourite books, “Cradle to Cradle,” by William Mcdonough and Michael Braungart, “A manifesto for a radically different philosophy and practice of manufacture and environmentalism,” created an opening for Sylvia to share some of the fundamentals she feels are necessary for us to adopt a new relationship with what we wear.


Sylvia: We need to focus on creating circular economies. The most important thing we need to do is share our knowledge. Open source books are essential. We need more eco-events and we need to be open to sharing what we know and forget about protecting or copyrighting our knowledge. Just forget about this whole notion of stealing ideas.The principles are everyone’s. We must release ownership of our ideas.  We need to be humble and connect through our humility. We can create a level of intimacy between different cultures through fashion.

We have lost our connection to Self, our unique human expression. What we choose to adorn ourselves with should be a morning ritual that causes us to pause. Everything always happens in the gaps between knowing and the next thing. “Why do I wear clothes?” It is an important question to ask oneself. For me my clothes presence the people I know in my life and the places where I have been that resulted in their purchase. The story behind each piece keeps it hanging in my closet longer.

Sylvia is both patient, disciplined and generous. She recognizes everyone. She references a woman named Antonia, who is a patternmaking teacher. She participated in Sylvia’s much anticipated collection debut in Perth. “The people that sew and make the patterns must get recognition. Not many people have the skill of making patterns that fit. This is an art."


Like many successful people, Sylvia Calvo has a lengthy list of credentials next to her name that both inform her life, but don’t limit it in scope. They are launch pads of confidence into each evolving step of love for humanity and planet. She possesses a degree in English Philology, an MBA from the University of Chicago and a masters degree in Shipping in Maritime Law.


Patti: What do you hold most dear?


Sylvia: Uncovering the strength of women and helping other people. One of the things I like to do as a designer is to participate in runway events with a cause. From collecting money for surgeries, to alleviating the suffering of mental illness, I can help. I can do something good. I love to see people wearing my clothes. It is such a good feeling. There is no money that can replace that. I have more pleasure when I see someone feeling good in a dress that I have made.”


Patti: What is your strongest character trait?

Sylvia: I am patient and consistent. I don't despair when things go wrong. Three weeks ago, I had a show in Barcelona and I really wanted to show one piece. It was 2 in the morning, and it was not finished. Another person said to leave it, but I was clear it had to be shown. I finished it at five in the morning and I was ready to go. I had a feeling of accomplishment. I should have done it before, but inspiration comes when it comes and often when circumstances are not good.


Sylvia’s wisdom to live by:

Life is full of broken zippers.
Let me do my best.
Never give up.
Ask for help when you need it.


Meet Merdi Sihombing from Indonesia

by Patti DeSante

Photography by Harry Leonard Imagery


”We are strong people. I am from the Bataktoba Tribe."

Meeting Merdi reminds me of meeting my African sisters and brothers. The village which people come from is almost always communicated within the first sentence. How could knowing our roots and the land that grew us affect our relationship to fashion more directly?

The Bataktoba inhabit the highlands. Through their ancestry, the tribe prides itself on being, "Honest people."

Merdi: "Whatever is in your mind, you say it. So everything we do must be honest. We do not copy from others. Our ancestors tell you that you should be number one, original copy. You must preserve culture."

Merdi is a pioneer of eco-fashion in Indonesia. It is by nature a culture of slow fashion. It is easy to find their traditional roots through dress. Women and men still continue to dress in traditional ways today.


Accessories are very important. I remember when I was in the dressing room at Eco Fashion Week Australia how the hats, the belts, the jewellery, the handbags and the shoes were all meticulously organised on a table, ready when needed. It was truly impressive and rarely matched by any other designer I have witnessed backstage.

He opens one of my books and sees the title of a section, “The moon in your heart.” He responds favorably and says it speaks to the honesty that must be present in fashion. The collection he brought to showcase at EFWA 2017 is defined by its honesty and warriorship.

Merdi also graced the audience with his incredible vocals. In that moment we fully grasped the extent and diversity of this remarkable man’s talents and so many of the eco-fashion designers that had arrived to this inaugural stage.


Merdi is a professional musician.

“Singing always grounds me. I also look to the environment if I am experiencing any difficulty to ground me in the moment.”

“For EFWA I am bringing a new collection that has an 80’s fashion style and will introduce Indonesia’s wealth, especially from my ancestral lands. I have redesigned and incorporated the weaving of the Indigenous people who live and inhabit the highlands around the Lake Toba. There is also a SIRAT (twining end) that is always used as a decorative edge of the fabric that I show as a destil and belt. Some of my Batik collection will feature sacred geometry motifs created using dyes from agricultural waste and factory furniture waste (wood shavings) on woven cotton fabrics."

My palette includes the colours of the earth such as light brown, coffee, rice, maroon and black. There will also be materials using metallic yarn in silver and gold. You’ll see hand embroidered abstract and floral flowers motifs as well as some machine embroidery. Accessories include bags made from wild orchid fibres in Woven ( ULAP DOYO ) with unique hand embroidered created by the Dayak Benuaq tribe women, leather shoes and silver jewelry made in the city of Jogjakarta.” - Excerpt from Marilyn Wilson’s EFWA interview

The more I interview eco-fashion designers, the one trait they all mention more than other designers I have met and interviewed is the importance of discipline as a core of creating a dignified collection.


Discipline is not based on feeling guilty, or trying to avoid painful situations and cultivate pleasurable ones. It is a natural process that binds together body, speech and mind. When your mind is together, your body and speech will also be together. Your entire state of being will be in harmony, which makes a wholesome human being.” -The individual Path of Liberation, Chogyum Trungpa.

Merdi: Discipline comes from your parents. I work with a community of artists. Discipline is the absolute ground from which everyone works. Promises are important. Being on time is important. I have worked within the same community for 15 years. I teach them how to make a good garment and try to change the mindset of people. Before you begin sewing you talk about the character traits that they must possess in order for them to work for you. The most important mindset is humility and that we work together with a sense of, 'We can do it.' It's important to enjoy your work from start, middle to end..everything. I enjoy the process of making the collection. After I finish the collection, I can feel my ego. A sense of pride. It’s ok to feel good about yourself and then you must share the joy.

Merdi considers himself a patient person, but admits that when people don’t do things right he can get angry. He smiles. His response though is upfront and yes, honest!

Like many at the show, Merdi’s designs became a favorite to us all. The craftsmanship, the commitment to others, the commitment to truth and his generosity were a stand out.

Discipline I witness, transformed into the aesthetic of design... produces harmony on an individual and collective basis. It brings JOY! The audience response is radiant AWE!