Interview with Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution Day
Bruno Pieters interviews Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution Day
Bruno Pieters is a Belgian fashion designer and art director highly regarded for his avant-garde creations and sharp tailoring. In 2012, after a two-year sabbatical from the fashion industry, he launched Honest by, which has a 100% transparent supply chain. Honest by wants to shed light on the questions: where is it made and by whom. Bruno Pieters believes that fashion is a celebration of beauty and that the story behind that celebration can be equally beautiful.
BP. YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING IN FASHION IN A RESPONSIBLE WAY FOR MANY YEARS NOW. YOU ARE CONSIDERED TO BE A PIONEER WHEN IT COMES TO SUSTAINABLE DESIGN. DO YOU FEEL THAT PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE WHEN IT COMES TO THE WAY WE PRODUCE OUR COLLECTIONS?
ODC. The way I produce my collections has been my main creative preoccupation since I started in 1997. I always wanted to just use pre-existing materials, originally for what it meant to me poetically, rather than environmentally, and the more I became involved in the industry, the more I felt this intense urge to break all rules.
So, with our label, From Somewhere, we only have ever used waste (in our case, luxury, designer pre consumer waste), and we have always produced locally, in a very socially minded way (for many years all our production was made in Italy helping to rehabilitate disadvantaged individuals through a local cooperative).
Over the years I have seen more and more of our local, European manufacturers being abandoned for countless, faceless concerns in China, or Vietnam, or wherever it’s cheapest. We practically killed our home industry, it’s skills, it’s tradition, it’s culture…..and, we have ended up industrialising the globe without keeping alive local artisanal skills, which is criminal almost. I think this too will change, eventually. In the UK, there has been increased attention to local manufacturing, and large companies are increasingly coming back producing to London and Leicester. There has been government and private money given to help re-establish a manufacturing industry, and work is being done to inspire a new generation of students to embrace becoming technicians and pattern cutters rather than all studying fashion design.
BP. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE FASHION INDUSTRY TODAY?
ODC. It needs to change, doesn’t it? I mean the industry – it needs to evolve. Quite simply, environmentally and socially, this system isn’t working. It’s damaging. And I think all this is finally being recognised and taken into consideration more and more and there is a definite shift towards sustainable practices throughout the fashion and textile industry; the word ‘transparency’ has never been sexier and some companies are really beginning to include, or at the very least explore, sustainable solutions.
But the shift is towards change, and changing takes time and is challenging. It won’t happen overnight, and we are still dealing with resistance, skepticism and miss-information along the way.
BP. DO THINK THE CUSTOMER IS BECOMING MORE AWARE OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY?
ODC. Yes, I do. Too many stories have been told, too many harrowing images, too much awareness of polluted rivers and widespread malpractice have permeated in the global press for consumers not to have become aware of this issue. And the ones that were aware of this all along are now more outspoken in demanding change. The message is spreading, despite the economy, despite adverse conditions, despite the relatively slow response from the industry itself, and the consumer is beginning to ask relevant (and increasingly more meaningful) questions on how the industry operates.
BP. MANY BELIEVE THAT IT IS UP TO THE NEXT GENERATION OF DESIGNERS TO CREATE FASHION IN A MORE LIFE FRIENDLY WAY. SOMETIMES I WONDER HOW THAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN AT THE MOMENT THE WHOLE FASHION WORLD SEEMS TO SUPPORT PEOPLE WHO DON’T. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THAT, DO STUDENTS HAVE ENOUGH ROLE MODELS AT THE MOMENT?
ODC. If there were too many role models, students would react against them! As they are reacting against fast fashion, big corporations, unhealthy capitalism and social and environmental exploitation. It is precisely because there are few, that there is this sense that we need to do something. Students now, this generation, sense that either they begin to do something about it pretty quickly, or there might not be a planet in which is possible to do things full stop. And design wise, it’s all happening now. Some of my most exhilarating moments are spent amongst students and very young designers. The energy, the commitment, the curiosity. Also, recent studies suggest that students all over the globe are becoming interested (95% of Chinese students said they would love to learn about sustainability but are presently lacking resources). Just wait until this lot get hold of the resources…or when the myriad of Chinese students studying in London go back home….
