There's no 'sustainable fashion'. There's only fashion, and some of us produce it in a sustainable way.
Honesty in fashion. The idea is so obvious. I mean – surely it is? The notion that every fashion brand would care about how their clothes are made, where their materials come from and what the people who put them together are paid – and letting the ones wearing it, you, in on the process – it all makes sense, doesn’t it? Being fully transparent and proud of it.
Honest By, the fashion brainchild of Bruno Pieters, the Antwerp-based designer that used to helm Hugo Boss, does all this. Honest By can tell you exactly where a button or a thread in their clothing come from – and hey, they even tell you exactly how much money they make out of each garment (and why) – with pride.
You wouldn’t think that, in doing so, Honest By is totally unique on the market. But it’s true: they are the only one hundred percent transparent fashion brand out there. But Bruno Pieters doesn’t want to be alone in his honesty. He wants the whole world to hear his wake up call, and Honest By is his tool for change.
Here he talks to Make it last about how we can all change the fashion industry by just asking the right questions. (And maybe doing a bit of shoe printing at home, too.)
Over the last two years, Bruno Pieters has been around the world and back. He has been traveling the globe telling everyone, everywhere from Copenhagen to New York, London to Porto Alegre, about the world’s first one hundred percent transparent company. That is Honest By, his fashion brand. And what is it that he’s proclaiming? That the story behind the design must always be just as beautiful as the design.
That’s something you understand as soon as you visit the website were you buy Bruno Pieters and the brands that he collaborates with – honestby.com. The design of the clothes are the kind of clever, eye-catching good stuff that will last for seasons while still feeling new, modern and rare. But the webshop also give you the option of choice: How do you want to wear your clothes? Do you want them organic, vegan, made in the EU, skin friendly, recycled? A lot of stuff by Honest By falls under all of these categories, and everything there hits at least two. (Vegan in this sense means no wool and no silk: there will never be any leather, feather or fur products ever made by Honest By.) And on each and every item you can view ”Material information”, ”Manufacturing details”, ”Carbon footprint” and ”Price calculation”. Here, you get the whole story of how the stuff is made. Honest By really wants to tell you, because they are proud to tell it. On top of that, twenty percent of the annual profit will be donated to various charities.
Could this be the epitome of sustainable fashion? Yes. But, to Bruno Pieters, there is no such thing.
– There is no ”sustainable fashion”. There is only fashion, and some of us produce it in a sustainable way. Others don’t.
Bruno Pieters says this, and reminds us of what we easily forget. Fashion in itself is not the bad guy. The fact that fashion exists is not what’s wrong in the world. It’s how we decide to make it, how we decide to produce it, and how we decide to consume it. Fashion will always be here for us to enjoy. We just need to choose well in which way for us to approach it, and make it last.
But Bruno Pieters does not want to pretend that changing the way the western consumer based world is programmed – as well as trying to be a human being in it – is easy.
– I think one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is ‘Who am I?’. Many of us spend our whole lives trying to find the answer to that question. But, for me, the answer is very simple: I am a human being. And by definition a human being is a kind and compassionate entity. But it can be hard to be kind and compassionate the whole day. I’m aware of those moments I’m not, and I’m very grateful for that awareness. For me a conscious being is someone who is aware of his or her moments of unconsciousness.
One thing Honest By shows us is that there are ways to produce fashion in a sustainable way, and, in that, you find an alternative and better way of being a part of a world based on consumerism. Producing and buying sustainable is a way of looking positively at the world.
But it also makes you think: what exactly is Honest By, and fashion sustainability as a whole, trying to sustain?
– We’re trying to sustain our own lives, we’re trying to sustain human life, because ultimately that is what is at stake. I think we need to realize that we need nature, we need air, we need food, we need trees. But trees do not need us.
What made you start Honest by in the beginning?
– Full transparency. Full transparency of the manufacturing and pricing of a product is what I wanted myself, as someone who loves fashion but at the same time wants to make a responsible choice when purchasing something. I wasn’t happy with what was out there. There are a lot of brands that claim to be responsible – but the information they offer is so vague it’s almost offensive.
How would you describe Honest by to someone who hasn’t heard of it before?
– Honest by is a brand that offers its clients full transparency. We communicate everything from the origin of the raw materials to the price calculation. We are the only brand in the world offering this kind of service. I tell you that not because I’m proud, but because I hope it will wake people up. Complete transparency is normal. To me it’s so strange that brands can get away with selling people things they know nothing about? And in most cases refuse to share the information that is available with their audience.
Are luxury good consumers being cheated by the market today, you think?
– Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. That’s the problem when there’s no transparency. You just don’t know what you’re buying. But I’m not sure those people care.
Are fashion brands and businesses… evil? Or – why do you think the market offers things that have horrible consequences for communities, people, animals, the environment?
– That’s a funny question. There is no evil, only absence of love. There is no evil because all of this is not personal – it’s about money. And because it is only about money we can change this. Because we, the customers, have the money. Today we can buy the change we want to see in the world. It sounds twisted, but it’s in fact fair: It’s up to us and that’s how it should be.
