MILAN — “You don’t have to look like a monk to be sustainable, you can still wear beautiful clothes,” said Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana to a round of chuckles during the second edition of the International Roundtable on Sustainability held in Milan on Tuesday.

Sustainability can be stylish and desirable,” concurred Dax Lovegrove, global vice president of sustainability at Swarovski, partner of the roundtable.

Capasa and Lovegrove, as well as other speakers, emphasized the strong connection between sustainability and the fashion industry and how important it is to keep the interest alive.

“There is no art and no culture without beauty committed to the present,” said Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, highlighting fashion as “the growing power of the emotional factor.” To keep boredom at bay, he pointed to the “perfect sustainability square,” with creativity, corporate social responsibility, environment and savoir faire at its four vertices. Failing one of these, the system is “unbalanced,” said Morand, noting how sustainability is key for any brand size or maturity. “There are no boundaries.”

Capasa also emphasized the need for cooperation. “More than 70 percent of luxury goods are made in Italy and this is a responsibility, we must give answers and lead with best practices, but we must all work together.”

“Camera della Moda is the only fashion council doing work at such a deep level, but there are signs that things are changing, this roundtable on sustainability is bigger now, Pascal came here and this is really important,” claimed Livia Firth, founder and creative director of Eco-Age. “As Al Gore said, if you want to go fast you go alone, if you want to go far, you have to go together.”

During the roundtable, Capasa presented the results of what was billed as the first scientific research on the bioavailability of carcinogenic aromatic amines. “We can affirm that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that our sweat can make the carcinogenic aromatic amines present on textile items bioavailable,” said Capasa. “This is a good news, which needed to be proven scientifically.” He reiterated that the goal is to create parameters to define sustainability data by 2020. “It’s not easy, but we want to try.” He also said guidelines on the eco-toxicological requirements for chemical mixtures and industrial discharges would be available the following day. “This will help a radical transformation of the fashion chain, aimed at a gradual reduction of the sector’s environmental impact,” Capasa remarked. The first guidelines published in February 2016 were focused on the final products, while these refer to the manufacturing process.

The document is the result of the work of the fashion association’s Sustainability Commission, led by Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Valentino and Versace and of the Roundtable on Sustainability established by the Camera in 2011 and  Bottega Veneta, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fendi, Loro Piana, Max Mara, Moncler, OTB, Salvatore Ferragamo and Tod’s. The commission worked with SMI Sistema Moda Italia, tanneries represented by UNIC and other textile associations under the patronage of the Ministry for Economic Development and that for the Environment, Territory and Sea.

Coalition leads to power, said Firth, and “turns up the dial on sustainability. This toxicology research is a huge mountain to climb, but it’s a starting point and needs to be applauded.”

Fashion is the number-two polluting industry in the world, second only to the oil industry, observed Capasa, urging to improve sustainable retailing and the circular economy, or all that relates to the reuse and recycling of clothes. “Young people love sustainability but buy cheap clothes, we must educate them to understand the value of quality. I am not an enemy of fast fashion, I just hope the same guidelines will be applied, although of course the clothes won’t be so cheap, but there should be a stimulus to have things that last more. We should change the mind-set of people, so they don’t use the clothes three times and then throw them away. The world cannot sustain this. I hope branded fashion will influence this way, as we want to do the best for the planet.”

Lovegrove said that, at Swarovski, one-third of the energy comes from renewable sources, 70 percent of water is recycled and that the company is committed to using Fairtrade gold, as well as looking at the needs of the workforce. He also emphasized the power of fashion in leading sustainability. “I once asked a Chinese designer why he used our crystals and he said they make his ecological jackets more desirable,” said Lovegrove, adding that he sees “a lot more interest in sustainability. Designers are starting to understand that if they want to be a lasting brand they are going to have to embrace sustainability, to have that story for the end customers and they are responding to this change in landscape. We are seeing quite a lot of interest at Parsons, at the London College of Fashion, at the Royal College of Art, at Central Saint Martins.” The luxury sector, he added, “will face more scrutiny in the future, the margins are higher and it can invest more in quality and sustainability.”

In his compelling presentation, Leonardo Bonanni, visiting scientist of MIT Media Lab and founder and ceo of Sourcemap Inc., slides illustrated how companies can track the supply chain and map out their work. “Transparency has to be a condition of doing business,” said Bonanni, who also pointed to the suppliers’ responsibility to elevate sustainability as a goal.

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