by Heather Falconer

Sponsored by Gladson and MR magazine, June’s thought-provoking panel, hosted by menswear expert and journalist Nick Carvell, examined how our industry can move toward sustainable luxury. This was an insider’s look into how men are shopping in our post-pandemic world, and how the industry is changing as a result.

MR thanks Faith Wozniak and Heather Falconer for making it happen.

Our global team of experts:

Lucia Bianchi Maiocchi, CSR Manager for Sustainability, Vitale Barberis Canonico;

Francesco Magri, regional manager Central & Eastern Europe, The Woolmark Company;

Bambi Semroc, SVP, Center for Sustainable Lands & Waters, Conservation International;

Dan Trepenair, founder and CEO, Articles of Style.  

Q: What does sustainability mean to you and your company?

Lucia: It is my job, my work, and a way to survive. Our company has been around since 1663, so we have to take care of the environment for own our survival and for our community.

Francesco: Sustainability is thinking about what is good and what’s not for our environment. There’s no specific target we have to reach, but we must always think about what we are doing so as not to damage the environment.

Bambi: It’s the ability for people to survive in harmony with nature so that the things that we wear and the things that we eat are produced in a way that’s good for the planet and good for the people.

Dan: I look at sustainability from a custom clothier perspective. To me, the most sustainable thing you can do is wear a garment for as long as possible and cut down on the number of garments you’re buying. It’s a focus on quality – and to me, that’s a huge selling point for our industry in that we can make a garment that not only fits the customer the way it should, but is also designed specifically for that customer who will love it and wear it for a long time.

Q: What important aspect of sustainability doesn’t get as much air time as it should?

Lucia: I think we have to discuss the production process: sustainability is in the process.

Francesco: Our main job is to educate the consumer and make the consumer aware of why wool is sustainable.

Bambi: We continue to consume at an unmanageable pace: we’re buying double the garments that we bought in 2000. We need to figure out how to consume less if we’re going to sustain the planet that we all know and love.

Dan: To me, it’s really about transparency. You can’t change anything if you’re not observing it and tracking it. As a custom clothier, you should be positioning yourself as the expert: the more you can share what’s going on in the production cycle, the more it separates you from the rest of the industry.

Q: Lucia, can you tell us about your metrics for success in sustainability at Vitale Barberis Canonico?

Lucia: Our first investment for reducing the waste of water was in 1982; since then, investments in production have continued because the right way to produce is with quality and with respect for the community, for the people working with us. We invest an average of 1 million euros every year just on technical investments to reduce our impact on the environment.

Q: What influence does Woolmark have on encouraging emerging designers to think more sustainably?

Francesco: The Woolmark Prize was created to educate young designers about the benefits of wool and why wool is a sustainable fiber. We start one year in advance by training in fashion schools. We educate numerous young designers about wool and sustainable practices. Once we select 10 finalists, we organize a mentoring program, connecting finalists with the most influential people in the world in terms of sustainability. We mentor them for about six months.

Q: Have you seen younger customers asking questions that someone in their 50’s and 60’s wouldn’t ask?

Dan: We do get a lot of questions about sustainability: where is the fabric from, how is it made? We get some requests for organic fabrics and lots of requests for vegan fabrics. It’s not necessarily all sustainability but young people do seem to have this sense of values that seems more consistent than an older customer who’s been buying things without giving it much thought.

Generally speaking, I would say the younger customer is thinking about the longevity of their clothes, the longevity of the planet, and views everything through that lens. I have a lot of faith in the younger generation: if anyone is going to solve these big problems, it’s probably Gen Z…

Q: Bambi, what does leadership in sustainability look like for major forces in the fashion industry?

Bambi: A lot of it does come down to where are these raw materials coming from, how are the people treated, how are the animals treated, how is the land treated, and then really trying to understand that and bring that story to the end consumer.

We know that 80 percent of the impact that companies are having in terms of raw materials is actually in the production process. It’s not in the manufacturing process, it’s not at point of sale, it’s actually all the way back down the supply chain in terms of the land use and the way people are treated. We can’t underestimate the power of asking the right questions of our suppliers.

Q: How has the pandemic changed how customers think about investing in their wardrobes?

Dan:  The simple answer is things got way more casual very quickly and a lot of brands had to pivot. It’s been very interesting to watch the bespoke and made-to-measure worlds try to get more casual. You’re seeing a lot of garments that are still made in a tailoring way but trying to be casual, like everyone’s making safari jackets, everyone’s making gurkha pants. It’s been a branding lesson for us to admit that not everything needs to be bespoke. But how can we keep some of the same values while offering clothing that’s more relevant to today?

Q: And how do we begin to talk to customers about “buy less, buy better?”

Lucia: We hope that we can help our customers explain to their consumers that a better quality suit is a suit you will wear for life. It’s probably more expensive because an investment in quality and sustainability is required. Consumers need to know that if they buy a t-shirt that’s very cheap, what they don’t pay, the environment will pay for.

Francesco: What’s important for us is to educate everyone in the pipeline to use quality sustainable ingredients. We’re working with wool, so we’re educating about these benefits all around.

Bambi: If you’re trying to change somebody’s behavior, you have to provide them with not just the knowledge, understanding, and awareness but also some kind of incentive to actually change.

Dan: One thing I don’t think is talked about enough is the design of the products. Buy less/buy better is great as long as you can wear it a long time and wear it many different ways. Being timeless and versatile is a really good marketing pitch.”

Q: What role does the media play and how can consuming be made more meaningful?

Bambi: We’re always mindful of making sure we have our story lined up, that we have the data, the testimonials, that we know what the impact is for people and for the planet, and that we have proof of that impact. We need the media to be those eyes and ears.

Lucia: We make a sustainability report every year – it’s like 80 pages. But the reality is that our kind of sustainability is boring – it’s real, it’s concrete, it’s huge. But it’s very boring, so it’s difficult to find a story to tell to the media.

Dan: For us, we try to show how it’s made: putting the camera in the factory has been a huge win for us. We make only in America, about an hour from where I live, so I’m able to go there regularly. The story of working with the craftsmen, making sure everyone’s got what they need and everyone’s treated fairly–that’s been a great story to promote.

Q: What is one thing about sustainability in the fashion industry that you feel positive about?

Lucia: I believe in our business model and I believe in our product: in terms of sustainability, wool is wow! So I am very positive about the future.

Francesco: My dream is that in the next years, we’re no longer talking about sustainability because we found the solution. Our goal is to educate as much as possible so that we don’t have to educate anymore.

Bambi: Just seeing the energy and passion and movement that’s already happening in fashion (even if fashion might be a little behind food and other sectors) makes me think we can catch up really quickly and learn from what those other sectors have done.

Dan: I think the younger generation is very inspiring: they care more and have access to tools to share their ideas. I believe the refinement of those tools will lead to a place where sustainability becomes part of a daily practice.