Orsola de Castro talks upcycling, sustainability and greenwashing in today's fashion industry
Nine years after co-founding the Fashion Revolution movement, Orsola de Castro took a step back to dedicate herself to a new project. On the occasion of the ITS emerging designer competition recently held in Trieste, Italy, of which de Castro was a jury member, the activist designer and upcycling pioneer assessed the status of sustainability in fashion, speaking to FashionNetwork.com about her new initiative, Esthetica.
FashionNetwork.com: What changes do you see in young designers?
Orsola de Castro: New generations of designers have a very different way of thinking about the fashion industry, an industry in which some long-held principles are no longer working. Starting with the need for speed. Young designers no longer want to be exploited by the sector, in other words, to work impossibly long hours for very little pay. Similarly, they are no longer attracted by major labels, but are increasingly keen on smaller-scale and artisanal projects. The myth of fashion as a glittering world is crumbling.
FNW: What is changing in fashion design?
ODC: More research is going into it. There is more talk of upcycling and communities, and of a sustainable supply chain. But [these issues] aren’t tackled in any depth, it all remains superficial. Young designers are not really helped by an industry where everything keeps moving very fast and where waste materials aren’t taken into account, nor valued. They are not supported by the sector, especially in terms of innovation, not to mention the fact that sustainable materials are extremely expensive and not very accessible. It’s therefore difficult for a new kind of creativity to become a reality on the market.
FNW: What is your vision of the industry’s ecological commitments?
ODC: If the fashion industry had invested in reclaiming textile waste as much as it did in chemical recycling, we would now have an industry capable of dealing with the current dramatic levels of textile waste, generating vast toxic dump sites as in the Atacama Desert in Chile, and in Ghana.
FNW: Why isn’t chemical recycling working, in your opinion?
ODC: The process involves turning [used] fibres into new fibres. But, creating fresh fibre from the fibre of worn garments is impossible, given that 70% of the garments we wear are made from composite yarns. Recycling is a myth! Instead, re-using worn clothes or upcycling them requires no chemical process. It’s a much cleaner process, and one of the few solutions we have to slow down textile pollution. Gen Z consumers do it instinctively. They buy garments that they resell once used, often customising them.
FNW: What do you think of greenwashing?
ODC: Greenwashing is a huge problem. It’s a marketing language that denies knowledge. Specific courses on greenwashing should be taught in schools. Unfortunately, in our fast-moving world, people don’t want to make the effort to learn. The only advice I can give is inviting people to read between the lines, to think and rely on their own instincts. For example, plastics, which are presented to us as ecological, cannot actually be eco-sustainable.
FNW: What new projects are you working on?
ODC: After nine years of political struggle with the Fashion Revolution movement, which I co-founded with Carry Somers, I took a step back. I have yelled enough. I have been listened to a lot too, but now, I need to be more hands-on and throw myself into an industry that doesn’t exist, working with young designers who share a new approach. So I relaunched Esthetica, which I created in 2006 and was the first space devoted to sustainability at London Fashion Week. I recently debuted at Berlin Fashion Week, presenting the work of four German designers, and two from Ukrain. I will also be at the Hyères Festival, working on the sustainability award promoted by Mercedes-Benz.
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