Earlier this year, I attended an event in Berlin with a marketplace featuring local sustainable fashion and lifestyle companies. That’s where I met designer Irina Muñoz and discovered Pitaya, the fun and artistic yoga line she and Sara Bauchmüller cofounded in 2017.
Aptly named after the dragon fruit, Pitaya specializes in individual, bright, and playful yoga wear that is produced sustainably and ethically in Europe. What I also appreciate about Pitaya is that certain clothing pieces include a donation to specially selected NGOs and non-profit organizations that address a wide array of issues such as the refugee situation in Europe, endangered animal species worldwide, and women’s rights.
The practice of yoga is not only limited to the physical practice but also includes ethical principles that seek to guide how we treat each other and care for ourselves. Pitaya’s vision and mission embodies the essence of yoga. And whether or not you practice yoga, it feels really good to support and invest in a local company that considers people (not just the ones they employ), the world, and all of Earth’s co-inhabitants.
Irina and I had an impromptu dance party to one of her playlists at the photo session and then we chatted all about Pitaya.
Are the bodysuit and leggings you’re wearing in the current collection? (see the following image)
The bodysuit is something we introduced in the last collection. This print is called Door of the Cosmos and it is related to a song that I love from Sun Ra. When I was designing this print, I was listening to his Door of the Cosmos song. It’s super cool, it’s like a trip to space.
Do a lot of your prints come out of music?
Some of them do. For example, there is the Fela Kuti [print] called Beats for Peace. He was a very inspiring character; he fought for Nigerian rights in the 1970’s with his music. He invented Afrobeat, and Sara and I love his music. You can see his face and his saxophone in the print and African motifs in a Pitaya way, in the colors. With this print, we support the [non-profit organization] Musicians Without Borders.
Is Door of the Cosmos linked to a particular NGO?
No, but the leggings I’m wearing is called PRRR, for ‘Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.’ With this one we donate to Environomica, an NGO specialized in nature preservation and sustainable rural development. This last collection is the sustainability collection, and we changed to recycled fabrics. We also have a print called Animal Affair. It shows four animals in danger of extinction and we donate to an NGO that works to give animals in danger a better life worldwide.
You mentioned that your art studio is mobile. Do you do everything first by hand, or do you also work on the computer?
I always start by drawing. I use my watercolors or gouache. I like gouache better. My mobile studio is very simple: I have watercolor paper, a small set of watercolors, small tubes of gouache in the four primary colors, and a few brushes. When I draw, I take a picture with my phone, send it to the computer, and make the composition in Photoshop.
That’s why they have this really lovely hand drawn feeling. How many prints do you have at the moment? Right now we have around 25.
Do you keep them all in rotation?
We bring in around four to five new designs every season. Being small has the advantage of a faster reaction time: when our customers are missing certain designs [that sold out], we [can] produce the most popular ones again.
Where do you do your production?
We’ve been doing our production in Mexico. But the last one was in Greece because we wanted to bring the production closer.
In the past has one of you traveled to Mexico to oversee the production?
It happened very naturally. Sara and I met at an acro-yoga teacher training in August of 2016. Then Sara went to Mexico with a Mexican friend from the training. During the teacher training, we had talked about starting something together because she came from business and I come from design. For me, it was something like a talk, like it could be nice but…When she was there, she had some time and thought, ‘Okay, I think we can do it.’ Her friend knew of a few factories. So Sara went around for fabrics, talked to the supplier, and called me and said, ‘Irina, just send me a few designs.’ After that, we both have been to Mexico a couple of times.
So it happened organically. How did you fund it in the beginning?
We made a very small investment. In the beginning we produced something like 150 leggings and it was all from our savings.
How big are your production runs now?
This last one was 600 leggings, 300 tops, 300 bodysuits, and 500 shorts. That’s from one producer. We have similar numbers from the other producer, so in total we will have 1200 leggings and  shorts.
What are your bestsellers?
