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Interview published by "The Montreal Fashion Society"

Here is an extract of the interview just published by The Montreal Fashion Society.

What’s the difference between sustainable fashion and responsible fashion?
Sustainable fashion refers to the relation with two stakeholders: environment and society.
Responsible fashion refers to all the different stakeholders and contexts (including environment and society). Other contexts are added to fashion which characterise the sector itself: media; artistic, cultural and territorial; regulatory and institutional; and ethical value.

Do you think responsible fashion can only exist in bigger financially at ease companies?
On the contrary, it could be much easier for small-medium companies to implement a 360° responsibility. Transparency and traceability, for instance, could be implemented faster with a local manufacturing and knowing very well each single supplier. The more stretched is the supply chain, the longer it will take.
The link with the local territory is much stronger if the company has just one headquarter in the same territory and long term contracts and agreements with the same people.

What would be the impact of applying sustainable fashion guidelines in the industry on costs if retailers, buyers, customers and suppliers applied them?
The good thing of responsibility is that it is a journey and not a final objective. This implies that the responsibility practices can be modular, incremental and customized. For example the costs of making the stores more eco-sustainable could go from low, by renewing the lighting with led lamps, to higher, by acquiring a LEED certification. Same thing can be done in each activity of the value chain.

Do you think sustainable fashion starts with customers. Why?
Customers play an important role in the activation of the virtuous cycle of responsibility. Nowadays they are increasingly interested in scrutinising—and having detailed information about— the entire production chain. However, it is equally true that it is not often possible to find out everything about a product’s history, origin and manufacturing techniques. In the vicious circle, without a clearly developed demand, companies in the textile & apparel sector choose not to invest in innovation; buyers, in turn, do not attend fairs dedicated to sustainable fashion and shops do not devote space to these products.

As mentioned in your book, responsibility for companies is often seen as a public relations tool, can you give us concrete examples of its benefits?
If companies are able to go from step 1, responsibility=PR tool to the final step, responsibility=source of competitive advantage, several benefits will be obtained: improvement of risk management; greater capacity to attract human capital; improvement of the business climate and of employee performance; increase in efficiency and optimisation of costs; increase in capacity to attract financial resources; reinforcing brand value.
A best practice I would like to mention is Brunello Cucinelli, an Italian luxury clothing company that applied the responsibility guidelines since it was founded.
In the beautiful context of verdant Umbria, Brunello Cucinelli creates quality products with a shrewd use of natural materials, with the involvement of sensitive, motivated and properly rewarded collaborators in the production process, with an image that seems at one with the historic urban settlement of an ancient civilisation, and with an intact and enchanting landscape, the medieval village of Solomeo (see Chapter 8 of the book).
Among the most important factors that increased the market value of the company during the public listing we can find its humanistic philosophy. Ethical and humanistic entrepreneurial model places people at the centre of the production process. It encourages the creativity of each worker and simultaneously develops within them a sense of profound participation in the group’s success and goals. This commitment is shared at all levels of the company and in external relations with “façonisti” and with clients around the globe, creating a strong level of loyalty and trust towards the company.

You mention in the book that the definitions of “eco-friendly”, “ethical”, “sustainable”, “responsible” fashion and similar are often used improperly and indistinctly. What are the biggest misconceptions about responsible fashion?
This is not just about bamboo and hemp clothing. It is not just about having a conscience. The big potential here is related to the creation of shared value, as some scholars would say, or as I prefer to put it: integrating ethics and aesthetics across the value chain. Indeed, working towards more responsible fashion means trying to answer the specific needs of a wide range of stakeholders: environment, society, workers, consumers, art, culture, territory, media, institutions. It is all interconnected. This is what gives responsible fashion so much potential.