The Fashion Revolution coordinator for Italy and GWAND Sustainable Fashion Festival advisory board member once again impressed me with her speech during the Sustainable Fashion Milano 2019 exhibition at the Swiss Embassy. Short, crisp and to the point, unlike others.
Suzanna Vock: Marina Spadafora, you are a designer and sustainability has not become important to you overnight. Where does this conviction come from?
Marina Spadafora: The roots of my sustainable mindset come from my childhood spent in the beautiful northern Italian region of South Tyrol, where I grew up as an avid skier and found myself always in close contact with nature. As a child, when adults would ask me what I wanted to do when I grow up, I always answered that I wanted to work helping children in Africa. It came spontaneous and I am not sure where I got the idea from.
When I was 11 until 14 I had a wonderful professor who introduced us to Martin Luther King and Gandhi and the whole philosophy of non-violent protest. This happened in the Sixties and it made a deep impression on me. It modelled who I am today.
I have done a lot of work with the United Nations especially in Africa and have helped Franca Sozzani, Director of Italian Vogue
The call to preserve nature and to bring social justice into the equation has been with me ever since.
When I had my own brand, I did runway shows that were dedicated to children’s charities and raised money for them.
I have been the creative director of the collection “Auteurs du Monde” by Altromercato for ten years, one of the largest fair trade organisations in Europe. During this time I was able to visit our fair trade producers in many different countries in the world and I came to know and appreciate the quality of life that fair trade grants to those who apply its terms and regulations.
I have done a lot of work with the United Nations especially in Africa and have helped Franca Sozzani, Director of Italian Vogue, to implement the UN programme Fashion 4 Development in many countries.
Since 2014 I am country coordinator on Fashion Revolution Italy and have been promoting sustainability in many different venues, where I am called to intervene as a speaker.
SV: According to a study by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, the clothing industry accounts for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. We recently did an interview with Laura Krarup Frandsen who said: “A newly published report recently revealed that the sustainability progress in the fashion industry has slowed by a third in the past year. The government rejected to take action on the issue with bans and legislations, and instead encouraged the industry to voluntarily solve the problem.”
What do you think is the reason for this and can we continue to rely on voluntarism?
We cannot rely on companies to self-regulate themselves. It is ludicruous to think they would
MS: I believe that we are reaching critical mass regarding ethical fashion. Media in general is very interested in the subject and we have never had so many enquiries like this year about the subject. I was called to curate a great exhibit at the Ferragamo museum called “Sustainable Thinking” that will be open for one year in Florence. These are signals that we are moving in the right direction regarding sustainability in fashion.
The fact is that this approach will truly work when there is a lot of pressure from the consumers thus creating a strong grass root movement. It has to be backed by serious laws from governments.
We cannot rely on companies to self-regulate themselves. It is ludicruous to think they would. When profit and greed have been the only drivers for all businesses how can we think that the same people will develop an ethical mindset from one day to the next?
SV: Laura K. Frandsen also said in the interview: “Nobody wants to speak for the bad sides of the fashion industry”. Why do you think it is so difficult for the big players in the industry to position themselves sustainably (transparently)?
MS: Big companies are scared to take even small steps in the right direction because they think that if they do, the customers will ask, ‘Why aren’t they doing it for the whole production and for every aspect of the company?‘
We at Fashion Revolution believe that even small steps in the right direction are the right thing to do.
We know that is not an easy task to transform a big company into a totally transparent and sustainable operation in a short time, but you need to start somewhere. It is easier for small startups to set up the whole business model as a sustainable one from the very beginning.
SV: At the Haute Couture shows in Paris, I talked to many designers about sustainability in their collections. According to them, it is often the lacking materials that holds them back to realise sustainable designs.
MS: I just attended Pitti Filati a few weeks ago in Florence. Here you have all the major yarn manufacturers showing their new collections and there was a huge emphasis on sustainability. The same goes for Italian textile producers.
So, the offer is there, it exists, and there is no hiding behind this excuse of not finding enough sustainable resources.
SV: Are the new alternatives (Piñatex, TENCEL, etc.), which are often advertised as sustainable, really sustainable in practice? Or are the problems with the new innovations simply being shifted under the cloak of sustainability?
Where there is a will there is a way
MS: I believe that there are a lot of great alternatives today that are sustainable like Piñatex, Vegen, Frumat, Orange Fiber, Econyl and many more. I believe they are serious about their commitment to sustainability and that they offer great advantages.
Of course there are also all the sustainable natural materials like organic cotton, sustainably produced viscose and TENCEL, cruelty free silk and wool and so on.
SV: Does a designer nowadays have to make sacrifices in design because of the materials? Or could that be seen as the main challenge for a designer today?
MS: It is a creative challenge and designers should be happy to explore it.
I saw a wonderful collection by a young Peruvian designer called Mozh Mozh, where she used organic cotton canvass and covered it in plant based latex called Shiringa and made from the rubber that comes in the form of resin from trees. I also chose an outfit from Argentinian designer Nous Etudions made in Combucha, a material made from fermented green tea.
Where there is a will there is a way!
SV: What is for you as a designer the most sustainable material in the textile sector that is currently on the market?
MS: Recycling and up-cycling for me are two very interesting ways to go about sustainability. In nature I believe that hemp is the most sustainable natural material we can find.
SV: Which non-sustainable material should no longer be worn and why?
MS: Polyester comes from fossil fuels and when we wash it sheds a lot of microplastics that cannot be caught by the washing machine filters and ends up in rivers and in the sea and ultimately in the food chain.
Even PET that is recycled from plastic bottles should be washed in special bags that retain the microplastic particles.
SV: You also act as the country coordinator of Fashion Revolution in Italy. The organisation asks the question “Who made my clothes?”. This question refers also to the salaries paid in the fashion industry. With the current system of outsourcing and profit optimisation, can fair wages ever be paid in your opinion?
MS: I believe we are moving in the right direction and there are many great organisations like Fair Wear and Clean Clothes Campaign that, together with Fashion Revolution, are asking governments to raise the minimum wage and get closer to the living wage. In Cambodia and Bangladesh there were some improvements.
We must never stop until this industry becomes one that we can be proud of!
Here you can watch a speech from Marina Spadafora about the consumers power for TEDx. Attention: YouTube stores data about the website visitor when the video is played.
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