Portugal has long been on my bucketlist. As an avid traveler and fashion enthusiast, Portugal’s long-standing history, distinctive culture, palatable gourmet and poetic cityscape fascinated me. After learning that Portugal is one of Europe’s major fashion and textile production countries, my desire to discover this beautiful country was fortified. COVID-19 sabotaged my two trips planned for Portugal; I thought it would be long before I could finally step onto her soil.

 

I’ve envisioned dozen ways to encounter Portugal, but little did I imagine myself lost in its beauty thanks to ModaPortugal. Held in Porto’s once-a-customhouse congress centre Alfândega do Porto, young fashion talents, fashion journalists and a panel of speakers formed by fashion professionals were welcomed to Porto for 2021 ModaPortugal event. The old town of Porto is mesmerizing. Narrow alleyways winding up the undulating hills, alongside, ramshackle dwellings closely aligned. Their colourful façades, adorned with wooden window frames and iron-latticed balconies are in decay. Churches clad in cerulean and white “Azulejo” tiles stand within, coated with exquisite religious paintings; they echo back to the prosperity of the country during the Age of Discovery. Under the beam of Southern Europe’s winter sun, the curtains of ModaPortgual rose.

After a hiatus in 2020, ModaPortugal returned to Porto. Eighteen designers, hailing from six different countries (Finland, France, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom and of course, Portugal), gathered to Porto two weeks ago for the 7th edition of ModaPortugal Fashion Design Competition. These emerging young talents represent some of the most renowned fashion institutes across the continent. In their five days journey, they vied not only with their schoolmates and compatriots for the best collection of each country, but also for the “grand prix” that dedicates to the best collection overall.

 

To better understand Portugal’s robust textile and clothing manufacturing industry, ModaPortugal took these aspiring designers, along with panellists and my fellow press on an Industry Tour around the Northern part of the territory. Since the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries, the tour revolved around the initiatives that these textiles companies have taken in response to the environmental issues. The tour started with a visit to Riopele, an established factory with more than 90 years of history. Founded in 1927, Riopele is one of the oldest and most self-sufficient Portuguese textile companies. From spinning, dyeing, weaving, finishing to quality control and logistics, Riopele vertically integrates the entire fabric production cycle. Lately, Riopele has embarked on a new research: they collected the water consumed during the manufacturing process and tried to make use of it. 50% of the water consumption is now reutilized, successfully reducing the water pollution from their production process.

 

The tour continued with a visit to the family-owned factory of Pedrosa & Rodrigues, one of the most well-known jersey fabric manufacturers in Portugal. Pedrosa & Rodrigues blend jersey into high-end fashion; its clients include some of the major fashion brands in the world. Its newest movement is to collect leftover fabrics, grind them and spin new yarn out from them. This repurposing of discarded fabrics definitely makes the fashion industry greener and more environmentally-friendly.

After learning a bit more about the innovative projects that traditional textile companies in Portugal have taken, we visited RDD textile and Valérius Hub, an innovatory research center focusing on the repurposing of used fabrics and the development of sustainability textiles. In 2019, Valérius Group launched a brand-new project Valérius 360 – a recycling centre that realizes the ideas of RDD Textiles and Valérius Hub. Here, the factory collects cutting waste, overproduced textile products, unsold stock and recycled fabrics from Côte d’Ivoire, Turkey and other European countries, making them into recycled-yarns, jersey fabrics and even garments. Together with Valérius Hub, Valérius 360 wishes to build a community that contributes to the creation of a responsible fashion system, reducing more environmental impacts and driving the industry towards a sustainable future.

 

After a day of repose, the designers ushered in their biggest challenge of this trip – The ModaPortugal Fashion Design Competition. The day started with the students taking turns presenting their collections to the jury. The event climaxed with a fashion show during dinnertime. Models stomped on the aisles in the banquet room. Grotesque or artistic, theatrical or intricate, they showcased these young designers’ flourishing imagination and creativity. Among them, Juha Vehmaanperä (Finland), Mathieu Goosse (France), Paulo Mileu (Italy), Tiago Bessa (Portugal), Claire Lefebvre (Switzerland) and Jessica Zhou (United Kingdom) won the best collection from the country they represented, with Tiago Bessa from Portugal snatching the Best Collection of the year, keeping the grand trophy home in Portugal.

Tiago Bessa is the overall winner of this year’s ModaPortugal Fashion Design Competition

Looking back, I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience Portugal’s beauty and fashion all at once. It’s really impressive to see Portuguese textile companies taking initiatives on sustainability and eco-friendly fashion production, and to see the fashion industry supporting emerging talents. To summarize my experience at ModaPortugal, I think of the word “fascinating”. Porto’s view is fascinating, the “Azulejo” tiles on the church walls are fascinating, the serenity of the flowing Duoro River is fascinating; what’s more, It’s fascinating to know that even under an unfavourable macro environment, on the periphery of the European continent, a cohort of fashion talents is seeking to build a friendlier environment for the talents to come, and perhaps more importantly, for our Mother Nature.

Finland | Jenny Hytönen, Juha Vehmaanperä, Sina Saavala (from left to right)

France | Albane de Saint Laurent, Jisoo Baik, Mathieu Goosse (from left to right)

Italy | Alessia Dovero, Lavinia Jianqing Zhao, Paulo Mileu (from left to right)

Portugal | Marta Costa, Nuno Braz Oliveira, Tiago Bessa (from left to right)

Switzerland | Claire Lefebvre, Morris Manser, Tara Mabiala (from left to right)

United Kingdom| ChenCheng Yong, Fionn Lucaya, Jessica Zhou (from left to right)


Text: Yves Tsou

Proofread: Mason Francis Palmer