INTERVIEW : MICHELLE GREY CAMPION
PORTRAIT : MATHIEU CESAR
COLLECTION IMAGES : ALEX SALINAS
Riding the Wave of Change
How Bruno Pieters is pioneering responsible fashion
Just when you thought the era of fashion revolutionaries came to a close at the turn of the century, master craftsman Bruno Pieters has constructed a brand based on an entirely radical idea –
ecological consciousness and full transparency.
Spawned from a revelatory sabbatical in India, in which Pieters was inspired to create a line with the least possible harm to people and the planet, Honest by is the world’s first 100 percent transparent company.
The breakdown of each garment is diligently detailed – explaining exactly where the materials come from, how many people worked on each piece, the time spent creating it, its carbon footprint, and the provenance and sustainability of all materials used. In yet another transformative twist, Honest by lists the markup of each garment, which can be up to six times the cost of manufacturing. Yet Pieters is quick to point out that such a dramatic price hike is offset by a particularly small production run.
A former art director at Hugo Boss, Pieters took a year to vet suppliers and make sure that health and safety standards were vigilantly upheld. He continues to use mostly organic fabrics throughout his collections, and takes into account the biodegradable ingredients and toxicity of dyes and materials. But Honest by isn’t just a one trick pony – twenty percent of the profits will go to charity. Namely, Sebastian Indian Social Projects, which is a children’s organization in southern India.
Gravure talks to Pieters as he opens up about his interpretation of luxury, staying true to oneself, and the constant tide of change that envelops us all…
Gravure: What is your current state of mind? How has this informed or inspired your latest collection?
Bruno Pieters: My state of mind today is not the same as it was yesterday, nor is it the same as when I designed the Honest by Bruno Pieters SS 2013 collection. Right now I’m not in the best mood because I don’t really enjoy doing interviews by email. But I love your magazine, and I still need to promote Honest by, so it’s all good. I’m actually grateful that you are giving me this opportunity. Not many people know me in the U.S.
But to answer your question, the spring/summer 2013 collection was inspired by my travels in India, Japan and Europe during my two year sabbatical. I mostly worked with prints and colors this time – I felt it was important to use color because the previous Honest by collection was mostly about neutrals. This one is brighter and more graphic.
Gravure: How have your travels around the world, particularly India, helped to shape Honest by?
Bruno Pieters: Honest by is the result of the 37 years of my life. My travels around the world are a big part of that. What I loved about India is how everyone manages to live peacefully with one another, yet so many of them live in extreme poverty. This surprised me because, in Europe, there is a myth that only people who have a comfortable life and a proper education are in a position to be conscious and compassionate. I have so many friends who tell me they don’t have time to care about the world because they’re too busy making money to feed their family. But in India, people who have nothing showed me that you don’t need to be rich to understand the riches of life. When I was in Delhi I saw a big sign on my way to the airport with a quotation from Gandhi that said “be the change you want to see in the world.” This quotation is so strong, and so empowering, and so extremely liberating. That was the trigger. Honest by is part of that change I want to see in the world. I think, for many people in the industry, fashion is a tool for money – and there is nothing wrong with that, but personally I see fashion as a tool for change. That’s why I launched Honest by. Fashion is something that inspires people; it is something you can follow. That is why I created Honest by. Honest by is the result of my personality and my soul coming together.
Gravure: You are particularly passionate about the idea of full transparency in fashion. How do you think this affects the consumer experience?
Bruno Pieters: I can’t answer for all consumers, I can only answer for myself and for our customers. When Honest by was launched, the Financial Times and the NYT IHT described it as revolutionary, but if you think about it, full transparency is so logical. Not knowing what you’re buying or paying for is very bizarre to me. Asking a customer who loves fashion to pay for something that isn’t sustainable or not skin friendly or not even ethical is so absurd – whether it costs $20 or $20,000. However, this is our current reality – most of us, and most of our suppliers, don’t even know where our silk or cotton or wool comes from. We pay so much money for “luxury” fabrics, but if you ask the suppliers where it all comes from they don’t know. When we discovered that, during the year of research that we did, it shocked me so much. In the end we had to change all the suppliers that I had used before. But now it’s all online, so anyone can just use that information and see our suppliers.
Gravure: Is the rest of the fashion industry ready for this kind of honesty?
Bruno Pieters: It really doesn’t matter what the fashion industry does or doesn’t do. Change never has and never will depend on others. Change is the only constant – it is inevitable. But when you’re aware, you can decide what kind of change you want to see. You can be it. It is a personal decision. The priority of today’s fashion industry has become profitability; everything else is just something that needs to be done in order to obtain that profit. Knowing this, we realize that even the most notorious editor or the most famous celebrity doesn’t control fashion, we do. I truly believe that. We have all the power we need to create change because of the money we can spend. When I was in Copenhagen for a conference on sustainability, the speaker who came after me said that he didn’t think it was fair to put all the responsibility on the pubic, and the audience applauded. In my opinion, they lost all their power in that moment. It is so important to see that companies will create exactly what we want. All we need to do is ask. Right now we are all paying them to be unsustainable. We are paying them not to be transparent. But I see change happening everywhere. People are waking up. 2013 will be a wonderful year.
Gravure: When inviting collaborators to create a collection for Honest By, do you find that they experience a learning curve as they work within such a different framework?
