Sustainability Hype Hallmark of MFW

MILAN—From the industrial wasteland stage at Zegna to the plastic bottle-filled sea ceiling at Marni... Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week, if anything, reminded us all of the damage man has inflicted on this planet. 

Marni Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in Milan. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.


But in an ocean of vibrant prints and weather-resistant ensembles, how much of it can actually biodegrade into the earth without polluting our air, water, and soil? Is this merely the sign of the times, or a sign that the tide is finally changing. 

“We are headed in the right direction, but not fast enough,” said Carlo Capasa from the front row of the Numero 00 show where models shed their superfluous garments and finished the show in their underwear. 

The invitation for the fashion show was made with a plastic-like material constructed entirely of corn. When asked about what part of the collection is actually eco-friendly, its press office said that out of a total of 110 garments, about ten of those were made with the use of organic and recycled fabrics. 

Less is more. Quality over quantity... These were the mantras of many brands who showcased their menswear collections here.

The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. The production and waste it creates all contribute to the various forms of environmental pollution, including water, air, and soil pollution.

“Big brands have made the shift, but those who really need to change are the fast fashion companies. And we really have nothing to do with fast fashion,” Capasa said, noting that smaller brands need help from the government to adopt a more costly, yet sustainable, business model. 

Numero 00 Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in Milan. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.


Small- and medium-sized companies are the bedrock of the Italian economy which just exited its third recession in just a decade. A fragmented government, a consumer spending slowdown, and an alarmingly high national debt will only hinder this process. Although small and large brands alike believe that if vanguard labels stampede into the sustainable market, it will drive down the costs for the entire sector. 

“To do something well you need to have the right partners to distribute and make it. It’s really expensive for a brand like mine to produce a sustainable collection in small numbers,” noted Dorian Stefano Tarantini, the Milanese DJ who established himself at the fashion capital’s legendary club, Plastic, and started his line in 2014. Tarantini has also designed for ISKO Denim, known for its high-end, innovative, and eco-friendly materials. “Sustainability means a lot to me. Maybe if more big brands become sustainable and purchase sustainable products, the sustainable industry will be more fluid.” 

In an attempt to comply with the Italian Chamber of Fashion’s sustainability goals for 2025, larger players like Prada, Versace, and Gucci are moving slowly but surely.  

Alessandro Sartori, creative director of Ermenegildo Zegna, said that the company is working on recovering waste and producing clothes and recycled plastic-based materials.  

Ermenegildo Zegna Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in Milan. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo for NOWFASHION.


On the runway, 10 looks out of the 48 that were unveiled at the show were 100 percent made with upcycled materials.

Earlier this month, Ferragamo released a capsule collection of accessories dubbed 42 Degrees, created by the studio’s designers Flavia Corridoni and Luciano Dimotta. The collection includes sneakers and shopping bags made from Made in Italy and eco-friendly materials, natural rubber dyed with vegetable colouring, soles made with corn, and textiles made from recycled plastics. This went in tandem with the unveiling of the brand’s exhibit dedicated to sustainability that was released at Pitti Uomo in Florence –  “Sustainable Thinking” – which explored the Tuscan-based brand’s path to an eco-friendly future. 

Much like the food they eat, Italians in the luxury sector insist their clothes are sustainable just like their prosciutto is organic. 

“We use the best fabrics on the market,” said Loris Messina, co-founder of Sunnei, a contemporary brand of mens and womens wear. Sunnei, which staged its show in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Milan destined to be revived by the City of Milan, sources its fabrics form the Albiate 1830, an arm of the Albini Group, which makes some of the highest quality sustainable cotton fabrics on the market.  

Backstage at the Sunnei Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in Milan. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.


In fact, in Italy, it is textile makers like the Albini Group that are at the forefront of manufacturing organic and eco-friendly fabrics. Others like denim fabric group Candiani, yarn makers Filpucci and Cariaggi, and startups like Orange Fiber that are making it possible for luxury designers worldwide to create fashions that are made with up-cycled or biomatter. Milano Unica, the largest textile fair in the nation, has been focused on shining the spotlight on sustainability and the advancements taking place within the textiles market in Italy for the past three years. 

Around the catwalk shows, critics weren’t swayed by the fashionable hype at Milan’s Spring/Summer 2020 collections.  

This week, news organisations like the Guardian started to use the term “climate emergency or crisis” in lieu of “climate change,” as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have rocketed to 415 parts per million, the highest level in human history. 

“We need even more technology and innovation. We need help from other sectors.  There are a number of ways fashion houses hit a wall when it comes to becoming completely sustainable, and only science and technology can help us with that,” Capasa said. 

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