Paula Ulargui Escalona tells for nss magazine in her home in Madrid, :“When I grow plants, I worry about every aspect – they are delicate, yet nature is stronger than we imagine.”Paula is the creator of the clothing covered in grass and other vegetation that was displayed at Loewe’s most recent fashion show in Paris. This partnership helped to promote Paula and her studies to audiences across the world. Paula, a former IED student who also studied for a while in Milan, said, “I invented this strategy during my senior year of college.””I developed a whole project around the concept of fashioning clothing from natural materials. I cultivated both plants and mushrooms. Additionally, I discovered a way to weave plants into a living, totally vegetable fabric for clothing.”On Paula’s website, which acted as both a point of communication for her and Loewe during the collection’s creation, you can see the outcomes of this project, which evidently grew with time and became richer with new variations and experimentation.
In order to convey a message about the conflict between technology and nature and how we might get back to it, they wanted to tell a story about nature on their show, according to Paula. “At first, they created materials that resembled living plants but were actually just ordinary tissues. […] In order for Jonathan to see them and pick the one he preferred, I kept sending them files and trials. As soon as we chose which plants to use and how, I began giving them suggestions.”
Oddly enough, aside from extensive testing and study into the best plants to employ, the actual cultivating process happened very organically.“I set out in pursuit of the natural fabrics I required—good-quality materials free of chemicals. My requests weren’t all that odd.”However, the Loewe team had to create something fresh for sneakers that received so much media attention: “Although it wasn’t in the leather, the fabric had grass roots. It was a substance that encouraged the growth of plants and provided them with the right amount of humidity and temperature.”There is little doubt that Paula’s work was the result of extremely thorough investigation. Her research first produced a fabric made entirely of live plants, and later the tissues on which they grew also appeared as a result of her work: «I consider myself first and foremost an artist, a designer, and someone who works in sustainability. My projects contain a scientific component, but their primary goal is to produce a piece of art that conveys my message. The method necessitates laborious and a careful physical labor.”
Of course, Paula’s work with Inditex (and consequently with Zara) on the sourcing of sustainable textile materials does not signal the end of her study. Paula doesn’t see a conflict between her commitment to sustainability and her position inside a major fast fashion company because, ultimately, true change must come from within and from the top: “Prior to working for Inditex, I worked for a business that was solely focused on sustainability and sustainable brands, as well as a lab where I conducted experiments with various materials. Naturally, I was hesitant when they first approached me with the employment offer, but they are accomplishing a lot. They have a difficulty, but they also have a lot of ability to effect change, and they work incredibly hard to do so.”Paula has other, more scientific objectives in addition to working for more aesthetic businesses and partnerships like the one with Loewe. These include studies on zero-impact materials that can be applied widely.“My work has always been focused on researching natural, extremely sustainable materials. In this instance, the message served as the project’s primary goal above all else. The project had to convey its substance in a single image; it wasn’t intended to be a product to be sold. I’ll keep researching other innovative zero-impact materials that can be used to the sector in the next years.”
Paula also includes art because scientific advancement requires cultural transformation, in addition to more strictly technical study. Whether in terms of actual design or the creation of new textile materials, she said:“Somewhat of both. From a business standpoint, I currently deal more with assisting businesses become more sustainable than with anything else. On the other hand, I conduct research and work with businesses through my art to spread the word and start a movement. Art has that influence.”