“The clothes I prefer”, said the designer Pierre Cardin, “are the clothes I invent for a life that does not yet exist, the world of tomorrow”. And on a planet ravaged by climate, environmental and social crises, the future of fashion will have to move towards sustainability. Some brands are already proposing a different, careful and ethical way of making clothing throughout the supply chain. This is the case with Altromercato, which recently launched the new collection Rise to Earth SS22that unites different Italian realities in a single project with respect for workers, consumers and the planet in general, and for some brands – such as Algonatural by Udine, specializing in cotton products – that have chosen to rely on Fairtrade certification.
The need for a new way to produce clothes starts with one consideration: the fashion industry uses approximately 93 billion cubic meters of H20 per year – 4% of existing drinking water -, produces 20% of wastewater and 10% of global emissions. These are very high numbers: only the agricultural sector demands more use of the precious blue gold. In addition, the fashion sector emits more CO2 into the atmosphere than international flights and maritime transport combined. But the cost isn’t just environmentally friendly.
“In cotton production,” he says Marisol Cifuentes, owner of Algonatural, “employees are often exploited and underpaid, there are no unions and even minors are employed. There are also periods of discrimination against women, who make up the majority of the workforce”. That is why Fairtrade has decided – and it is the only standard that does – a guaranteed minimum price and an extra, the so-called Fair Trade Awardto support community services.
The operating conditions are not limited to a single link in the supply chain, nor to a single country. The items that are on the shelves of the fast fashion they come not only from Bangladesh or India, but also from Hungary or Transnistria, an unrecognized state on the border between Moldova and Ukraine. “This system,” he says David Cambioliccontact person of different qualityone of the brands brought together in the project On earth by Altromercato (in the gallery some items of the new collection), in the sector for 20 years, “has impoverished generations of people, made to produce a sham for us; goods are sold to us by passing them on as essential, when in reality they are not at all. Compared to the 80s, there is now 80% more clothes on the market, but this is idiotic and unnecessary consumerism.”
For these reasons, one of the slogans ethical supply chains have always insisted on is “Buy less, buy better”: a quality dress at a slightly higher price is preferable to many clothes manufactured with huge social and environmental costs. However, ethical fashion doesn’t have to be difficult to choose and wear. “One of the reasons that drove us to do this cooperative collection with the coordination of Altromercato,” continues Cambioli, “is to design a proposal of ethical and fair products that is of interest to both the stores, which are our commercial reference, and the consumers. It is high quality artisan fashion, woven with care and in a limited number of pieces, unlike what happens in fast fashionwhere sometimes for economic convenience more garments are made than are actually salable”.
The collection includes both clothing and accessories, all made within a virtuous system and for sale in physical stores and on Altromercato’s online portal. “We work closely with producers, in the north and south of the world,” says Altraqualità’s contact person, “whom we ask to respect certain ethical standards. We develop relationships before producing goods: the most important thing is not what we we do it, but who we do it with. The people we work with must guarantee us a commitment to quality and sustainability.”
And consumers are realizing that ethical clothing differs in value from traditional fashion, thanks in part to the stories being done in fair-trade stores and among virtuous distributors such as Algonatural. Marisol Cifuentes and her husband started their business in 2015, opening a small business in Udine. “Our store was the first store in Italy to be completely dedicated to sustainable cotton clothing, with a complete range, from children to adults, from underwear to knitwear,” says the woman proudly. Later, the spouses decided to set up a distribution agency to promote ethical fashion collections in boutiques all over Italy. †Among merchants,” the woman continues, “sensitivity to products like ours is growing as customer demand increases. Those involved in sustainable clothing have suffered even less damage from closures caused by the Covid-19 epidemic: people who buy a certain type of clothing continue to ask and search for it because they see its value.”
The quality of ethical fashion is linked not only to respect for employees and the environment, but also to greater health for the wearer. “Some customers,” explains the woman, “told us that the chemicals in the cotton t-shirts from the major distribution outlets had stained their skin, so they had to see a dermatologist. Our t-shirts are clear, also in terms of quality. odor: the sweat bacteria, when they come into contact with natural fibres, are not activated as in traditional fashion clothing and therefore do not produce the kind of odor that triggers change, even after a few hours: at the end of the day it is often enough to simply air the clothes to be able to use them again”.