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Vanessa Bruno and Christopher Sarfati: Rethinking the fashion industry, consumption

20201203 Vanessa Bruno coat
The Vanessa Bruno coat made in France from Ecopel’s hemp-based Cannaba wool (€395). Image: Vanessa Bruno x Ecopel via AFP Relaxnews.

Vanessa Bruno and Ecopel have worked hand-in-hand on a snug winter coat that’s made in France from hemp-based wool. Their ethical creation contains no animal products and is environmentally responsible, paving the way for a time when eco-friendly and innovative materials can take pride of place in fashion.

As the coat launches, designer Vanessa Bruno and Ecopel founder Christopher Sarfati spoke to ETX Studio about their collaboration and the materials shaping the future of fashion.

What’s special about this coat?

Bruno: This coat is made entirely in France and it’s designed using a hemp wool with no animal-based materials: Cannaba wool is a 100% vegan wool, produced using hemp and spun in Les Vosges [Ed. in Eastern France]. We worked in collaboration with Ecopel and Peltex. The two companies jointly developed a new and particularly innovative material. Hemp is one of the most ecological materials today. It’s combined with a more technical fiber — a recycled polyester made with plastic bottles, cutting the energy used in its production by 70% compared to regular polyester.

Sarfati: This is the feel-good coat par excellence, loaded with positive messages: a non-animal wool, made in France, bang on the teddy coat trend. The key ingredients are hemp and polyester sourced from recycled materials. And today, we know that recycling is one of the most important means, if we want to reduce our impact on nature, and it should therefore be encouraged.

Is this move towards environmentally responsible fashion now vital?

Bruno: Yes, clearly. Fashion is currently one of the most polluting industries in the world and that’s got to change. Brands, like consumers, are taking a course that’s ever more conscious and responsible. For me, it’s a matter that’s inseparable from the design process, notably because I’ve always been very fond of natural materials. But also because I’ve always considered our suppliers and our factories to be partners in their own right. They are part of the [fashion] house’s story. We also try to source our materials as locally as possible, and to work with factories whose manufacturing is as clean as possible. That’s what makes our job fascinating at the moment. It’s a constant challenge. It’s what makes the brand part of a lifestyle movement, a long-term vision. But it’s also what commits us to an approach that’s more and more global and community driven, since we’re thinking about these subjects, as much with our suppliers as with our customers, with whom we share all this production process and who then take action on those matters. It’s a virtuous circle.

Sarfati: Yes, it’s vital. A brand with a supplier that doesn’t have a sustainable vision will not survive, because it will be seen as irresponsible. The new generations are very militant; they want transparency and more efforts to limit environmental impact.

Are innovative and eco-designed materials the future of fashion?

Bruno: They are, because they’re revolutionizing our expertise and allowing us greater creativity, but they’re currently still not particularly eco-designed. They should therefore be used not only because they’re innovative, but also because they are ecological. The two aspects must be intrinsically linked. You can no longer innovate without it being eco-responsible. Similarly, it’s important to work with materials that aren’t necessarily innovative within an overall ecological approach. It then comes down to finding a good balance between eco-responsible materials and competitive prices. The brand’s customers have proven to us many times that they’re ready to pay more for beautiful products that respect the environment. They’re mindful of this approach, and they support it

Sarfati: There’s huge room for growth, especially with biofabrication, which offers semi-synthetics with reduced impact, and improved fiber recycling, which would make new materials from old clothes, therefore reducing the mass of waste produced by humans.

Do you think the pandemic and the economic crisis show that there’s an urgent need for action in the fashion industry, one of the world’s most polluting?

Bruno: There’s been a realization on a global scale. Frenzied consumption has had its day. People want clothes that last, timeless clothing to keep, produced with respect for workers and without a disastrous carbon footprint. The emergence of homewear is, in fact, a strong indicator. We want clothing that’s kind, we want softness, comfort, nice materials. Now is a time for slowing down on all fronts. And that evidently impacts the pace of fashion: its calendar of fashion weeks around the world, its incessant production and the short-lived lifespan of products made to be worn for six months are now completely obsolete and need rethinking completely. Personally, it’s a pace that I removed myself from a long time ago, and I find that my brand and my creative intention have benefited enormously.

Sarfati: The link can be made with the way we treat animals. This destructive virus originated in a sordid breeding farm for animals destined for consumption. Fur farms are also recognized as hotbeds of infection: our 100% animal-friendly fashion therefore forms part of a trend towards respecting living things and reducing consumption of animal materials. Thanks to our replicas imitating animal fur, we can effectively meet this urgent need.

What makes hemp an eco-friendly material?

Bruno: Hemp is one of the most ecological materials today. It’s naturally sustainable because it doesn’t need large quantities of water nor pesticides.

From hemp to corn-based faux fur and vegan leather, can these materials be detrimental to style?

Bruno: So long as they’re materials that aren’t too rustic, then that’s clearly not the case. The Cannaba for our coat, created in collaboration with Ecopel and Peltex, is an excellent example of that. The shearling look and the feel were good enough to meet our expectations when it comes to style.

Could Vanessa Bruno collections be one day made only with eco-responsible materials?

Bruno: To me, that seems realistic if we work on the basis that global production is moving in that direction. If that’s effectively the case, then prices will be more competitive and therefore more attractive. That’s what we’re seeing with organic farming, which is growing at a speed that no-one expected.

What are the materials of the future of fashion?

Sarfati: Recycling and biofabrication are the watchwords. Among our new projects, we’re developing a material derived from cleaning the oceans. This partnership with Seaqual brings a new dimension to the idea of recycling. This time, it’s about repairing the damage. As well as creating a new material, we’re sending the message that we urgently need to limit the use of single-use plastic, which is currently the biggest threat to our ecosystems.

When can we expect another collaboration of this kind?

Bruno: Like every summer, we’re working on a new collection inspired by the culture of a country. Last year, we designed a tote bag and pencil case in ethical cotton, with 10% of sales donated to the AMAZONIA association, which raises awareness about the importance of indigenous people in the Amazon Rainforest, in particular the Asháninka. This summer, we’re heading to Italy, and we have a new ethical collaboration planned.

Sarfati: Today, our strategy is to regularly offer a new eco-responsible material with a famous designer or a major brand. That shows that we are all taking action, hand in hand, to make the fashion industry greener, while also encouraging the ecological transition. Our new materials are destined to replace the usual synthetics. We’re therefore hoping for many launches in 2021, once the pandemic is over. CC


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