Sustainability is the common thread in new label’s fashionsby Antoinette Fionda-Douglas
Antoinette was delighted to be featured in The Glasgow Herald.
Sustainability is the common thread in new label’s fashions
IT is estimated the fashion industry produces 13 million tons of textile waste every year, much of which is generated from the manufacturing process.
An advocate of the slow-fashion movement, Scottish entrepreneur Antionette Fionda-Douglas says her company – Beira – was launched as a direct result of this issue.
Founded in 2018, Beira manufactures and sells womenswear made from discarded materials from the luxury fashion industry. Her co-founder, Flavio Forlani, who is also owner of Italian manufacturing company, La Rocca, wanted to do something purposeful with the new fabric and materials being discarded during the manufacturing process at his factory near Milan for clients such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
“The fashion industry is still the second largest polluting industry in the world,” stresses Ms Fionda-Douglas, 42, co-founder and MD at Beira.
“People look at fashion and often dismiss it very quickly, but the impact it has on jobs, and the impact it has on the climate is absolutely huge.
“We need to stop treating it as a frivolous thing and make the industry more sustainable. We purchase waste that would have been going to landfill and produce limited edition women’s clothing focused on value, longevity and quality.”
After spending time as a designer and working at a menswear brand (where she met her business partner Flavio), Ms Fionda-Douglas completed her PhD in luxury fashion and started lecturing at Glasgow Caledonian University. She still manages to lecture part-time at Heriot-Watt. Her academic background has seen her present at numerous global events, including being asked to speak at the UN’s Responsible Luxury Summit and she also appeared at Fashion Nation (a global gathering of leading industry experts, held twice a year in the US).
Based in Edinburgh, Ms Fionda-Douglas is on the board of Sustainable Fashion Scotland (a community social enterprise) and is a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Accelerator programme for Entrepreneurs.
“It really has opened up a lot of doors and I have learned so much from my mentor and in going to the sessions,” she says of Accelerator.
“Through it, I recently managed to get through to the final of a national pitching competition. I learned the formula of how to pitch from more of a business aspect. You’re just constantly learning different things and it can take you out of your comfort zone, which is always really important I think when you’re trying to build a business.”
While many established fashion websites have been faring well during the pandemic, Ms Fionda-Douglas admits her fledgling company made 75% of its turnover from pop-up shop events pre-covid.
“Our biggest challenge really has been Covid-related issues. Relying on a digital platform for sales means people can look at the product and think it looks nice, but trying it on in person means they would be more likely to fall in love.
“We couldn’t produce all of our spring/ summer collection because the factory, which is close to Bergamot – one of the worst affected areas in Italy – had to close. It has been challenging, but the company is moving in the right direction.”
She highlights consumer habits as one of the areas that will have to change before the big designer corporations take any action. And in order to change attitudes to fast fashion staff, she says, should be paid properly and consumers educated on pricing policy within the industry.
“Our best-selling jacket sells at £250, essentially that would be about £800 if we bought the fabric at full price and put a full mark up on it. Because we sell direct, we take a smaller mark up.
“We have huge control, because we have a very short supply chain. I know the names of everyone making the products – they are paid €28 an hour and we are very open about that.
“I’m being completely transparent about the pricing policy, a lot of people told me I was crazy for doing that, but I believe it’s the only way you can educate consumers about what’s actually happening within the industry.
“This hyper normalisation of companies that are so huge they are encumbered by their legacy, it’s really hard for them to be ethical because they don’t have full control over their supply chain.”
Beira, named after a mythical figure in Celtic folklore, follows a circular economy model giving the company an 82% saving on its carbon footprint across their entire collection.
Despite being a small fish in a big pond, Ms Fionda-Douglas is confident more people will seek to become conscious consumers.
She says: “We are a tiny part of change and every part of that change adds up. Educating people about how products are made, how much each process actually costs, I think that in itself is a good starting point for change.
“If we can tackle that, then we’re making a huge change for the climate, sustainability, and also for social justice.”