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TALKING ALL THINGS GREEN & DIGITAL IN THE FASHION WORLD WITH ANDREA BATILLA

By Robert Wun

ANDREA BATILLA IS A WRITER, A CREATIVE STRATEGIST AND A FASHION EXPERT. HIS UNFILTERED AND IRREVERENT OPINIONS MADE HIM QUICKLY FAMOUS ON THE GRAM. STAIY HAD THE CHANCE TO CHAT WITH HIM AND GET HIS POINT OF VIEW ON SOME HOT TOPICS, SUCH AS DIGITAL COMMUNICATION AND ECO-ACTIVISM IN THE LUXURY FASHION INDUSTRY. CURIOUS? READ BELOW!

Words By Alice Cavicchia

How did you approach the fashion design world? What does it mean to be a creative strategist for fashion companies?

Let’s start from the beginning. I graduated at Marangoni in Fashion Design, then, I started off doing textiles research at Romeo Gigli. He was a detail-oriented genius, spending hours fine-tuning his designs. That job taught me what you cannot learn at school. Then, I free-lanced as a consultant for fashion companies and I had the chance to collaborate as a consultant for Bottega Veneta and many other trademarks. It was in that period that I started off as a professor at IED (the European Institute of Design), in Milan. It was a real crescendo of experiences. As IED expanded, a branch specialized in Fashion Design was introduced, and within a few months, I found myself to be its director. In that period, I had the chance to build a personal relationship with Franca Sozzani, which at that time was the school scientific director and the editor in chief at Vogue Italy. After ten years at IED, I left and focused on “Pizza”, an independent magazine whose aim was to discover new and gifted fashion designers. In the meanwhile I kept my consulting job going, mostly supporting the entry of young talents with innovative projects on the italian scene. I am a big fan of the younger generations: they are the future. This is why I still focus on supporting worthy creative minds into building their brand. My most recent and successful collaboration is with Marco Rambaldi, whose recent fashion show in Milan was characterised by a celebratory approach to the woman’s body and innovative shapes and patterns.

Marco Rambaldi at MFW 20/21

Instant Moda Book Cover

Lastly, I always had a thing for writing. After several blogs and the Pizza Magazine, I finally decided to write my own book: “Instant Moda: La moda dagli esordi ad oggi, come non ve l’ha mai raccontata nessuno” (Literally: “Instant Fashion: Fashion design from its debut to today, as nobody has ever told it to you”). I used mainly facts and truths I learned from my experiences as a way to speak out to non-experts who have a passion for the industry and do not know how to start familiarizing with it. It was only during quarantine that I found myself to be an influencer. My unfiltered and liberal way of talking about fashion made the whole thing big in just a few weeks. It’s something I’ll keep doing as it gives me the chance to deliver meaningful messages to the younger generations. This is why I really value talking about sustainability on Instagram, I feel like I can change something.

Thank you Andrea for your advocacy. Spreading awareness on how harmful the fashion business is for the environment is key for younger generations. We understand it is difficult to buy consciously when you are on a budget. But why do a significant number of millennials still not alter their behavioral patterns? Is it a lack of education or a behavior driven by economic constraints?

I believe the problem is mostly nourished by ignorance and clothes-bulimia. 

Firstly, there are thousands of brands out there that are both responsible and affordable, it’s just a case of searching for them. For sure, if you spend your days getting advice from Giulia Torelli, then you are evidently not putting in the effort yourself! (Editor’s Note: Giulia Torelli, or @rockandfiocc on Instagram, is a well known Italian closet organizer and fashion expert. She uses her blog and Instagram to advise her followers about the latest trends and deals in fashion, always keeping an eye out for sustainable brands). People are shocked when I speak about the tons of waste produced by the fashion industry, and by how many people live in inhumane conditions, exploited by the large fast fashion corporations. They just don’t know, but you cannot be ignorant about such social matters. You cannot ignore tragedies like that of Ranaplaza. Fashion is not only about the latest, exclusive catwalk, but about our planet and the people who live on it. 

My second point concerns the sheer volume of clothes people buy. There is no need to purchase thirty pairs of cheap jeans. Buy a couple of top quality pairs that fit properly and voilà! Today’s younger generations are accustomed to overconsumption, but buying more often also means getting cheaper quality products.

“I believe the problem is mostly nourished by ignorance and clothes-bulimia.”

Is there a fundamental inconsistency between fashion, in the sense of continuously creating new collections, and sustainability? How can we overcome such a conflict?

In my eyes, the obvious solution is to reduce the volume of new clothes being offered. Fashion brands should commit to educating consumers and decondition them from their compulsion of buying new clothes. Until the ‘90s, the idea of buying timeless pieces of fashion was far more common in our society. Consumers paid attention to the value they were getting for a product’s price, largely owing to more knowledgeable sellers and more thoughtful fashion designers at the time. This simple mechanism of transaction collapsed with the new decade where society’s perceived needs grew exponentially. Among them was the thirst for novelty, which developed into semestral, trimestral, monthly and then weekly collections. Our society has developed a real addiction to shopping, like eating cake… You only need a slice to feel full yet you just can’t stop!

