"COVID-19 has created a plethora of new problems, and has accentuated and amplified existing ones," says sustainable fashion consultant Celeste Tesoriero. Originally a fashion designer - Tesoriero wrapped her sustainability-focused eponymous brand in 2018 "feeling that uplifting other brands, rather than creating products, was more in line with my personal ethos."
At the core of Tesoriero's practice is a sense of hope.
"The future of fashion is bright," Tesoriero says. "It is smarter. It is more efficient. It is exciting."
Here she shares the reasoning behind her positivity. And three things we can all do to make our fashion consumption more ethical and sustainable.
How did you come to be a sustainable fashion consultant?
I have been a fashion designer for 12 years. I wrapped up my sustainability-focused namesake label in 2018 ... Following that, I expanded my knowledge in ethical and environmental production internationally as the sustainability manager of luxury UK brand Roland Mouret. My experience in London with some of the biggest brands in this space gave me that international knowledge needed to solidify my confidence that I really can help any brand on any scale.
How did your former career as a designer prepare you for your current one?
My career as a designer forms the backbone of my services. As I have had a brand myself, I have a deep understanding of the importance of individuality and creativity within a company's sustainability goals. This connection means I am not coming at projects purely from a business angle. I’ve learnt from experience, you can know every sustainability innovation and new fabric available, but that doesn’t mean a creative director is going to like any of them! And you need to be able to understand that level of creative perfectionism.
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What are the greatest sustainability challenges facing the fashion industry now?
COVID-19 has created a plethora of new problems, and has accentuated and amplified existing ones. For example, factories are not being paid for pre-Covid ordered goods. This current ripple effect of the hugely impacted retail market has been highlighted through the #PayUp movement. Companies are using Covid as an excuse to forgo their responsibilities to those who have made the products. The repercussions of this are awful. Firstly, factories are closing. These businesses simply can’t absorb the financial implications of the unpaid invoices and there is therefore an unprecedented amount of people without work in countries that largely don’t have any governmental support throughout this time. Secondly, there are millions of units of unwanted and unpaid clothing creating a new stream of waste. This ‘waste’ now the responsibility of places that most probably don't have the infrastructure or systems to recycle or repurpose it.
Another systematic challenge is greenwashing. This is due to a lack of policy in what is deemed ‘sustainable fashion’. The word ‘sustainability’ has lost meaning, adopted by companies in all industries with no weight to it. This not only makes it hard for customers looking to purchase an item within their values, but hard for brands who are doing the right thing to communicate in a way that warrants celebration.
What are the biggest misconceptions about sustainable fashion?
One of the biggest misconceptions brands have about sustainable fashion is that it will cost more to make. Sustainable fashion is actually smarter. Introducing practices such as minimising waste means saving money. Minimising your carbon footprint means you are saving on your energy bill. This cost saving, can absorb the extra costs of producing in an ethical factory and using quality materials.
A problem we have as customers is we have an incorrect standard of what an item should cost. We have become accustomed to clothing that is too cheap, made unethically and environmentally damaging. A T-shirt simply cannot be ethically produced and retailed for $10. If we change how we look at clothing, and it’s value, the higher price tag makes sense. You will of course pay more for clothing of high quality, that lasts, but what is not widely understood is that the true cost of the alternatives is much higher.
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What would be the first thing you would change about the industry (in regard to sustainable and ethical fashion) if you could?
If I could change one thing it would be eradicating the fast fashion model. I feel its introduction took the magic out of clothing, the process of making it and the process of buying it. There is too much waste, and as a customer, there is too much choice. There is just too much stuff. We don’t need it. It’s not making us happier, and it wasn't even around that long ago so I don’t think we would miss it. The psychology of how we consume is the protagonist for change we need to address. It is as simple as that. Breaking the fast fashion cycle all lies within the power of us, the customers. Where and how often we choose to spend our money has an undeniable effect on how the whole industry operates.
What are three actions everyone can take to make their fashion consumption more ethical and sustainable?
1. Create your own set of values.
It's very rare to find an item that is 100 per cent sustainable, unlike a piece of fruit you can find that is 100 per cent organic, there is simply more to it than that. Sustainable fashion is a rabbit hole of intricacies, and it's pretty impossible (unless it is your job!) to know what it all means. So pick what is most important to you, and use that as your guideline. For example, the environmental impact is most important to you. You would therefore perhaps focus on buying second-hand or vintage before buying new, or choosing organic cotton over regular.
2. Buy less, choose well
As Dame Vivienne Westwood says. Fashion has been psychologically placed as throwaway, so we generally give the same amount of time to our purchase as we would a consumable like food. Think of it more like a keepsake, or something you don’t want to replace very often like a dishwasher. If you were going to buy a new dishwasher, you would want to do some research first, find options, perhaps check its energy and water rating before purchasing? Do that with your clothes.
3. Buy something you will wear at least 30 times
Hire pieces you only want to wear once. Marie Kondo is right when she says items hanging in your closet you don't wear makes you feel guilty. Save yourself the daily guilt trip!
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Where do you find hope?
I find hope in nature, collaboration and science. The beauty of the problems in fashion we are facing, is it has brought a previously cagey and secretive industry together. Previous competitors realising the best way forward is to pool resources, share learning and create initiatives and common goals for the future. I saw this first hand as part of the British Fashion Council's Positive Fashion committee. Sitting with representatives from brands such as Vivienne Westwood, powerhouses such as Kering, and institutions such as M&S. We would all sit in a room as peers, and discuss ways in which we can do better.
New technological advancements are being introduced at a lightning pace. Scientists are working on environmental solutions, often mirroring nature (such as using fungi to eat plastic waste).
Customers care. Brands see the importance in this, and I get to help them on their journey. There is a lot to be hopeful for.