Hispanic and Latine households are inherently sustainable: Plastic bags are never thrown away, containers are always reused, and no food is ever wasted — trust you’re eating seconds (and thirds) or walking away with leftovers in one of the aforementioned containers.
Yet in the world of eco-friendly fashion, this resourcefulness is often overlooked, or re-branded and marketed to a demographic of mainly thin and white consumers. While Hispanic, Latine, and other communities of color reuse and recycle to help budget, ethically made products are expensive — making sustainable fashion exclusive to those who can afford it.
Colombian entrepreneur Paula Maldonado is trying to change the restrictive reputation of ethical fashion, starting with her brand Dauntless. Founded in 2016, Dauntless creates a variety of high-end styles, including vegan leather, vegan silk, and eco-friendly denim products, with the intent of keeping its manufacturing process “honest and transparent.”
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur and activist at heart,” Maldonado told Input in an interview. “I wanted to found a business that could create change… [producing] basic garments but with all these values behind them like fair trade, social good, and carbon neutrality.” When building Dauntless, Maldonado made sure to maintain a focus on responsible modern supply chains and ethical production — because sustainability shouldn’t just apply to a brand’s products, she says.
While Maldonado initially started producing Dauntless products in New York, after she graduated from The New School’s Parsons School of Design, the manufacturing process didn’t align with her values. In search of a more ethical option, Maldonado went home to Colombia, where she could create jobs in her country and grow a sustainable community — which she mentions had been “a little behind” prior to Dauntless’ arrival.
“We do sell our pieces in Colombia, but only after 30 minutes of explaining what vegan and sustainable fashion is and what the fabrics are made of.”
Today, all of Dauntless production, and its headquarters, are based in Colombia, Maldonado states with pride. Women make up the entirety of the brand’s staff. “[Dauntless] was able to implement not only seeds of sustainability, but women empowerment [within Colombia],” she says, nodding to the misogyny that still afflicts many Hispanic and Latin countries. With its fair trade and equal pay standards, Dauntless is helping women in Bogota, Colombia support their families and become heads of households.
Although Dauntless products are produced locally, most of its shoppers are international, Maldonado says. “We do sell our pieces in Colombia, but only after 30 minutes of explaining what vegan and sustainable fashion is and what the fabrics are made of,” she notes. Like many other Hispanic and Latina women, Colombian women were taught to appreciate real leather and other animal goods — but if they aren’t able to tell the difference between the real deal and Dauntless’ vegan counterpart (which they can’t, says Maldonado), she encourages them to give the product a try.
Made from water-borne and solvent-free polyurethanes, the brand’s vegan leather pieces use less energy and water than real leather processing yet offer a similar feel and quality, according to Maldonado. Dauntless’ polyurethane leather isn’t comparable to Forever 21’s short-lived pleather jackets, she adds, although she acknowledges the material isn’t as sustainable as biodegradable plant-based leather alternatives. Currently, Maldonado and her team are researching ways to diminish the environmental effect of the brand’s substitute materials — but it’s worth noting that Dauntless has already paved a path for ethical fashion in Colombia, becoming the first-ever PETA Certified Vegan Brand in the country.
“[Our consumers] are proud to wear what they buy from Dauntless,” Maldonado says, noting that prior to the pandemic, she received four hand-written letters from customers saying they were in love with their purchases, which she notes was “a huge milestone” for her and Dauntless. With shoppers appreciating the story behind their pieces, Maldonado has reached her goal of creating a brand with meaning behind it.
Like many small businesses, however, Dauntless was hindered by the pandemic, with sales “dropping significantly,” Maldonado says. Not many people were sure what their finances would look like in the upcoming months, she recalls, and ethically made styles — not as accessible as cheap fast fashion — took a momentary backseat.
The other green
All-in-one shopping app Klarna helped put Dauntless into drive again as part of its small business impact initiative, which awarded 100 small businesses $40,000 to extend their media exposure and help them recover from the pandemic. “Having a huge company like Klarna behind us expanded our customer base in more ways than one,” Maldonado says. “[Its support] gives more trust to the consumer in trying new products and trusting us as a small company.”
In partnership with Klarna, Dauntless now offers its shoppers the option to pay for their purchases in installments, making sustainability a more attainable reality for shoppers. Ethical production doesn’t come cheap, Maldonado notes — a vegan leather coat from Dauntless costs nearly as much as a real leather jacket, ranging from $260 to $300 — and the high prices attached to sustainable fashion often deter shoppers, who are used to paying minimal costs for a fast fashion garment. Klarna meets people in the middle, offering Dauntless shoppers a broken-down price point without the unethical reality of fast fashion.
“Our aim is to democratize carbon footprint education by immediately providing access to unbiased climate impact information for consumers.”
As a whole, Klarna’s layaway plan makes many products more accessible — including those that aren’t as environmentally friendly — and encourages overconsumption. That said, by making products seemingly more attainable or affordable than their marked price, buy now, pay later services may also be putting people into debt, and that’s a side that simply can’t be ignored.
Klarna says it helps mitigate this with spending limits, credit checks, and the option to “snooze” payments for 10 additional days without interest. “In this way, we want to empower our customers to make purchase and payment decisions that make sense for their specific financial situation,” the service’s website states.
The buy now, pay later platform is also committed to doing what it can for the environment: As of September of 2021, the all-in-one shopping app has raised $16.5 million to donate to initiatives that improve the health of the planet, specifically to actions that preserve, mitigate, and restore climate and biodiversity. Klarna also features a carbon emissions tracker, built in partnership with Doconomy, to offer its users instant information on how much CO2 emissions are contained in their orders, insights on what that number means, and ways to donate or offset those emissions.
“Our aim is to democratize carbon footprint education by immediately providing access to unbiased climate impact information for consumers — at no cost or judgment — as a first step to help drive awareness around climate change,” Klarna tells Input. “We’ve heard this time and again from our customers and think this will be a key component to the future of commerce.”
The meaning of sustainability varies from person to person — but what’s important is finding a balance that works for you. Whether you’re donning one of Dauntless’ vegan designs, tracking your carbon footprint, or simply reusing your plastic containers, consider it a place to start. Going green isn’t easy, but with entrepreneurs like Maldonado leading the way — and services like Klarna willing to help — ethical consumption is well within reach.