Brunello Cucinelli Presents the Hamlet of the Spirit

MILAN — Sustainable Fashion, Sustainable Lifestyle was the theme of the 2018 Milan Fashion Global Summit held on Tuesday and Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Camera della Moda, touted the country’s efforts toward sustainability in terms of product, processes and circular economy. To be sure, Jill Carey Hall, CFA senior U.S. equity strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said the U.S. is “playing catch up with Europe” as far as environmental social governance, or ESG, is concerned. She believes investors increasingly care about ESG and now take “a broader holistic approach” to investments.

Claudio Marenzi, president and ceo of Herno and president of Pitti Immagine and Confindustria Moda, trumpeted Italy’s manufacturing pipeline, defining it as “the most virtuous” and lamented the fact that Herno, as much as other Italian companies, lagged behind in terms of communicating the innovations put in place to achieve top sustainable processes.

Michele Norsa, fashion and luxury strategic adviser and vice chairman of the Missoni Group, said he did not much believe in communicating complex processes to convince investors to invest, as they are more interested in profitability. The attention should be shifted to consumers, who are much more attentive to sustainability in food than in apparel, Norsa contended. “It’s important to speak to consumers about things that are immediately understandable,” so that if they are willing to spend 50 percent more on an organic pear, they could do the same on clothes with dyes that are not harmful.

Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering, believes sustainability can help stimulate innovation and creativity, while supporting leadership. “Sustainability is a necessity, not an option,” and will also eventually help to reduce costs. It all has to start from the top echelons of a company, she said, citing Kering’s chairman and ceo François-Henri Pinault’s strong attention to the topic.

Matteo Marzotto, heir of the Marzotto textile company and president of Dondup, said the company is developing innovative denim treatments and that his family company was involved in changing regulations to improve textile production in the Seventies.

Brunello Cucinelli talked about “human sustainability” to “lighten the weight” of work while giving it dignity. He presented the latest steps taken to restore the medieval village of Solomeo, home to the company’s headquarters, including a travertine monument that he will hope will last over centuries.

Ermenegildo Zegna’s artistic director Alessandro Sartori talked about the Oasi Zegna project, the natural park in Northern Italy launched in 1938 by the company’s founder. “It’s an en-plein-air laboratory enabling us to…use the existing to create new things,” Sartori said, mentioning the Oasi Cashmere fabric dipped in natural dyes made from flowers, herbs and leaves plucked from the natural reserve and fixed using an entirely chemical-free process. “This is not marketing, it’s really a mind-set of our group,” he continued, also underscoring the importance of properly communicating these contents to final clients that are more and more demanding and eager to know about the processes and intrinsic values of each product. For this reason, a Zegna School has been established to properly train sales assistants in delivering this information to customers in store.

Andrea Rosso, creative director of licenses for Diesel and son of the company’s founder Renzo Rosso, talked about his personal project, the army upcycling label Myar. Rosso shared his experience in sourcing vintage army clothing from markets and warehouses across Italy, the U.K., the Netherlands and the U.S. and revisiting them with a contemporary touch to “make them live a second, more positive and urban life.” “Everything is already there, you just need to pick an item, adjust the proportions and you get a unique piece,” he added. The practical feature of the process is what appeals him the most, as he believes that companies and “fashion needs to be more concrete,” especially in terms of sustainability.

Claire Bergkamp, Stella McCartney’s worldwide director of sustainability and innovation, talked about the innovations implemented by the label, which has been a pioneer in the matter since its foundation in 2001. “At the time, and today, we’re the only vegetarian brand,” said Bergkamp, underscoring that avoiding the use of leather, fur and skins is “a brave position to have in the luxury space…but we wanted to [show] you could have a luxury brand and still stand for your values.”

Keeping faith to its ultimate goal of respecting the planet, the company employs traceable viscose sourced from sustainable managed and certified forests in Sweden, as well as developing alternatives to animal-based materials with key partners, such as Bolt Threads. The results include a vegan silk, grown in laboratories and made of sugar and yeast, and Mylo, a material similar to leather but completely natural as made from cells of mycelium, which is the underground roots structure of mushrooms. With linear consumption reaching its limits, Bergkamp also urged the transition to a circular system, enabling clothes and accessories to last longer, be worn more and easily resold or recycled with no pollutants released in the process. To wit, the label has conceived a new footwear style assembled with no glue, therefore facilitating the recycle of its components. “It’s about reconsidering the fact that we shouldn’t be treating clothing as waste. As clothing has become cheaper and more accessible, there is some level of disposable nature that is being attached to certain types of clothing. And whether or not you’re charging a huge amount of money or a very small one, it’s very important for us to remember that the resources that are required to build an item are not that different.…It requires a lot to make it, so when you’re done with it, let’s ensure that it actually continues on and [goes] back in the economy.”

Cotonificio Albini’s president Stefano Albini stressed the importance of transparency, in addition to the traceability of the supply chain. The Italian textile company has recently developed a new fully traceable organic cotton fiber — from the material’s harvesting down to the final fashion items, through dyeing and weaving steps — which luxury giant Kering has selected for its portfolio of fashion brands that includes Gucci, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, among others. The project also involved American cotton producer Supima and Oritain, the international firm that shared its scientific technology to trace the origin of the fabric. The group also focuses on social sustainability, as Albini said the company will establish a textile school in Egypt, exporting its know-how in the country.

Intercos’ president Dario Ferrari believes sustainability is essential in today’s business, but he highlighted how his company has to adapt to its clients’ diverse perspectives on the matter. “Not all of our clients are ready and willing to pay the price for [sustainable solutions], each of them has different needs,” Ferrari said, underscoring that “on the other hand, I believe final consumers today are willing to pay more for more authentic products.” Ferrari also stressed that the sustainable approach doesn’t involve just formulations, where the company is implementing “clean products that don’t cause problems to the environment” but also packaging. “We’re working on this, we’re developing lipsticks in paper packaging, but when I first did lipsticks in wood or metal packages 40 years ago, [nobody wanted them].…We need to create a global awareness first,” he said.

For fashion designer Stella Jean, sustainability starts from people, as she grounded her namesake label in celebrating multicultural communities. “Fashion is an instrument, not an end. It is a powerful, instant and global tool, and not to use it to deliver other messages is almost an offense,” she said. The designer conceives each collection starting from a trip she takes and during which she gets in touch, learns about and partners with local artisans. “Their stories are so fascinating that they elevate the fabrics they manufacture with a prestige comparable to the ones produced in Italy or France,” Jean said, underscoring that this kind of storytelling makes products more interesting than the fast-fashion ones “compulsively bought” by customers.

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