Cyber URSA: Ethical, Small-Batch Argentine Accessories and Apparel
Article by Sharon Salt. Model Photos: Flor Lista.
Despite being nine months pregnant and dealing with mid-day traffic and a power outage, Liz Gleeson is a center of calm. All the chaos of Buenos Aires seems to slide off her back. She must be used to it; she bought a one-way ticket here seven years ago and has been living in the center of the city ever since.
“I prefer the chaos,” Liz explains. Fresh out of college, having studied ceramics and printmaking in “middle-of-nowhere New York,” she was aching for a change of pace. As soon as she arrived in Buenos Aires, she knew she would stay. (In fact, her travel-writing sister followed shortly after and now calls Buenos Aires home, too.)
Though she studied ceramics and printmaking, Liz has always worked with textiles and screenprinting on her own, as a hobby. In 2010, she decided to start Cyber URSA, an accessories and apparel label based in Buenos Aires. The name was chosen in part for its sound and because, for some, it evokes the constellations Ursa Major and Minor — but mostly, Liz says, she liked that “it doesn’t bring any one thing to mind. It’s left open.”
Cyber URSA has been through many iterations, but one thing is certain: the label is dedicated to ethical production.
For one thing, Liz outsources her designs to workshops and cooperatives, including a knitting co-op in Villa 31 she found through some press. She brings her designs to the co-op, which is comprised mostly of Bolivian immigrants, and they help with production. It’s an on-going relationship, and one that is mutually beneficial.
Also, by pure coincidence, Liz’s boyfriend’s family owns a textile factory and a sheep farm in Patagonia. “The textile factory is a massive place. It takes up a whole manzana, but now it’s only seven employees.”
At first, the factory demanded big batches of goods, simply because they were used to working with larger quantities. “I felt like people were breathing down my neck. They wanted to make at least 500 of everything,” Liz says, “and I didn’t have a hand in the process.” Despite lacking any background in business (or fashion, for that matter), she reorganized the way the factory operates. Now, with smaller numbers, she has more control, which means better things for everyone involved: the workers, the animals, and the consumers.
“I don’t want to add to the clutter of the world if it’s not for the greater good,” she says.
This summer, to further improve Cyber URSA’s already stellar ethical standards, Liz and her family are planning a three-month trip to the family-owned factory and sheep farm.
“We want to incorporate more of the local community, hire weavers,” she explains. And she also wants to make the most out of local resources. One example: guanacos — something between a llama and an alpaca — are hunted in Chubut, where the factory is located, and the wool is hardly ever used. But Cyber URSA could use that wool; hand-spun, it is valuable and nearly impossible to get elsewhere.
Liz also plans on starting an NGO for sustainability from start to finish. That means how the animals are raised, how the factories are run, how the finished products are shipped, and everything in between.
As for the designs of Cyber URSA, most begin as sketches or watercolors. “I consider myself a visual artist more than a fashion designer,” Liz says, “The biggest things for me are material and texture, design, and production.” And in an increasingly globalized world, where consumers are interested in the story behind the goods they’re purchasing — who made this, where, and how — it’s easy to find people who agree.
Cyber URSA goods can be purchased online, at pop-up shops, or when visiting the showroom by appointment.