Category ‘Books’

Milan Fashion Week: 4 books to understand how Made In Italy can win through sustainability

Posted in Books on Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Milan Fashion Week is in full swing. Not for the first time though, a veil has been cast over the glitz and glamour by the protests of activist groups demanding a fashion that’s fairer: to the environment and for the production workers. Now, I’m not an activist, but I agree with the principle: fashion needs to clean up its act. And nowhere, it seems, more than in Italy, where some of the world’s best fashion comes from. A country with a reputation that’s been formed through decades of expert craftsmanship, and that risks to be tarnished by a sorry state of affairs, brought about by big brands forgetting about the very origins of the maisons, and obeying to the financial codes of the big conglomerates. Nowhere, I feel, it’s more important that fashion recognises its roots and heritage of fine manufacture, and preserves these very qualities before they are lost to a greedy system. And the thing is: to step off the mill of fast fashion and embrace a more Slow approach actually makes sense, and precisely from a business point of view. Yes, it seems that the answer to a Made In italy renaissance really lies in embracing sustainability.

This is the encouraging theory being exposed through a number of books recently published by Italian academy and industry experts. Bar one, these publications are all in Italian only, but I hope to be able to convey a good summary of their contents here, and to whet your appetite for more detail – these authors are part of international circles, and there are numerous web resources available in English, should you want to know more.

Well, the first book isn’t actually so encouraging. It is, in fact, disheartening. But it does cast a light on truths which must be known, inconvenient though they may be. It also serves us as a background note, to understand why we are a breaking point, and we must consider the business case for more sustainable practices that the next titles will introduce. Giò Rosi wrote Made In Italy, Il Lato Oscuro Della Moda (The Dark Side Of Fashion) not as an author or an academic. He is a Production Manager – that is, a real insider, who saw things during his career that made him understand there is something rotten behind the facade of luxury brands. Rosi actually isn’t his real name – he had to use a pseudonym because what he recounts is not only real, but still rife and current. The book is a harrowing tale of what he witnessed while working for some of the best fashion houses, supervising production not in Italy, but in Eastern Europe. It is here that a lot of Italian brands manufacture, relying on cheap labour and diminishing the know-how of Italian artisans. In factories where conditions may not be as bad as Bangladesh, but where wages are insulting and workers’ rights are trampled on on an everyday basis nonetheless. It’s a sad and eye-opening read, showing that unfortunately these things happen much closer to home than we like to think. [Made In Italy, Il Lato Oscuro Della Moda, Anteprima Edizioni – also on kindle]

il-bello-e-il-buono-le-ragioni-della-moda-sostenibile

Il Bello e il Buono: le Ragioni della Moda Sostenibile (The Beautiful and the Good: Reasons for Sustainable Fashion) is curated by Maria Luisa Frisa and Marco Ricchetti, co-founder of Sustainability Lab. Chapters are contributed by the most eminent figures of Italian fashion academia, ranging from marketing to textile technology to consumer engagement. Published in 2011, it was the first book not only to acknowledge the need for more sustainable practices, but to offer fashion professionals a global insight into why, and how to bring about a shift that will ultimately prove to be a competitive advantage. The analysis touches every step of the supply chain: risk management, stakeholder engagement, challenges and opportunities in manufacturing, and some very insightful essays on consumers profiling, concluding with a set of tools to actually enable decision-makers to steer their business practices towards an economically viable, better model. And lastly, a beautifully curated visual section, profiling some of the most innovative brands from the ‘conscious fashion’ sector. In the words of the authors: a book for industry professionals as well as fashion students, the trend-setters of tomorrow. [Il Bello e il Buono: le Ragioni della Moda Sostenibile, Marsilio EditoriEnglish version]

