What are the first words you would use to describe Italian fashion? “Stylish” probably comes to mind. “Sustainable” probably doesn’t. Not yet, at least. The fashion industry might not be at the top of anyone’s list of industries that are somewhat detrimental to the environment, and yet there are several aspects of it that are less than sustainable. In fact, among the most polluting industries worldwide, fashion holds an infamous – if somewhat surprising – second place, right behind the oil industry. Italian brands, so far, haven’t done much to break the cycle and set new trends in this particular respect. Recently, however, the wind of change has been blowing through the Milan Fashion Week, with new and promising brands that are pledging to forego unsustainable practices and embrace sustainable ones.
The Greta effect?
Some have been calling this the Greta Effect, after the young Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, that has made a huge impact on the worldwide debate around global warming. A handful of Italian fashion brands have been working for a few years on providing alternatives to the industry’s unsustainable practices. One quick example for scale: the amount of water currently used by the fashion industry is so egregious that, at this rate, by 2030 it will be incompatible with human existence. Some of the younger executives in the field have started questioning the whole system in a way that is making part of the establishment uncomfortable.
Italian fashion made sustainable: WRAD leads the way
Can fashion make a difference? Can a garment be a statement about our future? The young founders of WRAD think so. Their brand is based on an idea of sustainable innovation that aims at revolutionising the fashion industry, not only by improving on its practices but also by harnessing its communicative potential. Their approach doesn’t just look at fabrics (the debate on the use of animal fibres, for instance, has been raging for a while), but at the whole production process and at the consequences of every step, combining the tradition of ancient Italian craftsmanship with the modern idea of a circular economy. Their first trademark product, the Graphi-tee (an organic cotton t-shirt) has earned WRAD the RedDot Design Award “Best of the Best” for sustainable innovation in fashion, in 2017.
More than organic cotton
Let’s face it, producing yet another t-shirt out of organic cotton is not going to save the world. That’s why WRAD went beyond that, making the whole production process sustainable. The fabric is dyed using an ancient mineral-based technique developed by Calabrian artisans, which uses natural graphite to add pigment to textiles. WRAD used ground graphite, which is a non-toxic by-product of the production of electrodes. Their vision includes a comprehensive revolution of all the production processes, something that has the potential to shake the fashion industry to the core. The team of young creatives at WRAD also aims at bridging the quality gap that is still discernible between sustainable fashion and its mass-produced counterpart, in the firm belief that it should be possible to make a statement about saving the planet and still look stylish.
The future of Italian fashion
WRAD is not a unique case within the Italian fashion industry: many startups are trying to bring about change at every level. Eco Age, for instance, is the first agency in the world that focuses exclusively on devising best practice for sustainability in this specific industry, from reducing waste to lessening the environmental impact of factories. Other brands are focusing on researching sustainable materials. One such is Orange Fiber, a Sicilian startup that is experimenting with using a by-product of the processing of Sicilian oranges to produce sustainable fabrics. Reducing waste is the first goal that all of these new companies are focusing on, but there are many other aspects that need to be addressed. Will the Italian fashion industry be able to face these new challenges? This generation of young entrepreneurs is giving us plenty of reasons to be optimistic.