Passionate about fashion and an entrepreneur at heart, Gabriella Smith wanted to be disruptive. Her clothes had to be more than just a brand, more than just beautiful. “I wanted a story of purpose, respect, transparency and reasonability. ” So, after a first corporate experience at Estée Lauder, she launched The UpCycle Project, “an education platform to raise awareness of the waste the fashion industry creates by developing hands-on workshops, student mentorship programs, debates, as well as innovative events and products to develop circular solutions for fashion and other industries.”
What are you trying to achieve with the UpCycle Project?
We want consumers as well as designers be attuned to the environmental impact and wellbeing of the people behind their designs. Together we help move fashion forward into a sustainably sourced and ethically made industry.
Do people buy a dress, a suit, a bag or a coat because it respects the environment?
Sustainable fashion is at the forefront of the conversation when I speak to designers and retailers, however for consumers it still remains “the cherry on top” of their purchase. It is difficult to find out where our clothes come from! The majority of consumers still buy because of the product, the price or brand before questioning the brand for a transparent supply chain, natural/tech materials or ethically made clothes.
An idea on how to create effective change?
¨The 4 p’s of brand marketing—product, place, price, and promotion—need to be changed to 6 p’s. We need to add People and Planet.¨
And consumers would follow?
In a perfect world, consumers would purchase fashion based on their value system which can include ethically made, cruelty free, social responsibility, fair trade, eco/recycled materials, women empowerment to name a few. I believe the biggest change will come when brands successfully communicate their values to their consumers and make it easier for customers to make decisions.
UpCycling is one of the many factors to create a sustainable fashion. What are we really talking about?
The US generates an average of 25 Billion lbs of post-consumer textile waste every year, of which only 15% gets recovered through donations or textile recycling. A lot of that waste comes from promotional materials—think races, concerts, conferences, corporate events that all make printed t-shirts, hats, and canvas bags from cotton and polyester. The problem is that most of us have little value for these pieces and end up donating or throwing them away.
A solution—besides a stop to all promotional textile products?
We propose promotional bags made from pre and post-consumer waste that abide by the global recycle standard and look and feel like your regular canvas bag, without the severe environmental impact to create new materials.
If consumers can have an impact by buying sustainable fashion, don’t companies—designers, suppliers, resellers etc.—have the responsibility to create clothes and accessories that protect the planet and people?
Sustainability starts with the designer.
We felt it was necessary to create a program that exposes students to the unfortunate truths of the fashion industry by providing a hands-on experience and donating to design schools materials that are left behind, or fabrics that would have otherwise been discarded. We have thus witnessed students grow and evolve with the project and start to be even more creative in the sourcing of the materials they use, and the waste we create in our everyday lives.
What about existing fashion companies?
As a consulting partner, we help companies across industries make changes toward a circular supply chain while keeping focused on their current business models. A sustainable and ethical industry that promotes transparency and accountability is the future of fashion.
Your favorite sustainable brands?
The brands I favor have all a transparent supply chain; they communicate on their social initiatives without compromising their style: Reformation, Outland Denim, Vitam A swimwear, Susi Studio shoes, Alla Hats, Veja, Where Mountains Meet, Port de Bras, Just Be Queen, Antonello, Redone, The House of Fluff, Beck Jewels.