L’Impresa Moda Responsabile (The Responsible Fashion Industry) is “an exploratory journey into the links between fashion and corporate responsibility” – based on an assumption that success for the industry is only achievable by integrating the short-term financial targets with a more long-term vision, that takes into consideration variables like environmental justice, the respect for manufacturing traditions and cultural patrimony, and a necessary improvement in ethical standards. With a foreword by Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, the book introduces the new paradigms of a shift from a profit-centric to a value-centric model beyond CSR. It then explores the connection between fashion, the environment, and society, bringing to the fore case studies of globally-renowned brands such as Nike and Timberland, which now integrate sustainable practices throughout the entire supply chain. It then goes on to observe the relationship between fashion, media, arts, culture and institutions, before offering tools to work towards the main goal of “integrating ethics with aesthetic”. The book is authored by Francesca Romana Rinaldi e Salvo Testa, faculty members of the Fashion, Experience & Design Management Masters of SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy’s most prestigious business school, and features extensive field and industry research, which makes it not only perfectly current, but a real guide for students and industry insiders alike. [L’Impresa Moda Responsabile, Egea – also on kindle]

impresa-moda-responsabile

Francesca Rinaldi and Salvo Testa are also part of the scientific committee of the Fashion In Process series, a collection of publications aiming at rejoining creative fashion design to product manufacturing and techniques developed from traditional artisanal skills. It is from this project that I have chosen my next book: Design sul Filo della Tradizione (in a vague attempt to transpose the pun, I would translate as: Design Spun from the Thread of Tradition), by Federica Vacca. In this small journey through books that devise a plan of action for a reinvigorated Made In Italy, we’ve gone from the bad state of the industry, to business solutions; and this title closes the circle on a positive note, by going back to the very roots of the Sistema Moda Italia: artisanal production. At a critical stage where globalisation and production delocalisation are threatening the very essence of Made In Italy, its regional diversity and artisanal know-how, the discipline of design can serve as a link between devising and manufacturing, by nurturing and abridging competences from both ends of the spectrum. Before this is elaborated in the last chapter, Vacca first takes us to a fascinating journey through a few examples of the richness of Italian artisanal traditions, including some from my beloved homeland Sardinia. An excellent read not just for design professionals, but for anyone interested in a dose of cultural richness. [Design sul Filo della Tradizione, Pitagora Editrice]

The Summer Series // Sardinian jewellery

Posted in Books, Shopping, Slow Fashion on Monday, August 19th, 2013

For once, I’ve spent enough time here in Sardinia to allow me to do things a bit more slowly than the usual rush to see everyone and do everything in just a handful of days. This included being able to enjoy some of the books that still live on my shelves here, and that I haven’t moved to London (thanks a lot, low-cost airlines luggage limits!).

I have started a small collection of Ilisso books – wonderful coffee-table glossy tomes illustrating various aspects of Sardinia’s rich traditions, from food to costumes, to ceramics, to textiles. Gioielli is a stunning visual catalog of the island’s jewellery, very fine examples of which have been crafted since prehistoric times. See the slideshow below for a selection (albeit a limited one, which really doesn’t do the book any justice).


Interestingly, the final section of the book is dedicated to contemporary jewellers that have been inspired by the original and interesting shapes of these historic ornaments. Here’s a few examples by designers like Mauro Manca and Italo Antico.


If you’d like to own a special jewel, I have two brands for you. One is Kokku, who are handmade filigree specialists – and are also based in London, if you want to contact them for special commissions. Another brand I really like is Soha, based in the Sardinian capital, Cagliari – but with a great online store, so they aren’t too far away really! They are currently running a temporary space here in Porto Cervo, so I was lucky enough to meet Giovanni Pisu and André Baradat, the minds behind the brand’s refined aesthetic. Here’s a few snaps I took in the store – I’m currently having issues with uploading pictures on the blog, so a flickr slideshow is all I can add. Make sure to check Kokku’s and Soha’s websites for close-ups of their beautiful jewellery!


The Summer Series // Book: Confessions Of A Fashionista

Posted in Books on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

A copy of Confessions Of A Fashionista had been sitting on my desk for a while, and when my summer holiday was approaching, I decided to leave it for some lounger reading time. This witty memoir does make for easy reading – but don’t be fooled into thinking it won’t make you stop and think too.

