Fashion designer Miriam Ponsa's work begins twenty years ago with the reforming of the family’s old textile factory, inaugurated by her great-grandmother in 1886. Today, this space in Manresa is where her team makes each of the pieces she designs a reality, with unusual materials and craftsmanship techniques.
Ponsa is closely linked to the Design Museum: her work is displayed in the fashion collection, through the series Transhumància, Bugaderes and Dones mula; she is part of the temporary exhibition “Tiles and crafts. Contemporary artisan proposals”; and finally, she will occupy a prominent place in the exhibition “Emergency! Initiatives against COVID-19”, which will be inaugurated on November 17th.
We talk to her about respect for roots, the importance of listening to and vindicating the environment, and creative research; all of them values which she incorporates in the discourse of her collections, markedly sustainable and increasingly non-conformist.
What do you think fashion should be like?
I'm not interested in fashion when it is only aesthetics. I’m interested in it when it has a message, is inclusive, invites reflection, generates a conversation and provides the common good. Maybe this cannot be reflected on a single piece of clothing, but it is about searching through colors, textures and details; through the attitude of the models who present the collection, or through a stamped phrase. When the core idea is clear, everything must go in that direction.
It mustn’t all come together, though.
Picasso used to say that if inspiration arrived, it’d better get you working. For me it is exactly like this: my creative doors are opened during the process of creation. It is when I’m at the workshop that creating becomes natural, but because for me it is a necessity. Before creating, I don’t know what the result will be, but in the process we finde the answers. There must always be a dialogue between the textures and my hands, and it must be coherent with the idea that I want to communicate.
Creative research tops your manifesto. What lines of research have you focused on in recent years?
We investigate, above all, in textures. We are working a lot with latex, which is a material that is not used in fashion, but rather in arts and sculpture. We also try to innovate in craft techniques.
The Tiles and Crafts exhibition brings us closer to crafts, art and design. Do you understand them as a whole?
It would be good that, when talking about crafts, it is understood that art and design are implicit, always bearing in mind that each piece will have its own added value. Craftsmanship is respect for roots, for the creation tempo, for the people who work the pieces, and for the environment. I don’t tend to distinguish the disciplines so much; in fact, I think that many of us in fashion design work all three branches at the same time, although now I feel that I am more into fashion activism than design.
What do you mean by 'fashion activism'?
I feel that I have to do something for fashion here, for textile producers, because it is a dying sector, and my heart breaks when I see that. I feel uncomfortable, injustice bothers me and I have a hard time not getting it out. I do it in the form of creation, and now I want to do something on the street, in another format than the fashion show, perhaps more of a performance.
To claim what?
It annoys me that there is so much public money for a fashion show like 080 while the people working in hospitals are demanding more resources. I cannot understand it. And it makes even less sense when we have shown, for some editions now, that there are private companies interested in promoting the shows. The public money that is put into 080 is not effective. It’s surprising to me that no one says anything, especially from the fashion industry, where we have great speakers. I feel pretty lonely, but that won't stop me.
Does your activism include promoting sustainability and proximity?
Of course. During the pandemic, the only ones who were able to respond to the emergency were those who are producing here. When we have been asked for coats and masks, we have been able to make them quickly, because we work with local workshops and suppliers. It's very easy to understand: when you don't have salt, you won't go to China to ask for it; you go to your neighbour's house and ask for a little, right? It is local consumption that will save the industry. We must be aware that we are paying a very high price when a product comes from abroad.
Do delocalization, hyperconsumption and mass production go hand in hand?
We can do slow fashion because we do not have a large production and because we have decided to produce in the workshops nearby. You cannot order a thousand pieces from a small workshop in two days, because it is simply not viable. In Catalonia it is difficult to produce large quantities, because the textile industry has been disappearing with globalization, causing us to lose the know-how and experience that we had.
When a large brand claims to be sustainable, do you believe it?
In most cases, it is merely a marketing campaign. Yes, there are some companies that do it well, but they are the least. If you, as a consumer, are interested, just go to the website and do some research, because brands that make sustainable fashion usually show it through videos or photos. It is very difficult to fool with that.
Are we responsible, as consumers?
We are co-responsible: a purchase choice is like a vote at the polls. The purchase should be much more thoughtful, but the big brands make it an impulse. It doesn't make any sense to buy three pieces of clothing every week; instead, one every three months perhaps makes more sense. And it will be a higher quality piece, will last longer and will not generate as much waste.
Feminists are questioning traditional gender roles, and the fashion industry is responding with gender-neutral collections. What do you think? Do you see yourself doing something along these lines?
It was obviously time to break canons and stereotypes. But in the same way that we talk about gender, we can talk about race - in the end it is a question of humanity. Fashion must be inclusive and encourage change. I do not close myself to making a gender-neutral collection, although many of our pieces are already bought by men. On the other hand, there is another gap where I think I can make a contribution, which is the teenager sector: the fashion that exists for teenagers does not offer very interesting proposals.
What pushed you to make gowns and masks during lockdown?
We really wanted to help and we are unable to stay at home doing nothing. Since we work very close to where we live, we practically didn't even have to go outside. In the beginning, when there were no masks anywhere, we made them out of a fleece fabric, because that was what we had. Soon another fabric was certified for us for sanitary use. We are really happy about having been able to respond to an emergency and make people feel protected.
Why is it important to design with a social perspective, from people to people?
Because I want to be close to people. I'm not interested in being alone, isolated, creating just for myself and to satisfy my creative ego. I have made so many collections and have had so much creative freedom that I no longer have aspirations to continue designing in this direction. I want to do activism, change things I don't like and contribute to making fashion better.