Now it’s between Door of the Cosmos, Frida, which is Frida Kahlo with a dark background, and Sea Love. Sea Love has sea creatures coming up from the bottom, with sea snails and seaweed, everything moving and very colorful. It is one of the oldest [prints]. Usually what works is a dark background and lots of color. With Sea Love, we support Open Arms from Barcelona, Spain. A guy went to Greece with his own savings to rescue all the refugees who were trying to cross and couldn’t. I thought, ‘Wow, this is a super cool way to support [them].’
Was the social focus, not only in the sustainability of the product but also giving money to NGOs, something that existed from the beginning?
We incorporated it in the second production because for both of us, it didn’t make sense to only produce something that people really don’t need. We wanted to feel we were doing something else for the environment and society, and that was a way to give more [purpose] to the project.
Very cool. Can you tell me a bit more about your background as it relates to fashion?
I studied fashion, I guess following my family’s [footsteps]. My mom, grandma, and auntie are costureras (seamstresses). They have a small atelier where I grew up, in a small town 20 minutes from Barcelona. Whenever I came home from school, I was always surrounded by threads, fabrics, and the rest. I studied art for two years and realized that I wanted to do fashion. I got a fashion degree at BAU [Design College of Barcelona]. While I was studying, I was already working in the fashion industry.
I never thought I would have my own business, actually. Because my family didn’t have money to support me having a business, I thought I was always going to be tied to the fast fashion industry. I started working for companies like Zara and Mango. I moved to Sweden and worked for H&M and it was then that I realized that I didn’t want to work for big companies. I switched to freelancing. And it was at H&M where I focused more on the graphic design, print fashion, and I didn’t do fashion.
So that was a pivot for you because before you were designing garments?
Yes, usually women’s wear and kid’s wear.
You met Sara at the acro-yoga training. Do you both have a background in movement?
Sara did gymnastics competitively; she trained for the Olympic team. I’ve danced and done acrobatics since I was five years old. Dancing has always been an important part of my life. There was a moment when I was in Sweden working and designing and I was not doing anything with my body. I felt so bad. Then I returned to Barcelona and started doing yoga very randomly. Because I’m very active, I always thought yoga was not going to be for me. But a friend who was a yoga teacher needed someone to do her flyers so we exchanged that for a month of yoga classes. Then I got completely hooked.
You mentioned that Sara has a business background, is there other work that she does alongside Pitaya?
She currently teaches handstand [classes] in Berlin. She worked in an EdTech (educational technology) start-up in London for two years. She did the finance part and business development. After that she went traveling and decided she didn’t want to work in that anymore. Then she went to Mexico to do her yoga teacher training. Later when we met in Granada at the acro-yoga teacher training, she was already out of the start-up business.
It’s nice that she has that background, so your skills are very complementary. And you have the shared commonality of acro-yoga. Yes!
Has that been a big factor in terms designing the garments, regarding movement?
Definitely, it has to be comfortable. Not only for when you move, after the class you still want to be in your Pitayas. When we leave the house and wear them, we can improvise and go to dance, handstand class, or yoga. But if we don’t, that’s okay because they’re cool, you can also just wear them.
Is the idea that you can improvise your day and Pitaya is movement wear that you can wear all the time?
All the time. I have friends who say, ‘I even go to sleep in my Pitayas. I don’t want to take them off!’
What is the recycled fabric made with?
They call it rPET.
So it uses recycled plastic water bottles. Where is the fabric made?
It’s made in Turkey. We contacted an agent in Greece and he found the factory. Our fabric is produced specially for us. It’s been quite difficult because the fabric we had from Mexico was very soft and everyone loved it. We struggled for a year to get the same feeling and softness. The Mexican fabric was not recycled and that was something I really wanted to push.
Is the content 100% recycled?
The polyester is recycled, so it is 92% recycled polyester and the rest is elastane.
For its care, do you turn it inside out and cold wash it?
Yes. The colors are very durable but we recommend that you wash it inside out.
You mentioned you are branching out into sweatshirts, are you looking into integrating recycled fibers into that fabric?
