Everlution’s fashion manifesto would not have been possible without the support of Loro Piana.

Here, Pier Luigi Loro Piana, the company’s CEO elaborates upon the ways in which they have demonstrated their commitment to sustainable sources of fabric – even if it means saving a species from extinction – and why the customer should demand more.

By Laura Lazzaroni

Founded in 1924, for generations Loro Piana has been a paradigm of high quality, innovation and luxury in the field of cashmere and rare wools. Based in Valsesia in northern Italy, the family owned fashion label has also long been committed to the environment. “In a way, we embarked on this road [of an ecologically conscious business model] almost by sheer chance, since we work with raw materials such as cashmere, wool, linen, cotton – all 100% natural yarns,” Piana says. “At the same time, we’ve been incredibly committed towards the highest quality since day one, opting to focus on the most beautiful and precious amongst natural materials. Contrary to what one may believe, even the world of natural fibres has a high and low end. Ultimately the consumers have proved us right – our policy has taken roots and has been rewarded over time”.

Loro Piana’s commitment to the environment is spread throughout the entire manufacturing chain, ranging from the selection of farms to the dyeing process, from energy procurement for factories to solid waste and wastewater management. “We deal with non-dyed fibres, alpaca, wool, angora, all in a variety of neutral colours, and turn them into products that become fashion statements,” he explains. “It’s imperative not to neglect the aesthetic element, but our garments and textiles must also be ‘a cut above’. A few years back, we used New Zealand merino wool from the fleeces of dark coloured sheep, or pecora nera. The result was an extremely lovely yarn in four different hues. And a similar philosophy is applied to cashmere from the South American vicuña.” Once nearly exctinct, the fortunes of the vicuña – a camelid related to the alpaca and renowned for its incredibly soft and breathable fur – turned in 1976 when Loro Piana first established private reserves on the Peruvian plateau to preserve this unique breed. It is a strategy of responsibility that has elicited a positive market reaction – up to a point.

Right now, in the highest spheres of the fashion industry, a great deal of attention is being paid to environmental issues. However, it’s in the mass market that selling a natural product becomes difficult. As Piana puts it, “for a long time, it was a great deal easier, even for us, to sell the colour of the season rather than a natural one.” The problem being that “a certain obsession with appearance, fuelled by the trend of the moment, seems to prevail over the product’s eco- sustainability. Certainly, money matters – wool is costlier than nylon and, in some ways, does not perform as well. But we also need to assess the social consequences of a similar choice. A woollen, alpaca or cashmere coat has a defined life and death cycle.”

The environmental issue is a daunting macroscopic emergency that threatens to overwhelm even the most dedicated. Yet Piana believes that “every step is a leap ahead. Manufacturers need to double their efforts – if, on the one hand, we keep pushing the envelope trying to respond to clients’ needs, on the other we must generate a culture of awareness. An awareness that starts right from the shop floor. The importance of traceability has already sunk deep into the food sector – it’s about time those rules are applied strictly and fast in our field too.” He continues, “details concerning product composition are necessary and sufficient as of now. However, it’s important, and under the seller’s responsibility, to place the label where it can be easily seen and to use a clear and simple description. It’s also useful to have official agencies checking upon the honesty of a label’s contents. Such boards exist and their functions should be implemented and respected. Further steps ahead will come with the availability of in-depth information regarding the product’s origins.”

Piana urges customers to “enquire about product composition – 100% dark sheep? Great, as dark wool reduces the impact of dyeing the fabric. 50% nylon and 50% wool? We’re getting there – it’s a mix, but at least we are on the right path.” Amidst a strategy of growth and social accountability with a business like Loro Piana, there are also initiatives regarding tomorrow’s talents such as the Cittadellarte Fashion event headed by Michelangelo Pistoletto and Franca Sozzani. “She’s taken it upon herself to convey a positive message to the youth, with regard to ecological issues,” he says of Sozzani. “It’s imperative that they understand how even a decision about the use of a specific material can affect the emissions problem.”

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