You have said that “when it comes to driving forward sustainability and ethics in fashion, the consumer has all the power”. Do you think consumers realize this?
– Yes. I’m not the first person to wake up and smell the coffee. And not the last one. This is happening all over the world. Our friends, family members, colleagues, and so on – I think everyone are becoming more aware. As I said: We are human beings. We are by definition kind and compassionate entities.
Yes: We need to repeat that. Remind ourselves.
– It is something that cannot be stopped. And – in my opinion – the change in consumer awareness is happening very smoothly.
But do you think that we as consumers actually realize what power we have in changing the business of fashion? Is it important to believe in that?
– There are these movies, like Devil Wears Prada, that give you the illusion that there is someone who controls the whole business, someone who is very important. But no! That person is aslo in service of the consumer, of the client. We decide everything. Fashion is a business, and a business is about making money. And that happens through customers.
When buying stuff, we control what world we get, says Bruno Pieters. When I ask him who is the biggest criminal in unsustainable fashion today, the answer is simple and fast.
– Unconscious me.
What do you mean?
– The clients decide everything. We as customers can create any change we want to see in the world. This world cares a lot about money. Money is a language that everyone understands and listens to.
So: money equals power. And who has the money? The costumers. It is both depressing and enlightening to think of your own consumption as a power tool. But Bruno Pieters is using that system – the system of money – to change and make the best of it. Trying to actually do something.
– It’s a privilege to be responsible, and it’s one that I embrace completely. Because my freedom lies in my responsibilities.
What do you think would happen if all fashion brands went transparent?
– If all brands went transparent – that would be amazing for everyone. It means they would have nothing to hide and would be proud of what they are doing.
What needs to change in order for that to happen?
– What needs to happen? You need to ask it. Buy from transparent brands, write letters, ask questions. When I’m in a store I try to be a human being instead of a consumer. I ask questions – I show them that I do care.
As someone who has worked for big fashion brands in the past: does it have an impact when a customer complains to a brand in the store, asking questions about the product?
– I would never tell anyone what to do. But I can tell you what I do. I know that when I buy something I am supporting and encouraging a system, and if I don’t like the system, I don’t buy it. So, if I ask questions about a product or design and the personnel in the store or online do not give me the answer I want to hear – I simply don’t buy!
You have a strong belief in the power of choice.
– Buying is voting. I understand that. And that’s part of the awareness, that’s part of waking up, to understand that it’s up to me. Change won’t happen if I keep encouraging, if I keep buying, if I keep voting for those unsustainable, unethical products. As long as I buy it, it will continue: change will not come.
What are your thoughts on leather and fur goods in fashion? This fall 74 percent of the collections at the international fashion weeks included fur….
– Yes, but that also means 26 percent didn’t use fur. Let’s focus on those people who think differently for once. They are much more interesting.
Bruno Pieters and Honest By has just launched a new scholarship. The FFDS, Future Fashion Designer Scholarship – is a scholarship for an exceptionally talented fashion student who wants to learn how to work in a sustainable way. The winner receives ten thousand euros to create their Master’s collection.
– We ask the winner not to work with fur, leather, feathers, shell and horn. We need to start helping students who want to create a new fashion industry.
What, right now, do you see as the biggest issue that needs to addressed in fashion production?
– The way animals are being treated. What is happening there is just… beyond words.
Where do you see the market for fashion as a whole heading?
– I think it will go where ever we want it to go. It’s up to the customer. It is now and hopefully it will always be up to us. Whatever we buy will happen.
How long until every fashion company wakes up and try to change their ways?
– It would be wonderful if the world woke up. But it’s a lot to ask. It’s very threatening. There’s this fear that it won’t happen. But I think technology might give everyone the ability, the option or the possibility to wake up when they’re ready to wake up. I think it would be beautiful if we all had the time we need to wake up. I hope that technology will give us that opportunity.
Yes: In technology lies a lot of the answers to the future of fashion. Recently, recycled clothes and recycled fabrics have become the new talking point in fashion. New technology has enabled new techniques for recycling old clothes – which we need to do in order to continue fashion production at all.
Bruno Pieters has been using recycled materials since he started Honest By two years ago. He will continue with that. But what he is now adding to his portfolio of sustainable fashion manufacturing is something completely different. He is looking at the world of high technology. And by that I mean really, really high tech. Really. How about having your own complete fashion manufacturing and recycling system at home?
– Honest By is working on a 3D printing project. We’re going to have our design online; you will be able to download it, and if you have a 3D printer at home, you will be able to print it out. Or you can go to a 3D printer shop near you. So all the issues of child labor, animal abuse – they all disappear with 3D printing. 3D printers also now have material cartridges that are made out of recycled plastic, and next year they are launching a shredder. So if you don’t like the shoes you printed anymore, you can shred them and reuse the plastic for a new model. You’re recycling directly at home. I think it will be amazing.
Words by Agnes Grefberg Braunerhielm.
And the pics are an exclusive – looks for Bruno Pieters AW14 launched in October.
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