Organisations such as Redress in HK are leading the way, as is the research of prof Becky Earley at TED, and the work of the Centre For Sustainable Fashion (CFS) led by Dilys Williams.
A whole new world is opening up, with the role of the designer changing profoundly, as designers will need to become more creative and more intelligent in order to design with sustainable solutions in mind. I very much believe that the next generation will relish the chance. I very much believe that changing the world is a very exciting proposition indeed.
BP. YOU FOUNDED ESTETHICA IN LONDON, A PLATFORM FOR DESIGNERS WITH ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE STANDARDS. IT IS A VERY NOBLE CONCEPT. DO YOU KNOW IF THERE ARE ANY PLANS IN THE FUTURE TO SUPPORT MORE BRITISH DESIGNERS WHO WORK IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY? WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS TAKING SO LONG, IN THE UK AND THE REST OF THE WORLD?
ODC. Estethica started in 2006. The first ever curated eco fashion area right at the heart of London Fashion Week, it has launched designers such as Christopher Raeburn (who went on to win emerging menswear Designer at the British fashion Awards in 2012) and we have supported over 100 brands since inception. This season we introduced 5 new emerging talents, all brilliant. It has taken time for sustainable principles to become a founding force in the design mentality, I have always known that with Estethica we had to be patient. Original “eco” fashion was born mostly from principles, and the design was considered less important. Then it went through a phase of trying to marry a design aesthetic to those principles. Now it originates from design, a choice to weave sustainable solutions (be it local crafts, the handmade, local production, sustainable materials or upcycling) as an integral part, for its creative value, for its communication strength, right into the core of the creative process.
BP. IN THE PAST I’VE SAID THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘SUSTAINABLE FASHION’. BECAUSE I THINK THAT THERE IS ONLY ‘FASHION’ AND SOME BRANDS PRODUCE FASHION IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY AND OTHERS DON’T . DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS SUCH A THING AS ‘SUSTAINABLE FASHION’ ? AND WITH THAT I MEAN, DO YOU BELIEVE THAT DESIGNERS WHO PRODUCE IN A RESPONSIBLE AND LIFE FRIENDLY WAY HAVE A DIFFERENT ESTHETIC THAN THE ONES WHO PRODUCE IN AN INDUSTRIAL WAY?
ODC. “Eco” fashion or “ethical” fashion or “sustainable” fashion, what horrid horrid names! No wonder we have suffered from such a terrible stigma! It should be the other way round. The worse the practice, the uglier the name: so it should be fashion, for all those complying to a better industry for all, and “unethical” fashion, or “unsustainable” fashion for all those who don’t. As for the different aesthetic between conventional fashion and “eco” fashion, to me it’s simple.
“Eco” fashion, as we have known it until relatively recently, is not high end fashion but mid market or premium ‘clothing’. It’s just a different market. It shouldn’t be a different aesthetic now, and it won’t be any longer looking at today’s young designers, but up until now it was. Because the companies making Eco clothing were catering to that kind of market and the high end companies have simply not yet really started to address their market with consistently available full Eco collections.
BP. HOW GREEN ARE YOU IN YOUR OWN LIFE ?
ODC. I try.
BP. ARE YOU THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD?
ODC. No. I am just an inhabitant of a world looking for change, doing something about it while I live.
BP. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE?
ODC. “In nature, nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, but everything is transformed” Antoine De Lavoisier. And….”If I don’t have any red, I use blue” Pablo Picasso.
BP. WHAT IS YOUR DREAM?
ODC. I dream way too much.
BP. THANK YOU FOR THIS INTERVIEW.