Wealth and Elegance 2.0
by Ingrid Bruha, ethical fashion designer
The day I inherited my grandmother’s fur coats–then a symbol of wealth and elegance–I stared at them. I did not want to wear them, nor did I want to throw them away. I had never agreed with the necessary cruelty to produce these coats. But getting rid of them was not an option either: It would have meant killing the animals a second time. So, I ripped them apart; I added the pieces to the bags I was designing; and consciously, I created luxurious totes, pouches and clutches with mostly products that were either recycled or unused leftovers.
I invested into two ideas: to protect our resources and to invest into a circular economy; two ideas that are growing fast across all industries.
I am on the designer end. I create and produce. There is an increasingly loud voice of younger people and consumers on the other end. They care so much about the planet that buying ethical fashion will soon be the norm. And in the middle, there are governments and large corporations. They, too, are finally understanding that fashion can remain a symbol of wealth and elegance, and yet still respect the environment and the people.
It might just be that the definitions of wealth and elegance have totally changed.
To me, wealth and elegance are now summed up into one word: Ethical. The ethics to respect our environment and the people who produce the clothes; and the ethics to stop wasting textile.
For my bags, I need many elements, and with the exception of African jewelry, I never order anything to feed my creations. It is actually the opposite. I scout in wholesale leather stores the leftover pieces. They are just gorgeous and of exceptional quality. I investigate as much as I can on their origins. But because of their size, not many manufacturers can do something with them. Then I look for feathers from cruelty-free raised birds. Back at my atelier, I display all the fur pieces. Then I can close my eyes. Colors pass by me, and along with them, dreams, stories and emotions. I let my imagination flow, and on the paper the bag takes shape. I add a few clippers and zippers, and here it is, a combination of the past, the saved from waste fields, a few new materials and a leap into the present looking far ahead.
The African beans are produced by women entrepreneurs in Kenya. And by purchasing from their businesses, my company also contributes to their economic growth. My bags are for women; I want to buy from them materials that I need and make sure they get their fair share of money.
Finally, my bags don’t carry a mainstream luxurious brand on them. They reflect a coup de Coeur and hopefully a statement from the women who use them. I would like them to last longer than others, and if my clients someday should fall out of love with them, that they become pieces for new fashion accessories.
My bags are a tiny side of a growing story.
While I believe I might be doing the right thing, I am actually doing the smart thing.
Creating ethical fashion is becoming a business opportunity. Look at Kering group’s commitment to sustainable fashion (think Gucci, Balanciaga, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen among others). Kering is one of the pioneers among the largest companies in the world to commit to a net-zero carbon emission by 2050. Kering is blazing a trail that seems to meet a new and coherent consumers’ behavior.
The 2019 State of Fashion study highlighted a simple key fact: nine in 10 Gen Z consumers believe that “companies have a responsibility to address environmental issues.” Just listen to the voice of children and teenagers around the world who ask the adults, their parents, ‘What are you doing for the planet?’ There are two figures here to keep in mind: the first one is US$ 350 billions; this is their spending power; the second is 40%, the percentage of GenZ consumers in 2020. This is happening now.
Wealth and Elegance? Think again. Think ethical.