No. For the sweatshirts, we want to use cotton fleece.
Are you looking into using partially recycled cotton or organic cotton?
Not sure yet. Organic cotton has quite a strong footprint. Organic cotton requires a lot of water. I still have to do some research about it. We also want to use modal, which is an organic fiber that gives the fabric a soft touch. We looked into using cotton for the leggings but it’s just not durable. We couldn’t have as much good definition for the prints and not as many colors.
I love that your prints are very playful, and there are different layers to each print.
Yes, I love details. When I was working in fashion some customers would ask me, ‘Can you do something simpler?’ I tried, but it’s not my style. It was very challenging.
That’s the great thing about having your own company, you can make things as detailed as you want. Exactly. Do you have limitations in terms of the number of colors?
No we don’t because we use a technique called sublimation. It’s like when you print a picture on paper and then transfer it to the fabric through heat and pressure. That’s why the fabric has to be synthetic. We couldn’t do this with cotton because it wouldn’t stick.
So the fabric is woven in Turkey, is it printed there too? The printing and sewing happens in Greece.
Have you been to the production facility?
No, but I would love to go. Actually the supplier contacted us the same day I flew back from Greece. I had spent a month there. This supplier works with recycled materials so it was perfect. Usually we do the research but in this case, he found us.
How do you and Sara share the responsibilities?
Logistics may be the better word. Sara takes care of the logistics, the overall planning and vision, and organizes the events, pop-up stores, retreats, and collaborations—and connects all the areas. She writes the content. I do the print design, patternmaking, web design, concept design for the photo shoots, social media, and production. So the visual part is me and words are usually Sara. Before every new collection we sit and talk about interesting topics, and we plan the year ahead regarding productions, events, shootings, collaborations, et cetera.
Where is your clothing sold?
Through our online shop we mainly sell to Germany, Switzerland, and other European countries, and sometimes other parts of the world. We also sell our products in yoga studios in Frankfurt, Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Basel, Zurich, Lanzarote, and Fuerteventura.
Where would you like to take the brand?
I’m always [working] to bring it to a more artistic level. I would like Pitaya to be more than a yoga wear brand and maybe have parallel lines of movement, street wear, and other products. We’re going to have loose pants, a sweatshirt, t-shirts, and a fabric bag soon.
Will you use the same recycled fabric for the pants?
No, we’ll use cotton and as much organic material as we can.
How long does it take you to develop a new print and put it into production?
Usually one print takes me one to two days to design. Sometimes, I have to see it again. Sometimes I’m like ‘Wow, that’s genius.’ Other times I show it to Sara and she’s like ‘Hmm’, not so convinced, then I keep working on it. She also likes to be involved in the creative process so it’s important we are both happy with the results.
That’s great. Do you do any trend analysis?
I do some trend research and it always goes toward what I like. But it has some trend notes because of my fashion background. I go to exhibitions or I see movies. I still love to be super connected to the art scene wherever I am.
And it shows in the prints. Do you have seasons or collections?
We are trying now, but it’s been very improvised. As soon as we saw we were selling out, we produced more leggings. Because we don’t have a big structure to plan and invest, it was more like ‘How much can we invest?’ and ‘How many leggings can we produce this time?’ So we didn’t follow the seasons.
That makes it more sustainable, right? You’re not producing huge amounts and stuck with a lot of stock. Do you sell directly or mostly wholesale?
We sell pretty well online since we don’t have a physical store. But we organize pop-up stores sometimes. We are doing one this Sunday. Sara is teaching a handstand class and I’m teaching a dance research class. I think it’s going to be cool because it’s a smaller version of the creative yoga retreat we did in Calabria. It was awesome to see all the girls in their Pitayas.
It seems that your own passions interweave with Pitaya.
Pop Up Store Pitaya Yoga with Dance and Handstand Workshops
Sunday, November 10, 2019
10:00 am -1:00 pm
Urbanstraße 93, Berlin
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