Our new post-doctoral research fellow Francesco Mazzarella interviewed Laura Santamaria, co-founder and editor in chief of Sublime magazine, about the contribution from media to promote sustainable fashion. Sublime magazine has been a friend of CSF for a long time; they joined us at the very start of our journey 10 years ago.
We are witnessing the rise of many initiatives, which positively disrupt the social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry. However, as designers we still have the responsibility to envision and activate a more sustainable fashion system. With this in mind, we asked Laura Santamaria in what ways she is engaged with fashion activism, and how she envisages her media agency could contribute to building a sustainable future.
How do you think ‘sustainable fashion’ is perceived by the public audience?
LS: As we step into our 10th year of publishing, we can’t help asking: is anything changing? Are we making a real difference? We are witnessing what is perhaps the biggest cultural shift in the last 50 years. It is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s encouraging to see that a new awareness is starting to emerge in many different fronts, and our society is becoming less tolerant of resource exploitation, inequality and injustice. What started as a quiet roar, a slow trickle, it’s now a rushing tide rising.
In an information-rich, brand-sophisticated, web-enabled world, people are more empowered than ever to counter consumeristic practices. Beyond the ‘bling’ factor, the fashion consumer of today wants to acquire symbols of status that continue to endorse their purchasing power, but which equally demonstrate that they are caring individuals. They are starting to demand transparency, honesty, as well as style and quality.
As a whole, the industry has been slow to come up with choices that marry the ‘good’ with the ‘desirable’. We see a window of opportunity for a new breed of smaller companies that are fulfilling the wise customer expectations with products that are sustainable, desirable and profitable. Traditionally, it was the high-end market that led the trends, but unfortunately only a few of the largest luxury brands have recognised this shift and capitalised on it. Nowadays, it would be unwise for any brand to develop new propositions without bringing sustainability into the equation.
For us at Sublime, this is an exciting time to push higher up in the agenda all what we have been about over the last ten years: stewardship, social responsibility and cooperation. As sustainability in fashion grows stronger and widespread, our message becomes relevant to bigger and more diverse audiences than when we started.
In what terms does your media agency engage with ‘fashion activism’?
LS: Fashion and lifestyle magazines are powerful means to consolidate socioeconomic paradigms, as platforms that materialise, represent and disseminate specific ideals of worth, wealth, aspirational lifestyles and values.
Sublime is set to inspire and entertain, but also to provoke thought and debate. In Spring 2004 a group of about thirty of us got together to discuss what a contemporary magazine should be about. We wanted a magazine that would bring together the two main aspirational values of our times: ethics and aesthetics – a marriage of style and soul. Our first issue was entitled ‘Reversing the Order’, because we wanted to challenge the status quo in the magazine world – based on sex, money and celebrity culture – and argue for more opposing principles of integrity, respect and interdependence. We concentrated our efforts on telling stories that are empowering and positive, that reinforce a sense of community. We have pushed our own boundaries and we are glad to have followed our dream to do something radical, refusing to budge on our values.
For us, the call to provide an alternative to a model that promotes little more than frivolity and consumerism has grown stronger. Our passion remains in creating content that is pluralistic, considerate, honest, relevant and meaningful – content that speaks from the heart. Sublime is here to give a voice to people who have no representation, to advance social and environmental sustainability, and to do all this in an open, creative space where positive ideas and collaborations can flourish.
What is your vision for a sustainable future of the fashion system?
LS: Our vision of a sustainable future lies in interdependence. We all need each other. Service to others ennobles us, it builds bridges that overcome differences and makes us stronger by knitting us closer together. It makes our minds more open and our hearts wider. It fills our lives with a more transcendent kind of significance.
As designers and founders of a media agency, we have the responsibility to invent, produce, deliver goods and services that make life better for the greatest number of people. In short, to invest our time and energy in things that are bigger than ourselves. For us, ‘sustainability’ is not just about protecting the environment, although those issues underlie all our thinking. Throughout the years, we have had the chance to meet and talk to some outstanding people, who are passionate about providing opportunities for a new and improved version of meaningful living. From the work of politicians to town planners, scientists to artisans, we are seeing multiple small regenerative systems that, put together, will result in a strong structure planted within the fabric of our society. A structure that will reinstate the sense of purpose, connectedness and livelihood that has almost vanished from our lives. The exciting thing is that these leaders in regeneration are not just putting things back to where they were, but building on the old foundations, they are seizing opportunities and reinventing them.
To lead such a countercultural charge is not easy, but we know why we are doing it: we want to build a better world. Words are powerful, but words without actions are just hot air. As independent publishers, we have started a quiet revolution by running risks in the hope that others will join us to bring about change. We are truly grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from our readers and contributors, as we cross the ten-year mark. We are inspired by the feedback and continuing support of people who believe, as we do, that there is a better way. Whatever the challenges, we’ll work them out!