The New Age of Fashion: how sustainability is changing the fashion world



What is sustainable fashion? What businesses are involved in this industry from production to retail? What are the issues they face? What is greenwashing? These were some of the topics that were discussed in Greenlight and BSI joint event that took place last Wednesday.

 

An Italian Case: Armadioverde

The first speaker was Francesco Minghini - Head of Marketing and Sales at “Armadioverde”, a collaborative second-hand clothes retailer and online platform. Mr. Minghini gave a presentation on the nature of business he works for: he explained its start from a small swappie baby shop born out of the concern of two parents with a baby that was growing faster than his clothes, to one of Italy’s top second-hand clothes platforms. Armadioverde was at first a retailer opening many shops but once the management realized how tough it was to scale-up with physical shops the alternative was soon found: they moved everything to an online platform.

 

The service they offer is simple. Whoever has used clothes to give away can subscribe to Armadioverde: the company will pick them up for free, separate those that are sellable from those that are too used, market the formers on the site and donate the latter to ONG Humana. The subscriber is then awarded a number of stars as a credit to be spent, along with money, on the platform: in this way the system incentivizes users to supply more used clothes and increases sustainable exchanges. The perks of an online platform with set prices is that the bargaining cost of second-hand goods is cut out and the profiles with a-like tastes are matched.

 

Since pursuing sustainability is -in their words- “make the world a better place, both regarding to people and the environment” Armadioverde has incorporated as a Benefit Corporation. Its initiatives include an upcoming project based on the upcycling of clothes, meant both to reduce waste and give young designers and small tailor shops the opportunity to show their skills.

 

Milaverd – entrepreneurship as the pursuit of high-end green design

Our next host was Tina Logar Bauchmüller, founder and designer of Milaverd: a European ethical fashion brand that displays minimalistic designs meant to be timelessly elegant, made with quality materials. She shared with us her story: an economics student who -after gaining experience in her exchanges and by working- decided to create a sustainable clothes design business that was centered in elegance and quality of the fabrics. In her words something is sustainable when: “it does not harm animals, people or the environment or has minimal damage on them, taking in consideration the whole process -from seed to final product”. 

According to Ms. Bauchmüller this shall include best practices, such as: use of organic cotton that assures good working conditions, starting production post-order to eliminate excessive stock, producing custom-fit garments by the customers’ measures. She is even thinking to use fabric left-overs to substitute plastic-based packaging.

Milaverd founder guided us through her creation process: as their supply is limited, inspiration comes from fabrics, which are hard to find. In fact, while corporations can ask suppliers for whatever fabric not all production facilities can be used for organic cotton that must be treated by different equipment than regular cotton. This is not possible for little businesses as they lack the scale that gives corporations the bargaining power. Production takes 5 to 15 days. different from what customers are expecting in the Amazon Prime era, but they understand and support. Finally, her price is one of a high-end design boutique and the associated extensive customer service.

 

WRÅD – design and communication against greenwashing

Last on our virtual floor was Matteo Ward, Bocconi Alumnus in International Economics who founded his startup WRÅD and walked through its evolution. WRÅD was founded after Ward’s realization of the environmental costs of fashion industry and was at firs an education-centered startup in 2015 going in schools all over Europe. Then, he started investing in R&D to develop sustainable technology for fabrics dying and treating with the aim of transforming what we wear as functional tools into something that addresses social and environmental issues.

When WRÅD started, sustainable fashion was not even talked about, but over the next five years everything grew very quickly, while the company tried to make sure that the narrative around it was science-education based and not made around the needs of profits. Indeed, with sustainable fashion becoming a trend, many corporations started to hop up on it, even if the requisite weren’t there at all: this led to greenwashing. Greenwashing was born in 1986 a lie from a hotel that started to advertise to reuse towels to reduce CO2: framing this practice as sustainable whereas it was really just aimed to reduce costs. 30 years forward the issue has exacerbated: global brands are selling low cost products claiming them to be sustainable, when in fact they are not.

According to Ward greenwashing is particularly dangerous because it jeopardizes trust between customers and producers and influences people to do something that goes against their will: it is very damaging and dangerous for environment, as in a crowded narration of sustainability “who has more money pushes message forward in context of absent Government regulation”. Here are some red flags to look for, though: good marketing campaigns but bad scoring on ESGs, over-enthusiastic advertisement on the sustainability of products, sustainable products at ridiculous prices. The bottom line is always checking the sources: many corporations might state their sustainability goals for the future but once it becomes present, they often fail to meet them.

 

Conclusion

As many other sectors, fashion is evolving its way into becoming more sustainable, from collaborative platform to small businesses passing through truthful communication. It is our responsibility to solve more problems still hanging over our heads and to promote the virtuous business that have already done so.