9 years have passed since the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, one of the biggest human catastrophes in the fashion industry that highlighted the problems that this sector is suffering (and continues to suffer). However, since then several organisations and professionals have taken action to change the way of doing things and raise awareness among industry agents and society. Orsola de Castro is one of the best ambassadors of this movement. Since she founded Fashion Revolution in 2013, she has been committed to making learning the best vehicle for change. She is now finalising the details of the next edition of Estethica in Berlin from September 3 to 7, coinciding with Berlin Fashion Week.
But, what does this platform consist of? As we can read on the Estethica website, it's all about “creating agency for change in the fashion industry with innovation and inclusivity, vision and kindness as our core.” Several talks, an exhibition or a workshop with professional upcyclists are some of the activities that will take place in the coming days, in an exciting calendar that promises to provide interesting reflections and debates. “We're not just showcasing, we're giving the designers mentoring, business support and also money, which is exactly what young designers need in order to grow their businesses,” comments de Castro when asked what we can expect from the upcoming edition.

We talk to the opinion leader to find out more about this initiative and ask her where she thinks fashion should go in the coming years, and what campaigns and actions are currently leading from Fashion Revolution.
It is a pleasure for us to have the opportunity to speak with you. First of all, how are you and where do you answer us from?
I'm in Spain, in Mallorca near Soller, a place my husband (although we are both Italian) spent a lot of his time growing up, and where I come as often as I can.
In 2013, you founded Fashion Revolution together with Carry Somers, a global campaign with a presence in more than one hundred countries that fights for transparent and sustainable fashion. How has this movement evolved in the last decade?
The way this movement evolved in the last decade has changed almost beyond recognition. To a certain extent when we started Fashion Revolution, which was born as a result of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, words like transparency and supply chain were not in our everyday language. We didn't speak about these topics when we thought about clothes as we do now. We didn't understand how important it is to actually address the impact of the fashion industry, both from a social as well as an environmental perspective. Fashion Revolution and our over eighty teams have had a huge impact in bringing this understanding to the mainstream, that fashion exploits, that it pollutes, that it is racist, and that we can all make changes provided we understand the problems.
And what are its main functions?
The main function of Fashion Revolution has always been to raise awareness of the state of the industry from a global perspective. So the importance of our global network is that of really connecting to their region and speaking about what is happening close to them. Our campaign Who Made My Clothes has reached millions of people and made them think about the life and working conditions of supply chain workers, who are often young women, exploited, paid very little and working long hours in dangerous conditions. With time our campaigns have evolved.
We have continued to scrutinise the industry and look at the actual ingredients that are within the clothes that we wear, often toxic ingredients, the level of pollution that the fashion industry puts out into the environment, and the importance of understanding transparency beyond tier one, beyond manufacturing plants and garment workers into the second tier, which is about the processes, fabrics, the materials that our clothes are made out of in this extractive industry, which could be plastic (polyester) or using dyes and fixatives that contain toxicants. We keep going deeper, as this industry is deregulated, demanding that citizens are informed about the products they buy.
What campaigns or actions are you currently involved in?
The campaign that we're working on right now in Europe is called Good Clothes, Fair Pay, and it’s about living wages. If we collect a million signatures then the European Union will look into due diligence legislation so that brands have an obligation towards the people that they employ to ensure they are working in dignified conditions and are fair. I urge you all to sign your name to it, it’s incredibly important!
I remember a chat you had with La Casa Encendida, in which you repeatedly alluded to the term ‘conversation’ when you talked about the fashion industry. Which agents are or should be part of this dialogue?
The industry really is about all players that are involved. So we are talking about brands first and foremost because theirs is the responsibility to implement real change. But also governments, organizations on the ground, as well as citizens. Obviously, the role that citizens can play is smaller compared to the role of brands, and I would put it this way. I would say that citizens have an opportunity to make changes with their actions, while brands have a moral obligation to do so.
You are one of the most prestigious international opinion leaders in sustainable fashion. But you have also worked as a designer, being a pioneer in the now very common term ‘upcycling.’ What do you think when you look back at the beginning of your professional career? What has changed since then?
Years ago the scenario, the upcycling panorama, was completely different. Let me just tell you that when I started the term ‘sustainable fashion’ was hardly news and ‘upcycling’ was certainly not in use, so what started for me as a creative solution to an environmental crisis has now become not just a useful tool but an imperative mindset. When it comes to upcycling we’ve seen a very slow uptake. For years the industry exclusively focused on recycling (and by this, I mean mechanical recycling or chemical recycling); upcycling was considered the poor cousin, it wasn’t taken seriously at all.
It is true that it suits younger designers and smaller brands the most, but nevertheless, it could be upscaled in an industrial way. And I think this is what we are beginning to see, that potentially within factories upcycling itself could provide training for garment workers, it could provide a real slowdown of the industry, a real solution. But again uptake is slow precisely because of the fact that it is a very new way of thinking. We need to upscale and industrialise upcycling from within. Teach this method and technique at school, bring it into factories, skill garment professionals so they can disassemble and reassemble, and populate brands and manufacturers with Textile Waste Engineers who can spot and reuse excess before it becomes rubbish.
