Ioana Ficut-Parola has a background in computer science and holds an MSc degree from ETH Zurich. She is the co-founder of Butterfly, a search platform helping anyone to easily find sustainable fashion. Her goal is to secure, with the help of technology, a better future for the coming generations, while preserving the environment.
How did you discover that there was an alternative to fast fashion? Was it linked to a particular event or trigger?
There was some sort of trigger, but then, of course, I grew into it. While I was still a student my dream was, once I got a job, to buy the whole Zara 😀 But when that moment arrived, I came across a couple of articles that were presenting the sad realities in the fashion industry. This had an effect on me especially because many of these stories with underpaid people working in inhuman conditions were coming from my home country, Romania. This was if you want the trigger that determined me to look for alternatives. Further, it came the need for higher quality, because as a working person I did not have the time to go clothes shopping so often and also did not want to put up anymore with blouses that change shape and color after just 2 washes.
What does ethical fashion mean to you? How do you express it with your clothes?
As mentioned also above, the ethical aspect closest to my heart is the social one. For me ethical fashion means that nobody has a miserable life while working on my clothes. I just don’t want, as much as I can and know, to be part of this. Once my interest in sustainability grew, I learnt also about the environmental impact our clothes have. Since then I am also looking at how much the item moved through the world before arriving in my hands, I am searching for natural, organic fabrics that can be esily recycled.
Beyond researching and choosing mostly brands that are transparent and ethical, I definitely buy only things that I know I will want to wear forever. It is not only a way to reduce the resources consumed by my closet, but it also help me select clothes that are keeping their quality over time and make me look good. Like this I am trying to be respectful with the people who made my clothes, with the planet and with myself.
Which values do you believe should be put into practice by this industry? How do you integrate them into your clothes?
There are many values that lack in the industry and one of the most important ones is related to how we regard our clothes, which now are seen as easily disposable. Studies show that the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles gets landfilled or burned every single second of every day of the year. And 50% of fast fashion items are disposed in less than a year. And this is an area where the consumers have a lot of power to change things, by understanding that when you throw away a T-shirt you are not wasting just 20 francs, but all the time and effort of people who created it, all the resources used, all the energy and emissions produced to create it.
It might sound silly, but apart from choosing sustainable brands, I have this theory of buying expensive clothes (whatever expensive means for my budget), seeing it as a long-term investment. This makes me take better care of them, I am happier when wearing them and ultimately these better items also make me look better 🙂
The theme of this year’s Fashion Revolution Week is transparency. How do you express it in your work or in your daily life?
I think transparency is a prerequisite in understanding if what you buy is ethical or not. This is why with the platform we are developing, Butterfly, we want to offer exactly this – easy access to transparency for anyone interested to buy better clothes. In this way people don’t need to undergo extensive research, but they can just search for what they want to buy on the platform and receive as results ethical alternatives, including a rating which shows the degree of sustainability – from an environmental, social and animal welfare point of view.
I am happy to see that this is a need also recognized by Fashion Revolution.
What are the biggest obstacles you face in putting a more ethical fashion into practice?
Exactly what we were talking about in the previous question Transparency – knowing if our clothes are indeed made in an ethical manner, if everyone involved is working in safe and decent conditions and get paid a living wage, knowing how much pollution was created in the process, and finally knowing which are the better alternatives. This lack of transparency, together with the fact that information, when available, is presented in long and complicated manner, makes it extremely difficult for the regular consumer to choose something more ethical. One really needs to do a lot of research and understand complex concepts in order to make a trivial buying decision.
This is on customer side. On industry side it’s of course the aggressive rush for profits, and lower production costs, while disregarding the impact left on the planet. It’s a system, a model in place for decades already and therefore difficult to change. But there are many new and successful brands that focus on producing ethically, and also many existing big brands are taking steps in this direction. We are going to get there, just that the process is very slow.
What should a consumer pay more attention to?
I think one of the biggest dangers nowadays is the green washing. This is when brands are not committed to an overall ethical way of doing things, but just try to save face with some collections or some clothing lines which have some recycled fabric or organic cotton. So this is one aspect anyone should pay attention – not to fall in this trap.
Another element to pay attention to and which I repeated several times is quality. This is one indication of durability, which has a great environmental contribution. For example, by doubling the life of clothing from one to two years, we can help reduce emissions from clothing production and disposal by as much as 24%. Buying less, but of better quality pays off also in term of personal expenses, in this way you are basically saving money.
An advice that anybody can apply immediately if they want to opt for a more responsible fashion?
Buy less, use more creatively the items you already have. If you really need to buy something, consider vintage. Otherwise, choose something of good quality, that brings you joy and you will be wearing many times. Finally, as advised by Fashion Revolution, ask yourself, the shop assistants and the brands #whomademyclothes.
And of course once our app Butterfly is ready, use it to find the more responsible options.
Tell us a slogan that represents you.
Oh, I have many, I love quotes 🙂 A slogan in line with the interview’s topic that my mom is repeating often and which I try to follow is: “I am too poor to buy cheap things”.