Beatrice Murray-Nag speaks to Italian designer Laura Strambi about her approach to sustainability, why she has opened up her new ecommerce platform, and how her Italian heritage has influenced her work.
Laura Strambi’s approach to sustainability is an intricate balance between past and future, anchored in the present. Her values stem in equal parts from looking back to her Italian sartorial heritage as they do from being unafraid to do things differently, constantly thinking about new innovations. It’s a philosophy almost uncannily incapsulated in the perfectly tailored Piñatex® gown that she made for Livia Firth for the 2017 Met Gala, created from plant-based leather in a futuristic shade of silver.
Strambi’s ethos no doubt stems from an undeniably Italian way of thinking about fashion. While the ‘Made in Italy’ movement represents a reason to keep her production close to home, the designer’s interpretation of her roots holds a cultural significance too. “In Italy, fashion was born from families, artisans, craftsmanship and years of knowledge handed down through generations,” she explains. “Not from the shiny advertising campaigns that have taken over everything today.”
Yet Strambi has never been afraid to evolve old traditions, positioning her as one of the very first designers, above all in Italy, to raise the subject of sustainability within the industry. Since she first started investigating lower impact materials, the sustainable fashion landscape has evolved from almost non-existent to a flourishing new market. And Strambi herself is leading the charge, having supported many Italian textile producers in the development of sustainable materials, and most recently partnering with Manteco to source lower impact textiles while supporting the Italian economy.
Always at the forefront of newness and innovation, the Italian designer has recently expanded her offering to explore the ‘direct to consumer’ model, opening up her own ecommerce platform. We caught up about how her heritage has influenced where she is today, and why she believes that a combination of tradition and innovation, rooted in the mindfulness of the present, will help us find an approach to fashion that is truly sustainable.
You are one of the leading Italian designers in the sustainability movement. What sparked your interest in this area?
I became interested in this idea many years ago, driven by my belief in sustainable behaviour and lowering our environmental impact in all areas of life. It was only natural to bring this interest into my work, beginning my research into sustainable fashion. There were not a lot of brands, initiatives or platforms sharing information about the impact of the fashion industry at the time, and sometimes our clients or partners didn’t even understand what we were trying to do because there was so little information out there on the subject. Today on the other hand, everybody talks about sustainable fashion almost too much, but I think we need to be speaking about it less because it’s a trend, and more because it’s an urgent part of saving the planet.
What have your Italian roots taught you about creating a sustainable approach to fashion?
Fashion has always been a thriving sector in Italy, the jewel in the crown of the Italian economy. We have been at the forefront of many revolutions within the industry, and even today, Italian brands are some of the most famous in the world. But for me, the most important thing is that in Italy, fashion was born from families, artisans, craftsmanship and years of knowledge handed down through generations, not from the shiny advertising campaigns that have taken over everything today. Being rooted to the materials, the artisan techniques and the highest quality products has definitely made it easier to move closer to real developments in sustainability.
Where do you look for inspiration for your designs?
You can find inspiration in everything. I definitely take mine from nature; from its colours, its sheer joy, and the sense of peacefulness that it exudes. My collections are always colourful, happy, and fun. I like to call them ‘biomorfic,’ meaning they recall nature in each detail and shape, as well as the prints which are often inspired by the natural world too.
Your designs are entirely ‘Made in Italy.’ What are the advantages of producing close to home?
Reducing the amount an item has to travel between different stages of the supply chain is already acting sustainably in itself. For me, producing close to home also allows you to monitor every step, allowing you to create something of your own that is totally unique. Supporting ‘Made in Italy’ is really important for our economy too, so despite the potential savings that we could make by manufacturing abroad, we prefer to pay for the quality that we know comes from producing in our country.
What are some of your favourite materials to work with?
I prefer natural materials such as organic cotton, wool, cashmere, and silk that I know has been produced with respect for the environment and animals. I also like to use recycled and innovative fabrics such as recycled wool, Piñatex®, ECONYL® and recycled polyester blended with natural fibres.
Your work combines traditional sartorial techniques with future-facing innovations in sustainability. Do you think this combination of past and future will help us find an approach to fashion that is truly sustainable?
Definitely! Only through the recovery, support and enhancement of traditional sartorial skills together with attention to clean technological evolution and the circular economy are we able to produce sustainable fashion that is respectful to everything around us: humanity, the environment, and the economy.
You are constantly innovating with your materials. How do source the fabrics that you use, and why did you recently choose to collaborate with sustainable textile company Manteco?
We have been doing a lot of research into textiles and materials over the last years. As I mentioned, in the past it was much harder to find suitable suppliers with genuinely sustainable materials, and consequently to create a whole collection in this way. But over time, resources have become more readily available and I have personally supported many fabric makers to create textiles that fit this growing need. I met with Manteco two seasons ago, and after seeing their factory we immediately understood they were the perfect partner for us, thanks not only to the way they create their fabrics but also the sustainable and profoundly human nature of the production processes that characterises the business.
Last year, you worked on a project to support women from the Beninese textile supply chain with a collection of turbans inspired by traditional handmade female Beninese headdresses. What other memorable examples have you seen of fashion being used as vehicle for social solidarity?
There are so many projects like this, and I always wish I could do more! We will definitely continue to work together with Benin in this way, even following the project. Today my dream is to be able to support a non-profit organisation that deals with ethics of human relations through my work, to one day start the construction of a family home for mothers and children.
What advice would you give to young designers out there who are looking to produce more sustainably?
Organise your business in order to lower your impact. Be passionate and rigorous in your research, in your choice of materials. Carefully monitor the entire production chain, and always uphold your ethical, solidarity and environmental values. Reducing waste, recycle, don’t transport your items unnecessarily or organise unnecessary deliveries, educate your employees and partners and above all respect the work of every single person in your supply chain.
What exciting new projects do you have coming up in the pipeline for the Laura Strambi brand?
I finally managed, together with my team, to realise my dream of producing a perfume, which I absolutely adore, and in which I truly recognise myself. My desire was to create a completely natural perfume that was suitable for the body and the environment at the same time, combining the scents of the Mediterranean with some prominent notes. It is called fragrance N* 1. A project of accessories built with completely sustainable materials is also in the pipeline