Why aren’t we upscaling upcycling? Because like many new systems, it requires a big re-think, which would temporarily slow down operations (and we can’t have that when speed is king, can we?). But in the long term, just think about all those fabrics, all those clothes, already there, ready to be recuperated, reused and re-absorbed intelligently and efficiently into the system. So let me ask the same question again: why aren’t we upscaling upcycling? Because it will prevent new stuff from being made. Because it will break the cycle. Because it will show that last season’s print colour trend might be just as great this season. That’s why. It fucks with fashion’s linearity like nothing else does. Because it’s doable.
You are now finalizing the details of the relaunch of Estethica in Berlin, in the context of Berlin Fashion Week. Can you tell us what this platform consists of and what we can expect from this edition?
Estethica has my heart because, despite nearly 10 years as a fashion activist with Fashion Revolution, I am a creative at heart and therefore I connect with the craft of clothing, making clothes, and supporting designers all over the world that are practising this craft is still where my passion is, and what I think I do best.
“Estethica has my whole heart, always has, and Berlin represents what I believe could be the future of the sustainable fashion industry,” you shared on an Instagram post a few days ago. What does a sustainable fashion industry mean? It seems that the term sustainability is not always used in a completely appropriate way, and it can be misleading, isn't it?
I also believe that if we are going to talk about a truly sustainable fashion industry we need the giant brands, the corporations and the mainstream to take a step to the side, slowing down, producing less and paying the supply chain workers a living wage. And giving space to those entities, those organizations and those practitioners that are doing something different. It is very difficult to change a massive organisation or a massive brand, to steer a huge ship to change direction. On the other hand, smaller solutions, creative solutions, are where we will find the seed of all innovation, and potentially the seeds of change. The mainstream fashion industry is not sustainable, and it’s not going to be sustainable any time soon. But new, smaller-scale designers the world over-represent the fashion sustainability of the future.
Ukraine will also be very present in Estethica x BFW, right? And I think there will also be talks and presentations. Who can we see on stage and what topics will be addressed?
The program for Berlin is super varied: there will be talks, an exhibition, a workshop with professional upcyclists, and many opportunities to meet and share opinions and values. I am particularly interested in the intervention of Andrea Cheong, an influencer focusing on the quality of clothes, clothing longevity and make. For me, the road to circularity demands longevity, and talking about the quality of these designers' collections is incredibly important. We need to break the stigma that sustainable clothes are too expensive and start to think of them as the new luxury, to do that, we need to show the time and care that goes into making them, why they are so special, why they will last because they are so well made.
I’m also excited to see the exhibition What Lies Ahead because Matthew Needham is a brilliant art director and he can make clothes jump up and tell their story like no one else can. There is support for European designers, there are several initiatives, prizes and competitions. I am on the jury for the British Fashion Council NEW GEN, for the Italian ITS, and have been working on sustainability with the Hyeres finalists. But much less for designers from all over the world, which again is something we are hoping to address at Estethica. I’m very very proud of what we are doing. We’re not just showcasing, we’re giving the designers mentoring, business support and also money, which is exactly what young designers need in order to grow their businesses.
Is there enough support from institutions and public bodies for young designers and independent creatives? What are the challenges that lie ahead?
I am not one for the one message or the one solution; if it was about one message or about one solution, we would’ve solved the problem a long time ago! I am for multiple solutions and multiple messages, there are so many things that individuals can do. My advice is to start from your wardrobe, look at the clothes you already own, and look at the clothes that you intend to buy because individual actions if multiplied by the millions can have a profound change and a deep impact. But it will always be about your personal interest, about what you can do. I guess is everyone should do what they can to be a part of the change.
And if you had to send just one message to society, what would it be?
Do what feels right, whether is to buy less, sign a petition or learn knitting… but do it.
Dennis Chuene Image Credits  Julia Chuene.jpg
Dennis Chuene - Photo: Julia-Chuene
Don Aretino Image Credits Vincent Schneider 2.jpg
Don Aretino - Photo: Vincent Schneider
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Fade Out Label - Photo: Sacha Hoechstetter
Gunia Project Image Credits Lera Levanova 2.jpg
Gunia Project - Photo: Lera Levanova
Hempful Image Credits Inna Postnikova 2.jpg
Hempful - Photo: Inna Postnikova
Ksenia Schnaider Image Credits  Andrew Grey.jpg
Ksenia Schnaider - Photo: Andrew Grey
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Melisa Minca - Photo: Melissa Mincova
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Tanja Bombach - Photo: Laura Schaeffer
Vladimir Karaleev  Image Credits Johannes Kuczera.jpg.jpg
Vladimir Karaleev - Photo: Johannes Kuczera
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Yaroslava Khomenko - Photo: Yaroslava Khomenko