A Latin American explorer in the pursuit of sustainability

By Sofia Cacerez Valenzuela

Photo Credit: Iceland by Patricia Ermecho

A brief history of sustainable fashion

There is no precise date that indicates the emergence of this movement, what we do

know is that it began hand in hand with environmental activism about 40 years ago.

The fast-fashion crisis is a modern problem because, if we take a look at the first half of

the 20th century, we find that clothing was valued in a drastically different way. Prices

were much higher, garment cycles were longer, and things were made locally and

custom for clients.

It was in 1960 that globalization, technological advances, and the rise of fashion as part

of the entertainment industry, led to a massive demand for apparel products. The

changes were fleeting and did not allow time to weigh the consequences of such large-

scale growth. It was only until 1987 that the UN defined the concept of sustainability,

and by then, humanity was already drowning in seas of clothing.

Although tragedies such as the Rana Plaza disaster and rumors of unethical

practices in the fashion industry have drawn attention to the social and environmental

problems caused by it, this is still an industry that has had a slow adjustment process

when it comes to sustainability. It is essential to understand that, until today, the

nature of fashion has been one of change and novelty, which makes it difficult to

transition into a sustainable model. On top of that, production chains tend to be very

long, making it very hard to keep track of the processes and, therefore, guarantee the

sustainability of all of them.

On the other hand, most brands cannot afford to pay for existing sustainability

certificates, so they have to opt for other ways. Those that can afford expensive

certification systems are faced with the fact that these are too complex, and are forced

to charge their customers much higher prices than those of their competitors. Finally,

consumers do not have the information, the time, or the financial resources to

understand the relevance of sustainability, let alone make it a priority, which is why

sustainable brands often fail.

The truth is that the road to sustainability is an unexplored path that not everyone

dares to undertake. There are not many adventurers who have taken on this path with

resilience, yet in no time, they have become the leading facilitators of change. All these

pioneers share a common purpose in life: to make fashion a sustainable industry. One

of them is Patricia Ermecho, founder of Osom brand.

Photo credits: Osom brand

OSOM: the brand of change

This is the story of Osom brand, a sustainable fashion brand that promotes the idea

that we are all one. Its purpose? Turning waste into treasure, which the owner named

OSOM. The product is made through a mechanical process that does not require the

use of water nor chemicals, resulting in a patented fiber made from clothing waste.

Its entire purpose is based on three pillars. First: to follow Earth-Friendly practices.

The brand recycles more than 11 million pounds of clothing per year to manufacture

70% of its products. The second pillar: having a stellar culture. This means a different

culture. For the brand, the ones saving the world are their buyers, since by choosing

OSOM products they are generating an impact that goes beyond the stars. Finally, the

third pillar: giving back. All their processes comply with the concept of circularity,

which allows the regeneration of the Earth.

These three pillars are born from the heart of its founder Patricia Ermecho, a Latin

American woman who, without her resilience, would not have made Osom brand

what it is today. Her secret formula? To have a life mission greater than her own

existence: to turn the fashion industry into something natural.

Photo Credits: Patricia Ermecho

The story of a female inventor

Patricia shared a fragment of her life with Hecho por Nosotros, her story, as well as what has taken her to turn Osom brand into a successful brand. She studied design at the Art Institute in Miami, as she has always considered that design grants a lot of freedom. Since she was a little girl, she was very curious. Her mother even called her an inventor, which is why pursuing this career seemed like the perfect fit for her. From an early age, she considered herself an admirer of nature. In the interview, she says that she has always loved animals, and exploring, as well as having an extreme, and perhaps somewhat obsessive, appreciation for the planet.

OSOMTEX was born out of one of her frustrations. Her career led her to learn about

the clothing recycling processes that existed at the time. For Patricia, it was

unbelievable to see how garments in perfect condition were discarded and that nothing

was being done with them. She went on to find out more and more and realized that

although there had been progress, none of the processes allowed the complete recycling

of all clothing waste. Her curiosity was awakened again, like that of the little explorer

who wandered through nature, and it was then she decided that she wanted to solve

this problem.

After researching, learning, and going deep into a path that seemed to have no end, she

managed to create a process that made it possible to reuse and mix any type of textile

through a mechanical technique, using neither chemicals nor water. Just like a tree

born from a seed, grows, blooms, and then when its flowers fall, life is born again, she

managed to create a thread ready to start another cycle of life from those clothes that

seemed to be useless.

By then, Patricia felt she had finished climbing an endless summit, but what she did

not know was that cracking the process was just the beginning. One of the biggest

challenges was to patent this seed of life: the OSOM yarn, as the process and

composition she had invented did not exist. Three years later, she was able to patent it

and thus launch her brand of socks using the innovative fiber. Although it was a great

achievement, something did not fit in the life of the designer. Her inevitable need to be

uncomfortable and always push the envelope led her to seek out new clients, find a

home more in line with her life's mission, and take on higher mountains.

As if the universe had it all planned, she got a sustainable house completely free of

charge. Not knowing where her new home would be located, HGTV, with its Tiny

Luxury show, built her the house of her dreams. Not knowing her destination, Patricia

hopped on a plane, and after a few hours of travel, landed in Oregon. At this point

things couldn't have been better, and yet they were. That day she received a call that

would change her life. Nike had learned about OSOM fiber and wanted to make the

brand's first 100% sustainable sneakers from this yarn. Fate or coincidence? The Nike

manufacturing facility was located in Oregon, just a few miles from the house she had

just received as a gift. The product presentation meeting? The day after she landed

there, at a destination that weeks before was unknown.

This female inventor, resilient, passionate, and a fighter, devoted herself to designing

with the Nike team the shoes that would define a before and after for the industry.

Away from any luxury, she lived for 4 years in a house where she fed herself with what

she grew and where she understood that her purpose in life was bigger than she

thought. After many bumps, challenges, frustrations, and tireless meetings, she

managed to make her threads part of the creation of SPACE HIPPIE, the most

sustainable sneakers in Nike's history.

For Patricia, being part of this project was a dream come true. However, launching this

Nike product was not her final mission. She said in the interview that the reason for

not giving up was to prove that her mission was achievable. She knew that starting by

fundamentally changing the policies of a company as big as Nike meant making it

easier for others to follow. Now, this explorer continues to blaze trails for those who

want to embrace sustainability as a reality in the fashion industry. Her direction? One

where the ultimate goal is to make all brands operate as seamlessly as nature. One

where circularity in the fashion industry is a reality.

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