Meet…Federica Massa Saluzzo

Interview by Angelica Rizzo – Business Department

Dr Massa Saluzzo was my Sustainable Strategies professor at EADA Business School, taking on the role of Director of the Master in Sustainable Business and Innovation this academic year. She holds a PhD in strategic management from IESE Business School and is a committed member of the Associació de Moda Sostenible Barcelona

Amongst her many interests, sustainable fashion, social value creation and social innovation are the ones that she passionately works towards in her everyday life.

Being also an elected jury for the 2020 European Social Innovation Competition reimagining fashion, I thought I would pick her brains about what the sustainable fashion space looks like right now for entrepreneurs looking to get into the industry.

1.- What does it take to create a fashion brand that is good for both people and the planet, but still makes business sense?

Precisely yesterday, the European Commission nominated the winners of the “reimagine fashion competition”. Check this document to find out the winners.

My favourite winner was WhyWeCraft, a Romanian project that fosters the collaboration between artisans and designers to enable transfer of cultural heritage and hence preserve the uniqueness given by the local culture. At the same time, the project pushes an innovative legal framework that fosters the protection of the rights of designers and artisans so that their work is not copied and commercially exploited by other companies.

I liked these two aspects of the project because if on the one hand, I believe in the value of rediscovering the cultural roots of fashion, on the other hand, we have to work with governments and international legal entities to make sure that fashion never becomes exploitative. What now may become a formal law, hopefully in the future will be an automatic, internalized and healthy behaviour (just like hiring women first required laws and then became obvious).

2.- What are the challenges of starting a sustainable fashion brand right now?

I think the challenge (well, one of the many challenges) is to actively pursue a cultural change in how fashion is conceptualized.

Let me explain. Assuming we are starting a fashion brand that is really sustainable, i.e. zero impact on people and planet (or ideally has a regenerative approach) I believe the challenge is for the brand to contribute to reframing what fashion is: not something that you buy and use, but rather something that comes to form part of your everyday life. Let me write something a bit provocative; a piece of garment has a longer life than a pet but we treat it as something that after a couple of years should be disposed of. I am not suggesting that we should treat an inanimate object like an animated one but rather that a truly sustainable fashion brand should empower people to conceptualize fashion as something that enters our life to stay for a long time, as if it were a work of art or a piece of furniture (or maybe a pet!). When I have the chance to “adopt” a piece of garment (because I typically don’t buy it, but rather swap it, inherit it, am gifted one, etc…) I like to say to myself “where does it come from and where will it go?” and hence I switch the psychological process of thinking of the piece of garment as something I use, to me being part of the garment’s life. Again, I am humanizing the garment only to make a point about triggering a cultural shift on how a sustainable fashion brand should frame garments. I hope you won’t think I went totally crazy after this interview 🙂

3.- Is environmental and social sustainability a synonym of unprofitable business?

Of course it is…but only if one has a very short term orientation.

The initial investments to be sustainable are high, especially at this point in history where the industry standard is not yet sustainable and hence the cost of setting up a brand that internalizes those costs that at the moment are externalized is so high. But when sustainable technologies and business models will become mainstream, then sustainability will be the only way to have a sustainable business. I remember talking to a manager of a large food company once and he told me “if anything, being sustainable helps you save money because you don’t have to reconvert your supply chain to adapt to new regulations protecting the environment if you have incorporated an environment-friendly strategy”. I totally agree.

4.- What are the most sustainable business models that are successful in fashion?

Among the traditional business model types of brands (company produces and sells to customers) I like companies like Bundgaard-Nielsen that look for a modular approach so that the clothes can adapt to your body and last longer.

Among the more innovative types of business models, I like some of the digital fashion models. In particular, those models that aim at reducing forecasting errors, the “demand planning” models, and those that enable to increase transparency along the value chain.

It is not successful yet but I have high hopes for the models like the one I have mentioned in the first answer (WhyWeCraft) that combine an ingenious production style (for example pulling together tradition and innovation) and a movement to change legal and economic frameworks. In other words, a company that creates (or empowers) a movement for social and environmental change.

5.- Which sustainable trends have you been observing recently?

Digital fashion is surely one of them, although there is growing concern over their economic sustainability. I also saw some interesting work in using easy to grow and 100% compostable materials to produce garments, the so-called “materials revolution”. Last, I would say the produce on-demand trend (which however can have both advantages and disadvantages…)

6.- Which tips would you give out to someone planning to start their own sustainable fashion brand?

Think beyond the brand, what is your role for the industry? Think of the movement that your brand represents and make sure your brand is not just a part of the movement but a key actor that increases the impact of the movement. There are a lot of “sustainable” fashion brands; what we need now is someone with an overall understanding of the current trends who leverages them for the change to finally occur.

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