Bruno Pieters by Rana Toofanian

The former artistic director of Hugo Boss, took a one-year sabbatical from the fashion industry in 2010 which he spent exploring south India.

There, he noticed how people wore clothes that were grown, woven and sewn from sources they could identify around them, and wondered if such transparency could be applied to high fashion on an international scale. His epiphany led him to set up Honest By.

Honest By is the first company in the world to share the full cost breakdown of its products in addition to how, where and by whom each item was made, even to the point of listing the origins and the price at which constituent elements such as yarn or buttons were sourced, and their subsequent point of sale mark-up. Honest By offers not only clothing by Bruno Pieters but a number of designers that share Bruno’s transparent ethos, and has become a model platform for how brands can share their design processes so customers can shop in a completely conscious way.

Are you politically engaged? Do you vote? I haven’t voted in the last few years. No.

Would that change if there was a candidate or party who shared similar views on sustainability issues? It would affect my voting definitely, but I don’t believe in politics. I believe it starts with the individual — that you can really create what you want to see happen. If you say, ‘I’m against child labour,’ then you don’t buy brands that would be involved in that, or are not transparent about it.

So it’s more about individuals than systems? Right now, it’s about an individual’s choice. Yet there is frustration because there are people who would love to vote every time they shop and send out that signal, but they can’t afford it. Or they haven’t found out how to do it with the budget that they have — I understand that. For brands then, they shouldn’t look at their numbers and think, ‘Oh, the public is still enjoying our product.’ They should think about what’s going on with that frustration. It’s not true that if their sales are good, the public doesn’t care whether their products were produced in an ethically conscious way. There’s a difference between being in a state of shock and not caring. Before I became conscious about the state of the world, it was overwhelming what was happening to the animals, to children, to the environment. I just didn’t know where to begin. I was in a state of shock. When I woke up from that, the first thing I did was stop shopping from those brands.

Big brands can get anything done if there is the demand. They can order thousands of metres of a sustainable fabric and still turn a profit.

Yet if you are a struggling student, you may not be able to afford that sustainably produced white t-shirt that is three times the price of another that looks exactly the same but was produced in troubling conditions. In order to be conscious of your actions, and your relationship with others and the environment, you need to have time to think. People in India can be very enlightened about these issues, but they don’t have a dime. That’s why I always say: ‘The life we are choosing.’ We are so busy, and we don’t have the time to sit down and think about what’s going on or to decide, ‘I’m going to take a sabbatical.’ or ‘I’m going to change my job because I don’t want life to pass me by.’

Is there anything you feel guilty about? Do you have any regrets for changing your life so dramatically? I’m not guilty. I’m more grateful. Grateful for the incredible life I have, the choices I’ve made and the awareness I have — because of that, I made different choices. I went in a different direction with my career, my life, my personal life. I’m grateful for the dark moments that made me aware.

Higg Index

Taking its name from that of the elusive particle present in all of life — the Higgs boson — the Higg Index is an open-source tool for the clothing and footwear industry to measure sustainability across international and often very complex supply chains. Launched in 2012 by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a non-profit organisation founded by a group of fashion companies, academic experts, non-governmental organisations and the American government’s Environmental Protection Agency, the Higg Index not only provides a standard for companies to assess the environmental and social impact of their products, in the future, it will also be used to communicate a product’s sustainability and impact on consumers. So far, the index has enabled more than 100 companies — over a third of the global apparel and footwear market — to identify opportunities to reduce environmental and ethical harm, and improve long-term sustainability throughout their supply chains.

So how do you define success? I realised what’s most important in life is to know who you are. I’m a human being, and my purpose is to be a human being and to build my life around the awareness that there is nothing out there that will punish or save us. And if I am to enjoy this life, it’s up to me to make the right choices. I believe in the sentence: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ And my lifestyle is that way — I won’t buy leather and fur anymore, or eat animals. I recycle. If I buy furniture, it will be vintage. My energy at home — the electricity and gas — is all 100 percent renewable. If I can do it, so can you. It’s just about changing your contract with life. For instance, becoming vegan was important because I couldn’t stand those images of animals getting slaughtered for meat or fur. And I used to use fur in my collections. So basically I was lying to myself year after year, and it’s such a habit to lie to yourself. I did it in my career and in my relationships when I said yes but meant no.

I don’t believe in politics. I believe it starts with the individual — that you can really create what you want to see happen.

What do you look for in a product or a service? I look for transparency. I want to know where the product was made and who made it. I don’t want to support child labour and animal cruelty. And for the environment, I would like to see an organic certification. I’m not impressed by a brand name at all. Today, all the famous brands have been bought by conglomerates. Their heritage is the price point, not how their products were made. I’ve been in the business too long to live in the illusion.

Ethically-produced fashion is like organic food: if you taste it, it’s better than industrial food; It has more flavour.

A lot of brands and designers don’t believe that sustainable materials are as good or alluring as traditional textiles. That is not true. But right now there is not enough demand for it. If tomorrow a big brand were to say, ‘We want all of this fabric,’ or a designer would say, ‘These are my designs. Give me this in a sustainable version,’ they would get it. And the end product would be as good or better [than if they were using traditional textiles]. It’s like organic food: if you taste it, it’s better than industrial food. It has more flavour. And it’s the same thing with fashion, but right now the choice for the consumer is limited. If consumers were to demand that all products be manufactured and sourced from sustainable materials and production processes, then the big brands will get it done and can order thousands of metres of a sustainable fabric. They can get anything done if there is the demand — and still turn a profit.

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