Versace Spring 2019 Men’s Campaign

“Our society has developed a real addiction to shopping, like eating cake… You only need a slice to feel full yet you just can’t stop!”

What is the main issue with fast fashion?

I believe the greatest problem with fast fashion is creating the belief that style and elegance can be bought for a few euros. They convince you that you can achieve the same look portrayed by cover girls with fifty euros and a trip to megastore, and that’s unfair. To be elegant, you must learn the rules of grace. To have style, you must either develop extraordinary taste through research and experimentation, or hire a team of stylists to work on your image. This warped belief frustrates consumers, pushing them to buy unnecessary items of clothing in the hopes of looking like a cover girl. Nothing of value is easily achieved in life and the fast fashion groups, along with social media, have successfully hidden this harsh reality.

How is it possible for a sustainable trademark to break into the fashion arena? How relevant is branding in firms that aspire to create a product that carries an intrinsic symbolic meaning?

Branding is everything. The issue with sustainable brands is that they have more pressing issues to worry about than brand management, such as fighting climate change, among many others. However, branding is crucial to pursue a successful fashion business. In the industry, it is the image of a brand rather than the products themselves that attract buyers. The consumer does not buy a Gucci bag because it is beautiful and functional, they buy it to signal their social status. This presents both the problem and an opportunity with sustainable brands: they should engage in storytelling that shares a message beyond that of sustainability. Whilst sustainability should be at the core of what the brand stands for, the designers’ style and creativity brings the brand the life. You cannot sell your brand’s image purely on the basis of it being sustainable. The products must be carefully designed and a communication strategy developed that closely relates to the fashion industry’s mechanisms. Stella McCartney leads by example on this note. The majority of customers are not buying Stella solely because of its sustainable business model, but for the quality of research that characterises each garment and the symbolic meaning that the pieces express. Ethics and aesthetics are frequently perceived as irreconcilable opposites, where instead aesthetics must be the tool to vehicle ethics.

“Ethics and aesthetics are frequently perceived as irreconcilable opposites, where instead aesthetics must be the tool to vehicle ethics.”

Stella McCartney A to Z Manifesto: Summer 2021 Show.⁣

What about brands that are not concerned with sustainability at all? Especially in the high-end market, many well-known firms are not taking concrete action towards the issue. Why is that? How do you see their future?

All brands focused on the production of leather goods have many issues surrounding sustainability. In this era of veganism, discussing leather goods is always a hot topic. The production of vegan-friendly leather alternatives are usually harmful to the environment themselves and very difficult to dispose of. What’s more, the brands we are referring to are mostly part of huge fashion and luxury conglomerates with strict regulations in place to protect their profit margins and therefore tend to avoid investing in a responsible supply chain. Even if these conglomerates followed sustainability strategies, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than you can imagine. Additionally, different regulations exist in different countries that often provide loopholes for avoiding sustainabilities regulations. In Italy, for example, it is possible to re-label products as “Made in Italy”, even if most of their components were imported from outside Europe. As such, it is crucial to educate customers on responsible shopping. Lastly, beware of greenwashing. It is easy for a fashion brand to launch a single capsule collection made of organic or upcycled materials for marketing purposes. Permanently incorporating sustainability into the brand and turning a profit is a lot more difficult.

To wrap up our conversation, let’s focus on the impact that Covid-19 has had on the fashion industry and on the way fashion companies have been “forced” into the digital world to share their message. We have seen many digital catwalks, but how can the fashion industry rejuvenate itself and the way it communicates with the public?

I believe most trademarks nowadays have a problem in terms of communication. Covid-19 was an event that, in some cases, highlighted the inability of some brands to share their core set of values and beliefs. Even with Miuccia Prada reaching seventy years old, there’s no excuse for overlooking modern communication systems and minimizing corporate social media presence. I say Prada, but I refer to luxury fashion as a whole. Fashion shows are dead, especially if no one can attend them. The system that such companies inherited from the last century is outdated and has no place in this modern world. This is very difficult to communicate to creative directors of such powerful companies. They are like: “What do you mean? How can we stop doing fashion shows? And what is it with this TikTok? I cannot dance in front of a mobile phone!” In this sense, the Instagram based Q&A session that Prada proposed in the last MFW 2020/21 represented a big step forward, as me and Giulia Torelli forecasted during quarantine (Directors note: Andrea laughs). In adopting modern communication strategies, Balmain are ahead in the industry, and the reason is clear: Olivier Rousteing, Balmain’s creative director, is a digital native. Contemporary, cool and most importantly: social.