Updated: Aug 31, 2021
One young man’s aim to launch a fashion line has seen him develop a movement in Cyprus to promote more sustainability around the clothes we wear. ALIX NORMAN meets him.
“My grandfather was a farmer,” says George Kyrou. “But in his spare time, he cobbled. He made one pair of shoes each week, putting all his love into his craft. And that devotion was valued by his customers, who would often wear the same pair of shoes for years, bringing them back for repair again and again…”
Well-made apparel that lasts a lifetime is now a thing of the past. Today, most of us are guilty of ascribing to what’s known as ‘disposable’ or ‘fast’ fashion: buying cheap, throwaway items that are soon confined to the dump. “This makes us accountable for the dreadful working conditions other humans have to endure to produce our clothes,” George explains. “Plus we’re feeding a system that destroys the environment and pollutes the rivers with colour dyes and chemicals!”
Cyprus is especially culpable, explains the young social entrepreneur: as one of the least sustainable countries in Europe, we toss tonnes of clothes each year – very few of which are reused, thrifted, or upcycled. “We’ve been fed the lie that new is better, even though material and quality is now deteriorating at an incredible pace. We don’t reuse anymore, we don’t buy from local craftspeople, we don’t mend our clothes,” he adds. “And the way of life my grandfather knew is long gone.”
It’s for this very reason that George set up Motivw (‘motivo’), a sustainable fashion initiative which upcycles, salvages and promotes the reuse of fabrics. The initiative has been running for several years now, quietly working to change the local mindset. “Our aim is to inspire action,” says George. “I set out wanting to create a clothing brand and ended up empowering a movement!”
Launched in 2017 when the 27-year-old social designer was studying Graphic Design in London, Motivw was initially “a side project in Cyprus: a way to introduce upcycling and clothes swaps to the island. We began,” says George, “by creating a few well-made, sustainably produced t-shirts to raise funds…”
A collaboration with young designer Eleonora Christodoulou soon followed, in which the team’s fully upcycled collection went all the way to Graduate Fashion Week London. And by autumn, Motivw’s first event was in full swing: a clothes swap held in cooperation with Nicosia-based NGO Future Worlds Centre.
“I’d just flown back from the UK, knowing I wanted to introduce the idea of clothes swaps to Cyprus, but with no clue as how to go about it!” laughs George. “So when I saw a poster advertising a green initiative at the Centre, just a few minutes’ walk from my childhood home in Ayios Dometios, everything came together.”
Two weeks later, George was pasting posters promoting Cyprus’ first clothes swap across the Old Town. “I hoped maybe 10 people would be interested, that it might be the start of something good,” he explains. “So imagine my surprise when, on the day, almost 70 people showed up with bags of clothes – all hoping to make a small difference to Cyprus’ fast fashion ethic!”
The success of this first event soon prompted other projects. There have been several collaborations with the Agora Project on the theme of ‘anti-fast fashion’; participation in Cyprus’ Fashion Awareness festival, during which Motivw produced a limited edition ‘Anti-FA-FA’ (or anti-fast fashion) collection; involvement in a Friends of the Earth and Youth for Climate summit; the launch of a t-shirt with Birdlife Cyprus to raise awareness of the lead-poisoned flamingos in the Larnaca Salt Lake and support the organisation’s preservation efforts; and a huge fabric sale in Engomi in June 2021...
“The fabric sale,” says George, “was perhaps the most defining moment for Motivw so far! I was happily pottering around my garden one day when a friend called out of the blue and asked if I wanted to have a look at a container that needed to be emptied for reuse. Long story short, it was packed with fabric – nearly three tonnes of the stuff! And since there’s no infrastructure on the island to dispose of or recycle fabrics, nobody knew quite what to do with it…”
Decimating Motivw’s budget for a good cause, George and friends snapped up the lot rather than see it tossed in a local landfill. “And then we hosted a huge clearance sale; people were literally digging through mountains of fabric! We sold to seamstresses and tailors, designers and fashion students in search of sustainable fabrics, craftspeople and sewers of all kinds… All of whom wanted to take advantage of the low prices and put an end to disposable fashion! We were also able,” he adds, “to donate a lot of fabric to Refumade, which helps refugees rebuild their lives and generate income through learning to sew.”
Since the miraculous one-off of the container, Motivw hasn’t been resting on its laurels. There’s been a ‘Ditch ’n Switch’ clothing exchange at the Larnaca Cultural Foundation; a sold-out line of bucket hats made from recycled fabric; a clothes swap at Nicosia’s Sneak Peek Multispace; and a sustainable fashion collaboration with designer Ioannis Tsartsidis.
“We’ve actually swapped on eight different occasions since then,” George reveals. And the dream, he adds, is for Motivw to grow into a fashion brand. “But not in the traditional sense! We envision a brand that functions as a vehicle to sustainability, where one can purchase sustainable items but also enjoy the tools and opportunities to mend, swap or upcycle clothes.”
Motivw has already won a social entrepreneurship award from the Kingston and Santander Universities, and has represented Cyprus in the EIT Climate KIC Launchpad 2019 Regional Finals as a Green Enterprise. “But social entrepreneurship in Cyprus is still in its infancy,” George laments. “We’re so often focused on personal gain and wealth, that we forget about the all-important social and environmental issues.
“But we’ll get there,” he concludes. “Somehow, we will manage to slow down fashion; we’re already teaching people to love their clothes – to pass them down to friends and family, to customise, upcycle, reuse and mend. I think my grandfather – a man who valued a well-made, long-lasting shoe – would be proud!”