When they met a few years ago, Maria Trepat Gelabert and Alexia Izu were both working for a big fashion brand in Barcelona. And they became close friends. But as much as they liked to design beautiful clothes, they felt that there was something fundamentally wrong. The conventional fashion business destroys people and environment in countries like China, India, and Pakistan. So Maria and Alexia quit their jobs and created their own label: Suite 13, a chic small line, made in Barcelona from organic fabrics. The opening of their store in Palma followed soon, today they have stockists in Madrid, Barcelona and Pollença. October this year marked Suite 13’s third anniversary. Sustainable fashion is still not mainstream, but Maria and Alexia established their own way of supporting it. I met Maria at Gustar, a lovely small restaurant on Plaça del Banc de l’Oli, close to her shop.
What’s the favorite piece of clothing in your own closet?
Wow, thats a tricky question (thinking). I have so many things, it’s a mix between old garments from my family and pieces I bought on my trips. And I love ethnic clothes. Actually, I don’t really wear them so much because they don’t look good on me. But I love to keep them in my closet and look at them every once in a while. For myself, I like to combine classic basics, jeans or a skirt with a shirt, a simple dress – and you’re well-dressed for any occasion.
Would you share the history of Suite 13 with me, how did you get started?
Actually I started my first line of eco-fashion in 2009, together with a factory in India that was producing for brands like Greenpeace and People Tree. But it was impossible to do everything myself, from designing to selling, so I relinquished that project and went looking for a job. That’s how I came to Barcelona, where I was working as a jersey designer for a well-known Spanish fashion brand. It was an interesting time for me because I traveled and learned a lot about the fashion industry. But they produced all their clothes in China, so everything was really cheap. Eventually, knowing about the conditions the clothes were being made under, I didn’t want to belong to this world, anymore.
After work, Alexia and I would often sit together and complain, „We want to change our life, we want to do something!“. Until we decided to design our own label, and make it completely sustainable. We named it Suite 13 because in French ‚suite’ means ‚continuation‘, just as we continued our relationship with fashion and design. And 13, because in many hotels there’s no room with the number 13, so we thought that’s a catchy name. Fortunately, we found a location for our store in Palma, soon, and we were actually the first to introduce sustainable fashion on the island.
So you are pioneers, how do you attract a broader audience?
For many people, ‚eco‘ and ‚design‘ are mutually exclusive. So we don’t focus on eco but come as a design-store. Thats why our own brand, Suite 13, features a more elegant apparel. When we started with our shop, we introduced a few Spanish brands, small collections, thus rather costly – just as our own. But most customers don’t pay more for a shirt or a dress, only because it’s fair trade. So we went to the Ethical Fashion Show in Berlin and expanded our cooperation with bigger brands like People Tree, Thinking Mu, or Armedangels, which are able to sell at lower prices. Now we offer different styles at Suite 13, from formal to business, casual and street wear. This fall, we just introduced a small, cheaper line, ourselves: Heaven lab, made in Barcelona from 100% eco-cotton, already has a great response.
Our customers come into the store, because they like what they see in the windows. And often they only realize on second sight, that what they get isn’t just chic but made under fair and ecological conditions. Of course, they appreciate that, and then they are surprised that our prizes are not higher than elsewhere.
You have been traveling a lot but you were born on Mallorca – what’s your favorite place on the island?
I grew up in Valldemossa, and when we were children we used to play in the mountain forests. My favorite place was a bamboo grove, kind of a labyrinth. For us kids, it seemed to be huge and we loved to get lost in it. The grove exists until today – it belongs to the agroturismo Son Viscos, now, but sometimes I still go there with my father or my nephews. It’s a marvelous place, I always love it a lot.