Editing Ethically

Franca Sozzani has been the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia since 1988 and is one of fashion’s most influential figures. As co-director of the Cittadellarte Fashion project, here she discusses with Charlotte Casiraghi the role the media can play in educating and influencing consumers, and the importance of finding a compromise between aesthetics and ethics.

Charlotte Casiraghi
How did the Cittadellarte Fashion project come about? And is this the first time you have been involved in a project that deals with environmental issues in fashion?

Franca Sozzani
The original idea came from Michelangelo Pistoletto who personally believes that in fashion, sustainability, as in any other field, has to be as important as creativity. In his Cittadellarte Fondazione, Michelangelo invites young and talented people whose main achievement is to be creative and respectful of the environment. It’s the first time that I’ve been personally involved in this kind of project, even if two years ago I made an entire issue of L’Uomo Vogue dedicated to the environment, but not exclusively related to the fashion industry. In a way it was my first approach to this problem and it was probably the first moment in which I realized how far fashion still has to go to be “green”.

CC Was there a particular turning point in your attitudes towards how fashion is produced?

FS I love nature and I respect it, but I’ve honestly never connected fashion and the environment in the choice of my own clothes or in the choices of the magazine. Still, there are very few people in the fashion world who are really concerned about ethical issues. When we look at the fashion shows, we cannot know if the materials and the production processes the designers choose are compatible with sustainable methods. That’s why I think it’s very important to educate young fashion designers of the environmental impact their creations have, and that’s why I’m happy to be part of this project with Michelangelo Pistoletto. I consider it the first step of a big change.

CC How did you select the 11 designers for the project?

FS The 11 designers were chosen by a small jury including Michelangelo and myself, and the criteria of our selection was based simply on creativity. The entire idea was to select talented people, ask them to use only organic fabrics to make an outfit for the presentation, and for them to then become ambassadors of a new “ beauty” that makes women attractive and glamorous without destroying the planet.

CC Fashion designers and buyers have a considerable influence in the choice of materials used in their designs and how they affect the environment – how can you influence them to produce in a more environmentally responsible manner?

FS We need to change the approach to find a solution. As far as fashion is concerned, if brands adopt an eco-friendly image purely as a cynical marketing ploy, or to impress the media, then it will be very difficult to make a real change. The truth is that every collection is judged on its aesthetic appearance. Today, in this economic crisis, the whole system is based on price and costs, and sustainability is not the first priority because it’s expensive to change production or to use only environmentally friendly materials. It’s not necessarily about making massive changes but step-by-step we can find a good compromise between aesthetics and ethics. I guess if a big name in the fashion world launches eco-friendly as “the way” to be in fashion today, then success in sustainability will be much quicker.

CC A lot of young designers and small brands are adopting sustainable approaches to fashion, but how do the established designers and luxury brands feel about these issues?

FS It’s true that some young designers are trying to have an ethical approach to the environment, but it’s still a niche. The big designers are thinking about it, and some of them are already producing part of their collections in this way. But, again, everything is still at the beginning. I think that in the future, approaching fashion in an ethically responsible manner will be the way to behave, but it will take time. The problem anyway is not only for the designers but also for the consumers. It will take time to teach them how to recognize and to choose a sustainable item.

CC As the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia, what role do you think the media can play in influencing designers and consumers to become more environmentally responsible?

FS We all have to move forward and that includes my magazines. Unfortunately, in a picture you cannot recognize what is sustainable or not so we have to write, to interview people who are reliable, to ask designers to create something special, to teach students in the fashion schools, and to spend time and energy in participating in great projects such as the one we are doing at the Cittadellarte Fondazione. A magazine, I believe, has a mission and Vogue, as “the” fashion magazine also has a responsibility to help the readers understand not only the ephemeral side of fashion, but also the ethical side.

CC What are the obstacles and challenges the fashion industry faces?

FS I guess the real obstacles are in organizing the production processes. Meaning that we have to make the industry compatible with the limits of the Earth’s resources. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary! The challenge is to succeed in this change and to convince the consumers how important it is to be part of this change. Another big challenge will be to demonstrate how creativity can be as strong as ever and still be respectful of nature.

CC On a more personal level, what is it you look for when you are shopping for clothes?

FS The truth? That I feel well, sure and satisfied that I am only following my own style! Sustainability shall be my next step!

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