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 LOVE..so 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.