Confessions Of A Fashionista is the autobiographical story of how Angela Clarke made it into fashion – and what an intoxicating and eventually sobering experience it was. It is super fun to read – filled with behind-the-scenes glimpses of a world full of eccentrics and eccentricities we all love to get the scoop on every now and then. It is also very positive: the story of a smart girl who has trouble figuring out what she wants to do once out of university – but who then finds a path and works hard at it, to considerable success. There’s lots she needs to get her head around, to fit in and do well in an environment with its own crazy rules, which are hardly decipherable by an outsider, or a newbie like her. The struggle is in understanding without entirely conforming, which is exactly where Angela is smart: she does manage to do well at her job, maintain sanity, make friends, keep a boyfriend who doesn’t just parade her around at posh parties, or to grow into a stylish woman without succumbing to anorexia.

This is why I’m enjoying reading this over my summer holidays. I come from Costa Smeralda, a very famous Italian summer destination – it’s where my family are from, but it’s also the summer home of many millionaires, royalty and celebrities. I’ve seen the glitzy circus unfold here every year since I was a little girl – and it was one of the elements that contributed to my passion for fashion, of which I was aware by the age of 4. But then again, I’ve also always seen the madness of all of it, and much as I wanted to mingle among those fabulously dressed people, I’ve also always known I wanted to scratch the surface to find something a bit deeper and truer behind the glam. This summer, I find myself in the same position again: I’m spending 6 weeks here, so I’m soaking in the lifestyle a little bit (it’s usually only a handful of days, when I only have the time for a few afternoons on the beach and a quick visit to all my friends and large family). And again, I love it but I also want to find the truer gems in it. So I’ve been (window) shopping in Porto Cervo and Alghero, but only really took the time to browse the boutiques of local designers, whose work makes me happy because it shows there can be a connection between one’s roots and traditions, and some truly stunning fashion (will tell you more in future blog posts). I’ve also been people watching (oh, so much human material here!), and admiring not the ones covered in logos or jewels, but those with striking personal style.

That’s why I enjoyed reading Angela’s Confessions – they remind me that you can love fashion without getting swallowed by it. That there can be such things as creativity, originality and style mixed with hard work and ethics rather than madness and hypocrisy – and that it can still be fun! And you can still be a success at it.

Read it on your lounger or on the Tube when back in London – you’ll find something that’ll strike a chord with you, I’m sure. If nothing else, the mad things Angela has to go through will definitely make you smile.

Confessions Of A Fashionista by Angela Clarke is published by Virgin Books. With thanks to Angela for the preview copy. Follow her on twitter @TheAngelaClarke @FashConfessions

Meet the authors and more: sustainable fashion books for Christmas

Posted in Books, Events on Friday, November 30th, 2012

Books are excellent stocking fillers, or great to unwrap from under the tree. In the last couple of years a large number of excellent books about ethical fashion have been published, that describe its every angle and approach, give insights into the work of an ever growing number of brands adhering to sustainable practices, and provide insights into places far away from us – where cotton is grown, traditional crafts are being revived or where, unfortunately, most of the clothes sold in Western markets are made, under terrible working conditions. Whichever the subject, there’s a lot to be learned from these books – as well as some wonderful imagery to look at. So if you’re going to gift or ask to be given a book this Christmas, why not one about Slow Fashion?

I have been lucky enough to attend many of these books’ presentations and to have met many of the authors personally. I have a signed copy of Lucy Siegle’s To Die For, I attended the launch of Safia Minney’s Naked Fashion, ate gorgeous cupcakes at Amelia Gregory’s ACOFI event, attended a great panel discussion for the presentation of Jacqueline Shaw‘s Fashion Africa, interviewed Kate Fletcher’s on the day she and Lynda Grose launched Fashion & Sustainability: Design For Change, and even had the honour of contributing to Henrietta Thompson’s Remake It: Clothes (yes: I introduced her to some of the upcycling brands she selected for the book, and I got a special mention in it! More on this, and a full book review, to come soon).

But this is not only for a sustainable fashion industry insider like myself. The wonderful thing about London is that opportunities and events abound. So I’ve put together a round-up of book signings and promotions happening in the next few weeks, so that you too can enjoy great conversations with authors and purchase one of these amazing tomes at special prices.

