A Sustainable Startup: Meet Terratela’s Founder

Photo of Natalia, Founder of Terratela

Natalia Burakowska is on a mission to create a sustainable fashion company that goes against the damaging trends of fast fashion. She has worked in the industry for more than 10 years, and Terratela is a combination of her passion for both food and fashion. She grew up in the type of sustainable household many families are trying to recapture today, and her dogged determination to create true transparency in the supply chain of Terratela means she is often traveling the world, visiting our farmers, factories, designers, and producers.

We caught up with Natalia just after she returned from a recent trip to Iceland to meet with Terratela's regenerative seaweed farmers.

Where did you get the idea for Terratela?

Natalia: “I was born in Poland to a family with a long farming history. When we immigrated to the USA in the early '90s, my mother, who studied culinary production in Poland, created a small farm. Sustainability and food were always a part of my roots. Summers were spent cooking with produce straight from the backyard, winters were spent pickling the end-of-season leftovers, and my springs were spent preparing the land for next year’s planting. Old T-shirts were cut up and used to tie climbing vegetable plants, yogurt cups were reused to germinate future plants, compost was collected all year round. Nothing went to waste. That’s just how I was raised. After finishing design school, I started working in the fashion industry and was saddened by the amount of waste generated - it was nothing like my youth. Over the years, I transitioned to working in sustainable companies trying to make a difference and became obsessed with learning about new innovations in textiles. The idea for Terratela came to me at a dinner table with friends - why not make something combining all my passions - sustainability, clothing, and food. It seemed crazy - but here we are.”

Natalia young in the garden
Natalia in a factory visit

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

Natalia: “One of the things I noticed with chefs is that when the quality of the ingredient is good, they want to share where it came from. You don’t see this much in fashion - even sustainable fashion. Terratela is unlike other brands because we focus heavily on the stories of the materials that make our garments. Transparency in this industry is not easy; there are many tiers to the supply chain, but I continue to work towards full traceability. Most people don’t know how food loss could become the shirt they wear. We illustrate the process of fiber making and present it in an easily digestible recipe format. My goal is to share this journey from farm to thread.”

Why is sustainable fashion so important?

Natalia: “When I started working in the fashion industry, sustainability was not a big topic. I saw and heard of some pretty terrible practices that companies were doing - burning excess trims, mutilating clothing so it couldn’t be resold. I’m glad to see things improving over the years, but there’s still a lot to be done in one of the biggest polluting and most environmentally harmful industries. A lot of the fabrics Terratela is using were actually developed and even sold years ago - I’m talking 1940s or earlier. However, it was around this time that polyester started becoming popular as a cheaper alternative, and these innovative fabrics were forgotten. Now, decades later, there are suppliers bringing them back and improving the processes to be more eco-friendly. Through Terratela, I continue to expand and further my knowledge of this industry - it’s exciting that things are improving so much! There’s a lot to learn, but we want to take our community on this journey with us as we develop clothing that is biodegradable or recyclable.”

Natalia pointing at a t-shirt
A T-Shirt floating in the wind

What’s the end goal with Terratela?

Natalia: “My dream for Terratela is to help reduce new fiber production and innovate with what already exists. We don’t need to grow new crops to make textiles when we already have so much food loss and textile/garment waste that we could and should be repurposing. It’s time we start caring about what we wear on our bodies as much as we care about what we put in them. We want our community to feel proud of their wardrobe and dress with purpose.”

What other materials are you working with?

Natalia: “I’ve been working on the R&D for Terratela for almost two years. We already have the next few fabrics in production. We’ll be doing small drops throughout 2023 with our t-shirts, so stay tuned! Everyone has a different taste palette, and with our upcoming fabrics, we’ve designed the compositions so the shirts all feel different. They actually feel a lot like the main ingredient used to produce them. Our first drop of the SeaFibe™ T-shirt, made of a mixture of dried seaweed blended with eucalyptus pulp, has a soft, slippery feeling to it. Since we are working with all these exotic fibers, we currently have some limitations in the percentage of food we can use while maintaining a quality product. This is why we are blending eco-friendly fibers that complement our food fibers. However, we continue to research and work hard on increasing the percentages of food in our garments. We are confident we will eventually arrive at 100% food fibers in our productions, and we are proud that so many people are joining us on this journey. Wearing what you can’t eat is a great way to help the planet.”

Photo Credits: Giraldo Aires, Arlei Lima, Derrick Henry.

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