Bruno Pieters: The designers who accept our invitation work in a way that is publishable. I asked hundreds of people in the industry to participate. If your favorite designer has not collaborated with Honest by, it’s not because we didn’t ask them, it’s because they work in way that they believe isn’t publishable. The ones that do accept our invitation already work in an ethical way, but they don’t always use organic fabrics. Usually they tell us what they need and we’ll find the right supplier for them. Everything is out there today. Any fabric in any color you want exists in a sustainable version. In the last few years certain suppliers have been extremely innovative and progressive. Many designers are surprised by the variety of organic fabrics available. They just never thought it was possible, or some assume the suppliers they usually work with are sustainable, ethical and animal friendly just because they are expensive; of course, nothing is further from the truth.
Gravure: How does the use of recycled wool, organic silk, and vegan materials affect your design process and execution?
Bruno Pieters: It doesn’t. But the quality of the sustainable fabrics I use now is better than the traditional industrial “luxury” fabrics I used to work with, so the result also looks much nicer now, I think.
Gravure: Is there a fellow designer or fashion house that you particularly admire, for whom ethical responsibility is paramount?
Bruno Pieters: I named it Honest by not Modest by. So, aside from the designers that have collaborated with Honest by, I admire no one. I’m just kidding. I admire everyone who doesn’t use leather or fur. Unfortunately, there are so few of them. But, I can understand the ones that do because I did the same. It’s just a disconnection. It’s not that I was a bad person back then, I was simply disconnected. You could have showed me the most horrible images of fur farms and I probably still would have used it. I didn’t use it in my first collections and no one cared. When I did, I got letters from animal protection organizations. That didn’t help at all – it actually made me angry because it made me feel like a bad person. You know, I don’t regret having used fur. Of course I regret the suffering caused by my unconsciousness but, at the same time, now I know how a deeply unconscious person operates and thinks. I know because I was one. I know that what would have helped to prevent me from using fur is a letter from one of those animal protection organizations in the beginning of my career to congratulate me on not using any fur or leather. I would so have appreciated that someone noticed my work and that someone noticed I didn’t use any animal skins. I would love to see PETA or any other animal rights establishment do a positive campaign – writing thank you letters, standing outside fashion shows with gifts for people who don’t wear fur and leather, instead of attacking the ones who do. Wouldn’t that be great? I think so, that’s why I proposed it to an animal rights group in the Netherlands. And they’re going to do it during Amsterdam fashion week. I’m so happy about it. They’re going to hand out organic, vegan lipsticks to everyone who doesn’t wear fur, with a little note that says “We love what you are wearing, Thank you.”
Gravure: Why do you think some people feel that sustainable fashion and luxury are mutually exclusive?
Bruno Pieters: They are basically opposites, luxury is that which we don’t need but will last us a lifetime. Sustainability on the other hand is that which we need in order to have a lifetime. Sustainability isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity. It is what we need to do in order to maintain life as we know it. And, to maintain life as we know it, we’ll need to change now, not by 2020. That is such an absurd date – so many companies use that date now. They say that they’ll “kind of” produce in a more responsible way by 2020. What a joke. That is not a challenge.
Gravure: Many have deemed your approach to be revolutionary. Did you set out to be so subversive?
Bruno Pieters: I do as I please, I always have and I always will. And I would love it if other people realized it is ok to do that. You know, just a few years ago some people thought it was crazy to give women the right to vote.
One doesn’t need to wait for the majority of the population to become conscious. If change depended on the majority, then anyone who isn’t white would still have to sit at the back of the bus.
“A small group of people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has” – remember that quote from Margaret Mead?
Gravure: What is your idea of luxury today?
Bruno Pieters: Life is a luxury. I don’t take it for granted. Life is not a necessity it is a gift, a unique privilege. I am very much aware of that which I am a part of. And I have great respect for this, which is why I’m trying to live with respect for the gift I am experiencing. I am a human being so, by definition, I am a loving, compassionate existence, and that is my truth. My purpose in life is to be just that – a human being. This is what I’m trying to do every day in my work and in my relationships.
Gravure: How is your lifestyle reflected in your approach to fashion?
Bruno Pieters: I respect the life I have been given, and I try to create fashion in the same way – with respect and responsibility. I became vegan this year, so we don’t use any leather or fur. We’re now also going to avoid wool. We’ll use what we have in stock, but won’t place any new orders for any kind of animal products. In my opinion, animals and industry don’t mix well; it’s best to just let them be. There are so many alternatives today that it’s almost embarrassing and primitive to still be using animals to make clothing. You can do incredible things with other natural fibers nowadays.
Gravure: Who or what is your greatest love?
Bruno Pieters: My greatest love is this thing that I am a part of. I call it “The Unknown,” I know it by heart.
Gravure: When are you happiest?
Bruno Pieters: When I’m conscious of what I am a part of, and can also see that consciousness in others. When I just am.
Gravure: What quotation aptly sums up your approach to fashion and life?
Bruno Pieters: There are two. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and “To love is to see yourself in another” – (Gandhi and Tolle respectively).
Gravure: If you weren’t working in fashion, what would you be doing right now?
Bruno Pieters: I would be working on a project that would change the world into something I want to see.