We must ensure the trend for sustainability outlives us all
by Federico Marchetti, June 17, 2021
Photography by David Needleman
As an Italian, chair of His Royal Highness’ Sustainable Markets Initiative task force on fashion and founder of Yoox Net-A-Porter Group, with one foot in Italy and the other in the UK, I’m well-placed to observe that these two countries combined are a formidable force. Both lands have always been stylish upholders of traditional luxury. Today, however, is the moment for them to stand together for something more. Namely, climate action.
An Anglo-Italian link has the unique opportunity to set the standard and foster a new slogan: “Buy now, wear forever.” I witnessed the possibilities for change first-hand, as part of the Modern Artisan project, a collaboration that saw His Royal Highness combine forces with YNAP to produce a successful luxurious label from sustainable textiles. This truly international effort involved a design team in Italy, a squad of British artisans based in Ayrshire, Scotland, and fused traditional craft with digitally infused creativity. The success of Modern Artisan is the marrying of these two distinct and separate elements.
To deliver change at scale we must look to technology for solutions. Ever since I launched Yoox 21 years ago, in 2000, I’ve seen technology as a force for good. We are already at the point where we can avoid waste by analysing data to predict long-term customer preferences. We produce clothing incorporating digital ID chips which enable consumers to understand its provenance, as well as how best to care for and repair it, thus extending its lifecycle. The next few years will witness catalytic breakthroughs in technology to enable circularity in fashion.
And, of course, it’s timely. Before the world ground to a halt in March 2020, the fashion industry was experiencing what I have often termed “global fashion warming”. We were bombarded with shows and transient trends that encouraged a throwaway culture. And with “see now, buy now” – the industry’s then ubiquitous catchphrase – it was no surprise to learn that clothing production had more than doubled globally over the past 20 years.
Jumping on the bandwagon, empty promises of sustainable fashion are commonplace, and every brand with a marketing department has a voice in the discussion. But unlike seasonal collections, which disappear after six months, we must ensure this current trend for sustainability outlives us all. In my own wardrobe, and despite the millions of items in the Yoox Net-A-Porter warehouse, my family will often smile when I pull out a linen custom-made monogrammed shirt that I’ve worn for the past ten years, or curiously examine the retro Fila Bjorn Borg tennis pieces I wore as a child that my daughter has now lovingly inherited.
Clearly then, solutions to the industry’s climate crisis are possible, but they require the industry and consumers to come together under a shared vision of circularity. As economies reopen, the world will return to pre-Covid levels of production – 100 billion garments a year – and yet many of these items will be worn on average only seven to ten times before being discarded. As we move beyond the global pandemic, I’ve been quizzing those around me – colleagues, customers, brand partners – how do we reach a workable model of fashion and style that coexists in harmony with our climate?
Could the answer be within our reach? This November, the UK will host the 26th Conference Of The Parties (COP26), in Glasgow. Coincidentally, its partner city is Milan, the city I call home, which will host the Pre-COP summit in September 2021. This is a golden opportunity for the industry and a catalytic moment to lay down the foundations for a renewed luxury system. Over the past year, the fashion industry has been forced to adapt to a completely different landscape. Consumers have radically altered their buying habits and we have all had time to contemplate the speed at which we worked – or rather, the rate at which we consumed.
Covid-19 has been a catalyst for many things, but for the fashion industry it has accelerated demand for change. As we approach COP26, let’s not waste this moment to be passive in our call to action. The Anglo-Italian partnership has long been a spearhead for style – now let it be a leader in innovation and positive social and environmental change.
Originally published in GQ Britain