Interview about Research and Consultancy for Sustainable Fashion
How to give consultancy to fashion companies? How to offer services in sustainable fashion?
In an interview for Emma England, Online Business Manager, we open the black box of consultancy and research in the field of ethical and sustainable fashion. Check it out!
Emma: Please explain a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Luciana: My name is Luciana Duarte and I am passionate about ethical and sustainable fashion. Currently, I’m doing two PhDs, one at Production Engineering (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil), and the other at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University of Rotterdam.
My thesis is about global value chains of rubber in the Amazon, driven by French fashion companies. I share part of my research at the website Ethical Fashion Brazil, where I offer some services in Engineering and Design, and for 2020, we’ll open the e-commerce and sell some ethical fashion products.
Why/how did you get interested in ethical fashion?
My father was a shoe designer and he had some factories, one of recycling plastics, and the others to manufacture shoes. My mother is an English teacher, and at a certain point in her life, she created and sold many clothes for babies and children. They were successful. But somehow, I didn’t like fashion, although I grew up with samples of new textiles, fashion videos from the catwalks in Europe and the USA that my father used to go and many international magazines.
I always suspected that fashion was not for everybody. Well, when I entered the undergraduation in Industrial Design, in Brazil, a professor asked me what I would like to research. I said:
“everything less fashion”.
So he said: “why don’t you research something called ‘ethical fashion’?” I replied:
“how can something as fashion be ethical?”
This is what I try to answer since 2007, every day. I strongly believe that fashion can change the world, reduce social inequality and help to preserve nature. But we need to change the language of fashion and the way that we consume clothes.
What is ethical fashion and what can producers and/or consumers do to be more conscious?
Ethical fashion is a way to experience clothes and lifestyle according to the ethics of sustainability. This means to use ecofriendly materials, respect human rights in the supply chain, reduce the use of water, energy, and materials, prefer to borrow and reuse than to buy new products, prefer quality and slow fashion than fast fashion, prefer local, artisanal products than the international mainstream, to love animals, and many other requirements. The main idea is to try to respect people and nature as much as we can.
There is no project/design that is 100% perfect, sustainable. So, we try to do our best, to be committed to Nature via fashion. Producers can educate consumers through tags and advertisements, while consumers can prefer to pay a little bit more in order to create the demand for ethical fashion.
But first of all, we all need to consume information about this kind of fashion, then we create and consume products.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who want to look professional and still be ethical (and maybe even fashion-forward)?
Well, the entrepreneurs from the last years are usually young people with not so much money to invest in new collections. So what they are trying to do is:
- to create fewer collections (sometimes only one per year) and use the storytelling of slow fashion and timeless fashion to justify their approach,
- invest in their creativity and time to create a strong brand and then create capsule collections in collaboration with other mainstream brands,
- prefer to sell in many local markets, focused on sustainable products (not only fashion, but food, furniture, arts, and crafts), instead of a store based somewhere in a big city and competing with all other stuff.
They all should have in mind:
we don’t need more clothes.
Most of the consumers already have all that they want. Fashion is more related to desire – so how can clothes communicate a desire to save nature and humankind? In special, how to do this, when fashion is about breaking the rules, feeling so cool at the top of the world?
Many times, entrepreneurs forget the language of fashion and create clothes that are basic, normative, boring. Ethical fashion can be creative, unique, more connected to an artsy expression.
Do you have any hints and tips for anyone interested in working as a consultant and having their own business with a focus on impact, sustainability, social and ethical changes to society and the planet?
I have just published a scientific paper about this. You can find the abstract in English at http://aprepro.org.br/conbrepro/2019/anais/arquivos/10152019_111059_5da5dbe39b96a.pdf
First, consultants need to exist online and offline. I can be very well known in my city in Brazil, where I could be in person in some factories, with some clients. But abroad, if I didn’t have my website and a strong social media, who am I? Nobody.
So, you need to chose where is your local, what is your target: local factories, local stores, international suppliers, international brands? Then you decide if you need to attend local events or create international networking.
Second, nobody works alone, nobody is a superhero. You need to understand what is your value, and work in your main value (probably, your intelligence, your expertise, what comes with years of practice, not only doing what you want, but what is required to become more professional) and pay other people to do other tasks.
For example, I pay a team of programmers since 2017 to develop my website, and I had two students in the undergraduation of production engineering that researched for my business for two years.
Third, you may see that you can have more profit if you work as a person, as consultant, not as a company of consultancy. But need to check the law in your country. For a consultant, in Brazil, in USA, or in Europe, it is more profitable to work as a person, not as a company.
Finally, I recommend to research every day, to read about the other’s experience in the field, and try to learn with the others.
Consultants are still somehow invisible, as their work is part of the results that a company/brand achieves, and sometimes some results are confidential and they can’t communicate to the others as a personal/professional achievement. So you need to learn how to brand yourself, and it depends so much on so many aspects. Design, photography and sense of style are fundamental, as in Fashion, first of all, we sell an image, then the meaning of that image.
Are there any challenges you face as a business owner trying to be ethical?
Well, most of the information in the corporative world is understood as confidential and competitive. The main challenge is how to be transparent and to communicate about your business even though this goes in the contrary of this world. I can talk openly about my business, because I am not worried if someone is going to copy my strategies. The reason that I speak openly is that I took many years to reach this position and I am confident about the hard work behind every lecture, talk, workshop, article, paper, etc.
Another challenge is to create the culture of charity. I’ve been trying this for years, happily with some success (I had a social project for five years in Brazil, with hundreds of volunteer, more than one thousand of donators, that donated millions of clothes and accessories for homeless, who could chose all for free according to their taste). But I still hear from people:
“Why do you do things for free?”
I think the contrary in many things in capitalism, although it proved in history to be the most popular (I am not sure if the best for Nature) model for us to exist in the material culture.
So, as being inserted in the logic of capitalism, how can I change some of its rules and try to reduce the drift between poor and rich, deforestment and forests? I still think that to offer more than what is asked and to take less than you could is a big paradigm change.
It is a blessing (and a challenge) to be a donator, a giver, to be honest, and to help the others without second interests. The challenge, in sum, is to create a business in capitalism driven by heart. Profits are inevitable, but ethics, well, many businesses try to avoid having more and more profits.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I hope we can send more loving-kindness to all the living beings in the world, from the bottom of our hearts. May we all live in peace and happiness, may we all achieve all of our dreams. I usually pray this at the end of my meditations.
Despite religion and spiritual beliefs, I’d recommend as an inspiration to be a better person, the eight verses to change the mind, something that the Dalai Lama reads every day: http://ethicalfashionbrazil.com/eight-verses-of-training-the-mind/
How can people contact you?
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or the Contact form at: