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Fashion INTERVIEW

Sustainability innovator celebrates 10 years of progress

By Jackie Mallon

Mar 25, 2018

“Our industry changed quicker than our design studios,” says Giusy Bettoni, founder of C.L.A.S.S., the eco-conscious consultancy hub based in Milan which celebrated its 10-year anniversary by hosting “an evening of smart innovation” on International Water Day. FashionUnited sat down with her at the elegant NYC event to evaluate a decade of progress in a loft hung with handmade textile installations using responsibly innovated fibers by Cecile Feilchenfeldt, a Paris-based knitwear designer who works with couture houses, while nibbling on amuse-bouches of roots, seeds and vegetable confections that pay homage to nature, and fair-trade chocolate. “Organic or green or even sustainable no longer resonate,” says Giusy. “When we say smart we mean a precise thing. We innovate. We don’t say that casually. We know that our Reverso wool saves 80 percent of water because a third party has done an assessment and also found it to be so.”

I ask how her company became so internationally connected. “We started with a suitcase, let’s call it a sort of trunk show,” she says with a smile. “When people understood the materials we were offering were sexy, as well as sustainable, they loved them. We’ve continued communicating our message ever since to anyone willing to listen.” She is acutely aware that Asia, once vilified for practices which harmed the planet, is now a major player in this field, investing in research and becoming extremely competitive, even passing.laws to enforce sustainability across its industries. So when I ask if it’s still the bottom line which prevents some companies from embracing responsible practices, she laughs at these slowpokes late to the party. “Today it can be very profitable to have sustainability at all levels, optimizing the supply chain,” she says. “It’s still all about communication. if you are innovating as we are, there’s technology, know-how, there is value to that. What you are getting is something new. You must let the customer know they are purchasing the latest thing.”

Sustainability plus technology equals profitability

Science is influencing fashion like never before, and Giusy describes the inspirational data and resource bank that she has built as “not a library. It’s a collection of uniqueness.” She bemoans the fact that consumers are typically only aware of rudimentary recycling of, say, plastic bottles when they have moved way beyond that, creating superior grade silks, wools from waste, engineering color from preexisting textiles without any dyeing, and working with Gucci, Ferragamo, Stella McCartney.

I ask, at this moment of natural retrospection, if she feels optimistic about the next 10 years. “I feel excited,” she all but shouts. “The first 10 years have been tough. We had to fight against perceptions, and the only thing we could do was prove ourselves. Now we feel so comfortable, so confident, which is why we could do this event.”

She adds that in paving the way for the next generation, no one will ever have it so hard in the future because that dramatic shift from one system to another will never have to be experienced again. At this point in the interview, Giusy gives us a scoop: as of today C.L.A.S.S. which have never sold anything, will make a selection of their innovative textiles available through e-commerce––but only to start-ups and students. “From today the emerging creatives will have the same access to these fabrics as designers, and can purchase anything up to 50 meters. We are committed. James, my co-founder, tours schools spreading our message. Often students want the knowledge but don’t know where to look. They are the future, she says, “and the future is now.”

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Images by FashionUnited