The latest book to be published in this category is Sandy Black’s The Sustainable Fashion Handbook. By far the most comprehensive of this branch to have been written so far, as well as the most visually striking. The format is really big, a proper ‘coffe table’ size, and matched by an equally staggering amount of information compiled by Black and a team of contributors, chosen among the most prominent scholars and industry experts. Professor Sandy Black (already author of Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox) will be signing copies this Saturday, 1st December, at Livingstone Studio, 36 New End Square, Hampstead, London NW3 1LS. 

Amelia Gregory is Editor of an eponymous magazine illustrated by an army of super-talented artist, whose work she also collects in books. Her latest is a Compendium of Fashion Illustration, and features the work of many sustainable fashion designers that we love. The result is a very colourful volume that’s a feast for the eyes. Get your copy at a special price and chat to lovely Amelia on Thursday, 6th December at the Joy store on Brick Lane.  

Sass Brown is, in a word, an authority on sustainable fashion – her knowledge and passion are unparalleled. Just like Sandy Black’s Eco-Chic and now ‘The Handbook’, Brown’s Eco Fashion is a seminal title for anyone who wants to understand this subject. Or simply fall in love with gorgeous fashion – as this book, too is a ‘coffee table must-have’ and as beautiful as it is rich in content.  This Christmas, you can have it with a 35% discount, thanks to a promotion of publisher Laurence King.

Laurence King are also publishers to Kate Fletcher & Lynda Grose’s Fashion & Sustainability: Design For Change and Rosie Martin’s DIY Couture – make sure you have a look at their great catalogue and make the most of that discount code!

If you want to buy a limited edition print directly from the author, look no further than Jacqueline Shaw’s thoroughly researched Fashion Africa. You’ll be transported to the continent whose kaleidoscopic textile traditions are taking the whole fashion world by storm. Jacqueline has been shortlisted for an Ethical Fashion Forum SOURCE Award for her work in raising media awareness for ethical fashion with Africa Fashion Guide, and I will be at the ceremony ready to congratulate her if she does win. If you can’t be there in person, you can always follow the awards online by registering here.

Still looking for ideas? Check out my own personal comprehensive list.

Have you got more titles to recommend? Have you read any of the above and want to share your review? Do feel free to do so!

An Organic Cotton Round-Up

Posted in Books on Sunday, October 28th, 2012

October was the month that hosted Wool Week, as I highlighted in this, this and this post. But I’ve been delighted and interested to read about so many initiatives revolving around Organic Cotton, that I thought it was high time for a round-up.

I personally love documentaries, and my attention was sparked by the fact that there are as many as four docus about cotton, seeds and pesticides, around at the moment.

Seeds Of Freedom is about GM seeds (not only cotton) and how they make the farmers dependant on them. A landmark film from The Gaia Foundation and the African Biodiversity Network, narrated by Jeremy Irons: ”The story of seed has become one of loss, control, dependence and debt. It’s been written by those who want to make vast profit from our food system, no matter what the true cost. It’s time to change the story.”  Seeds of Freedom charts the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional, diversity rich farming systems across the world, to being transformed into a powerful commodity, used to monopolise the global food system.The film highlights the extent to which the industrial agricultural system, and genetically modified (GM) seeds in particular, has impacted on the enormous agro -biodiversity evolved by farmers and communities around the world, since the beginning of agriculture. Seeds of Freedom seeks to challenge the mantra that large-scale, industrial agriculture is the only means by which we can feed the world, promoted by the pro-GM lobby. In tracking the story of seed it becomes clear how corporate agenda has driven the take over of seed in order to make vast profit and control of the food global system. Through interviews with leading international experts such as Dr Vandana Shiva and  Henk Hobbelink, and through the voices of a number of African farmers, the film highlights how the loss of indigenous seed goes hand in hand with loss of biodiversity and related knowledge; the loss of cultural traditions and practices; the loss of livelihoods; and the loss of food sovereignty.  The pressure is growing to replace the diverse, nutritional, locally adapted and resilient seed crops which have been bred by small-scale farmers for millennia, by monocultures of GM seed.

Thread is a documentary with a simple title and a simple mission: “To educate consumers on how fashion and textile production impact human and environmental health”. It is about the GM seeds, pesticides and water usage related to the cultivation of cotton. Hope it will be released in the UK very soon.

