The inaugural collection is inspired by today’s independent woman who is mindful of her purchasing decisions’ impact on the planet yet who seeks a feminine and minimal look.

The founders’ are dedicated to helping minimize the number of textiles ending up in landfills by upcycling deadstock and selling only made-to-order garments. They are dedicated to empowering women by giving them choices to complement their style while being sustainable.

Irina Moreno is an art consultant with an MA from Sotheby's Institute of Art, London. Zuzana Mandic is a fashion and design consultant and Henley Business School alumna.

A lucky encounter

Irina and Zuzana both arrived in Bucharest around the same time, in 2018. Zuzana came from the UK, while Irina returned after 30 years of living abroad. „We met while we were both members of IWA (International Women’s Association of Bucharest), an organization geared towards bringing expat and repat women together”, says Irina.

After this encounter, the world slowed down. In 2020 during the lockdown in Bucharest conversations flowed between the two. And they had a dilemma.

„We didn’t understand why sustainability was not prevalent in Romania. We started investigating how much waste was generated by the over 4,000 garment manufacturers located in Romania”, says Irina. They talked and contacted over 100 factories, most of them which work with international retailers.

Two months after this moment they decided to establish a fashion brand, one that will be sustainable. They designed their first capsule collection based on the available deadstock and created the first prototypes.

„The name, 3W Label, came naturally to us as it reflects the rationale behind the brand’s promise. It transforms the three R’s: Reuse, Redesign, and Return, into 3W’s: Waste to Resource, Wearables, and Women Empowerment”, explains Irina for Green Start-Up.

They were inspired by their previous experiences. Both have come from countries where sustainable fashion is in high demand and never experienced a shortage in options. To their surprise, in Romania the desire to reduce waste is not common.

Thus, they discovered that each garment manufacturer produces between 300 and 1.000 kg of waste per month. And after that, tried to find what hinders consumption of sustainable fashion in Romania.

„The local attitude appears to be due, in part, to the lack of information regarding fashion industry’s ills, the preference towards buying new items (as opposed to pre-worn), as well as the overwhelming obsession with wearing the latest fashion trends, especially brand name clothes”, explains Irina.

The pandemic brought sustainability in the spotlight

Irina thinks that the pandemic brought sustainability into the spotlight, but transformed it into a buzzword. So they wanted to do something that goes beyond PR and marketing. They wanted to fight greenwashing.

„Some companies have chosen to brand or rebrand their image as green, using words such as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘fair’, ‘environmentally friendly,’ or ‘eco-friendly’ without actually offering a sustainable product. This is called greenwashing. There are brands, however, that looked at the pandemic through the opportunity lens and embarked on sustainable journeys. In addition to raising awareness about sustainability, these brands offer consumers a truly green product. 3W Label is one of them”, says Irina.

The brand partners with local manufacturers and uses high quality deadstock to produce limited-edition garments which are sold online and on-demand.

They want to avoid unnecessary over-stock of unsold garments and by repurposing deadstock as raw materials, the two founders ensure that all their fabrics avoid landfills and retain the highest possible value.

„We believe that introducing the idea of sustainability via pre-consumer waste will help foster a better understanding of the price we, as a society, pay for overproduction and overconsumption, ultimately stimulating a greener behaviour”, explains Irina.

And after launching at the beginning of 2022, 3W Label wants to become a household name inside the country. „3W Label aims to fill a gap in the local apparel scene. Our clothes are made using fabrics that would likely end up in a landfill and pollute the environment. Moreover, we provide full and transparent information on the origin of our fabrics. Unlike fast fashion brands, we choose to support local talent and local production over environmental or human rights supply chain production. Our garments are seasonless (design, color palette) and are made to last”, explains the cofounder of 3W Label.

What is deadstock and how it's used

To create their clothes, 3W Label works with deadstock, not unused garments. "Pre-consumer waste occurs in the supply chain during the manufacturing of a product. Called deadstock, pre-consumer waste includes leftover fabrics from sampling, overruns from production, and order cancellations. In some instances, entire rolls of fabric remain unused", says Irina Moreno.

You may find it shocking, but this deadstock, even if it's totally new, it's considered waste. So this is what 3W Label is buying from manufacturers.

"For example, the fabric used to make our dark navy dress is 100% virgin wool and originates from Estethia G.B. Conte in Italy. Prior to us deciding to make dresses out of it, it was used in the creation of Hugo Boss garments. It would have been sad to know that this fabric ended up in a landfill", explains Irina Moreno.

Now they are sourcing the materials from a local subsidiary of a German company (Dr. Bock Industries)

One barrier in using deadstock is that manufacturers do not have enough alternatives for waste disposal. Some of these barriers include the lack of sorting and recycling equipment, lack of profit-yielding operations from upcycling and lack of legislation favoring sustainable alternatives over linear economy. Also, the costs for landfill disposal are low and this thing acts against the motivation of the companies to do something else.

"Typically, all excess material eventually ended up in a landfill. Dr. Bock Industries take a different approach and provide some of this waste as learning materials for schools and NGOs as well as supply their high-quality end of rolls materials to their partners, smaller brands", explains Irina Moreno.

But the challenges remain, most of them on an operational level. "Creating a collection based on deadstock is not an easy feat to accomplish. When it comes to designing our product line, this is probably our main challenge", says the co-founder of 3W Label.

3W Label from launch until now

So what are the results of this sustainable fashion brand? As we said, the challenges are multiple and they need to decide always based on available deadstock quantities from the factory and its composition.

"Our garments take time to be created. Each piece is numbered and is part of a limited-edition series (similar to artworks). Customers know exactly what pieces they receive (e.g., a label featuring number 5/50 indicates that the purchaser acquired the 5th piece made using that particular fabric and design, out of a maximum of 50 garments). This is a novel idea for an industry such as fashion where everything is made in thousands and thousands of pieces per design", says Moreno.

But the process of educating the market is long. There is a 2-3 week waiting time between order placement and receipt of garment, so slow fashion needs patience. One of the challenges of the business on the market is lack of information and misinformation.

"We were advised to refrain from using the word “waste” when referring to our fabrics. In Sweden for example, the narrative is totally different. People love the idea of wearing clothes made of waste and understand that the price is higher for such items", explains Irina.

Today, the fashion industry is a global polluter, second only to the oil industry. To meet the constant increase in demand, the global production has doubled since the year 2000.

But people now wear less than 50% of items in their wardrobe and the average consumer buys 68 new pieces of clothing yearly. 40 years ago the figure was 12.

"Widely viewed as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,’ sustainability refers to the marriage between economic growth and environmental protection. By virtue of its constant need for newness, the fashion industry finds itself at the opposite end of sustainability. Indeed, the unquenched thirst for new styles has turned low-cost fashion into a poverty lever and consumers into inadvertent abusers", considers Irina Moreno.

3W Label is a new brand and the growth is hard, because it comes with the education on the market. Irina says that they belong locally, tapping into the local creative and production ecosystem, working with local garment manufacturers to source the fabric. And this can be a sustainable aspect.

"Localism, moving away from global to local, is recognised as one of central principles of sustainability. It's a reorganising of power distribution".

Their proposition is one of limited edition pieces. And their garments should be cherished for many years and worn throughout seasons.

"We are not after exponential growth ad infinitum. We believe in well thought actions that don’t put any more pressure on the finite resources. On the contrary, they are embedded in local economy and local creative tradition", concludes Irina.