As buzzy as sustainability may seem today, the term still conjures up (for the most part) images of grass-fed beef, off-the-grid yurts, and thick-buckled Birkenstocks. Small wonder, then, that fashion brands—those peddlers of dreams and artificers of cool—might be loathe to embrace something that might make them appear gauche by association.
“Sustainability is a lot of things but it’s not seen as very stylish, especially with fashion,” Giusy Bettoni, CEO of C.L.A.S.S. (Creativity Lifestyle and Sustainable Synergy), an eco-textile consultancy based in Milan, told a rapt assembly at Council of Fashion Designers of America in New York City last week. “When I talk about sustainability, the value decreases by 50 percent.” We can blame the messaging for this—no self-respecting maison wants to come out smelling like patchouli, after all. “Communication hasn’t succeeded in delivering a clear message around sustainability and responsible innovation,” she added.