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Interview published on Sustainable Today

Happy New Year to everyone! Here is the first interview on sustainable fashion in 2015, just published on Sustainable Today.

Italian Author Tackles Sustainablity Issues in Fashion 

By Cat Kolonko
After reading, researching and writing about the fashion industry for sometime, an Italian author and blogger determined that it was lacking a managerial model for building and maintaining sustainability in fashion.
The Responsible Fashion Company written by Francesca Romana Rinaldi and Salvo Testa attempts to provide a new way of managing a company that incorporates sustainability and responsibility not just for the owners and employees but also for everyone involved from the beginning of the creation process to product consumption and beyond. The new model presented in the book is based on ethics, aesthetics and economic efficiency. These are the three variables that fashion companies need to manage better now and well into the future, explained Rinaldi in a recent telephone interview.
"A new mindset is needed to make responsible fashion the future of fashion," she says.
Author and blogger Francesca Romana Rinaldi
Book author and blogger Francesca Romana Rinaldi
Rinaldi's first brush with the idea of sustainability happened several years ago during a trip to London to attend a fashion exposition. As she became more involved writing and teaching on the topic she noticed a gap in literature, a lack of a managerial model for responsibility.
"Since then I found out it's not just about product responsibility," she says. "It's about all the different activities of the value chain and managing a balance with all the stakeholders."
The book discusses the fashion sectors on several different dimensions, including environment, society, media,   art, culture and territory; and regulatory and institutions.  They all feed into the concept of a corporation that values responsible sustainability, says Rinaldi.
The author's managerial model puts all stakeholders in a system with what she terms neo-consumers at the center, interacting and interested in all phases of production. A consumer centric concept gives weight to transparency and traceability, which is important to neo-consumers who are socially conscious about how products are made, the environmental impact and fair trade and labor, she says.
"Consumers don't exist in the way they did in the past," says Rinaldi. "They need to be more involved and interested and informed."
Leading and influencing this trend are people who embrace lifestyles of health and sustainability. They pursue a lifestyle based on ecological sustainability for their own health and  planet earth, explains Rinaldi. They eat organic food, recycle, use green energy and look for certifications that indicate environmental sensitivity and fair trade in the products they buy. They also are largely urban and want to be involved in the creative process of products.
Unlike classic images of eco-minded people of decades back, the neo-consumer does not shun technology and fashion, Rinaldi notes in her book.
Some companies more than others have adopted new technologies and internet commerce to establish new relations with the neo-consumer. For example, Nike with NikeID and Converse allow customers to personalize their sneakers during the creation process.
Sustainable fibers and textiles is one aspect of responsibility but there are others that encompass ethics and aesthetics. Innovation is also essential for responsible and sustainable fashion to succeed, says Rinaldi.
"...You cannot ignore aesthetics because that is the first element that consumers evaluate when deciding whether to buy a product...
"We cannot lie about this. There is just a really really small percentage of consumers that buy a product just because it is good, and not beautiful."
Still, Rinaldi maintains that it's possible to combine ethics with aesthetics and get people invested in not just the product but the philosophy of sustainability. When someone buys a t-shirt from a responsibly sustainable company it becomes more than just a t-shirt, she says.
"It's an incredible t-shirt because it is also sustainable. So it's a super t-shirt."
 Today companies that want to keep a competitive edge need to adopt corporate social responsibility in a meaningful way. Examples of those that embrace this philosophy are Columbia sportswear, Patagonia, People Tree, and lastly, one of the book's case studies Brunello Cucinelli.
Known for his cashmere sweaters, the Italian designer sells top quality clothing while striving to keep concern for workers at the core of the company business model of responsible fashion. Brunello Cucinelli is a company that has in its DNA the values of responsibility and it declares this to its investors, says Rinaldi.
Rinaldi and Testa present other case studies in the book and share the writing of chapters with other experts who delve into  many aspects of corporate responsibility throughout the creation and distribution process. Rinaldi says she hopes the book will be used by managers and students alike and by anyone interested in learning more about sustainable fashion.