For the release of Dirty White Gold, the director Leah Borromeo needs your help. She is crowdfunding to raise the £18,000 needed for the production and distribution of the documentary. She explains: “We’d like you to come with us on a shopping trip to India. The journey starts with nearly 300,000 Indian farmers who have killed themselves to escape debt. At one point, up to 26 per day. They are the price we pay for cheap cotton – trapped in a cycle of debt, brought about as a result of the industrialisation of their livelihoods. Some kill themselves by drinking the pesticides with which they farm. At the heart of the film will be the human stories of the people who work the fields to form the threads of our moral fibre. We will ask “when you bag a bargain, who pays for it?” More in the trailer:

The English title Behind The Label betrays the Italian origins of the fourth documentary, directed by Cecilia Mastrantonio and Sebastiano Tecchio. “Behind the label is a journey through India, in search of the hidden world that lies between the folds of cotton – the most used textile fibre in the world. But it also presents a globalization process from the perspective of those who have no access to information or privileges of any kind. India is a country with strong economic growth, where agriculture is still the main activity for 70% of the whole population. The second most important sector of employment is the textile industry. India is, therefore, its cotton. But what kind of cotton is it? Since 2002, India has switched from native cotton varieties to genetically modified ones, and today 90% of the whole cotton production comes from seeds grown in a laboratory. What’s the impact of these crops in terms of life quality for those men, women and children who grow them? What are the real interests of global multinationals who rule the world of cotton?”

And the plague of Indian cotton farmers is not just for the screen – it makes for compelling reading too. Hand/Eye magazine recently published A Common Thread by Shaina Shealy: “I held a boll of organic Kala Cotton in the semi-arid region of Kutch, Gujarat during my first day conducting research for Khamir, an Indian NGO that helps rural artisans in Kutch connect to international and national markets via product innovation and design. I put the cracked boll in a plastic baggy and tucked it into the side pocket of my backpack, where I would often find my fingers reaching to touch the fibers. In the following weeks, I saw the matted fibers of Kala Cotton spin the lives of farmers, artists and consumers into a common thread: an interconnectedness of culture, livelihoods and global exchange that I am part of.” (picture also courtesy of S. Shealy)

Author Catherine Lucas thought that the stories of these farmers needed to appeal to a wider public, to really resonate with the everyday consumer on a larger scale. So she chose a different format, so far unexplored in the mix of media that have been covering and exploring the issue: she chose to write an entire novel about this. Natasha Naturally is the story of a simple girl who likes fashion and is creative and thrifty with it, but whose looks catapult her to the status of super-model and a life of luxury. A life lived without asking questions, until a trip to India opens her eyes to what really is behind the cheap and cheerful fashion we find amassed in high-street stores. Although very well researched, the book does not try to place itself among specific literature for researchers or NGOs tackling the problem on the field (if you’ll excuse the pun). What it does is, tell a simple story that most girls will identify with – and in that tackle the issue of information on this subject in an entirely original way, lighthearted but efficient nonetheless, or even more so perhaps, given how many people’s hearts it could warm to this plague, that scientific papers could not.

Finally, I’d like to ask you this question: Have You Cottoned On Yet? Well, this is actually the question at the heart of the latest GOTS and Soil Association campaign, The Organic Cotton Initiative. The first of its kind to promote organic cotton on a global scale, the campaign urges manufacturers and retailers to address the economic and social damage associated with conventional cotton farming and processing. The campaign’s brief is available to download – which is great, so that consumers can have easy access to a huge amount of information, accompanied by graphics that make for an easy read at the same time.

And if you work in the industry and want to really learn about GOTS in depth, don’t miss this week’s event organised by the Ethical Fashion Forum. The yearly SOURCE Expo is being run online this year, however EFF have partnered with GOTS to inform on leading sustainable suppliers of textiles and production, and will do so with a Sustainable Textiles Showcase to take place on Wednesday 31st October, 15:00- 18:00 at Joelson Wilson, 30 Portland Place, London W1. Registration is essential for this event, link here.

So, have I missed something in this long round-up? Would love to hear about other initiatives aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of GM cotton farming or promoting Organic Cotton – please feel free to leave comments on this!