Marina Polo and Britt Cosgrove are the founders of SVILU, a Mindfully Made sustainable fashion company, and finalists in the CFDA’s Sustainable Fashion Initiative. We talked about the present, and future, state of sustainable luxury, and the methods they use to build this framework into every stage of their design and manufacture process.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN FASHION AND HOW SVILU WAS BORN. WHEN DID YOU PASSION FOR SUSTAINABLE FASHION GET SPARKED?
We both worked in fashion for many years before starting SVILU. The focus was on making really beautiful clothes… period. When we started SVILU we realized we had this amazing “blank slate” to do things exactly the way we wanted to and not follow anyone else’s rules. While SVILU is design led – we wanted to think about more than just what things looked like. To us that meant re-conceiving how and why we make clothes with consideration for the environment, maker and wearer. At the time it just felt like common sense – why not make clothes that are less toxic and more timeless?
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT SVILU STANDS FOR AND IT’S IMPORTANCE TO THE DNA OF YOUR BRAND?
SVILU /svee-loo/ comes from sviluppare, which in Italian means to: develop / expand / evolve / generate / strengthen. We are both of Italian ancestry and we liked the sentiment behind the word. SVILU is a work in progress – the name is a nod to the underlying spirit of growth and change that drive our business. We like to try to things – introducing new designs, discovering new low-impact materials – sustainability and design are continuously evolving and so are we.
WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE CFDA SUSTAINABLE FASHION INITIATIVE WITH LEXUS? WHAT DID YOU LEARN DURING THAT PROCESS?
The CFDA is way ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable fashion and are some of the earliest champions promoting designers in this space. We are member of the CFDA and were finalists in The CFDA/Lexus Fashion Initiative. We had incredible mentors from the NRDC, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Eileen Fisher, etc. and the resounding advice we got was to be bold and not be afraid to ask difficult questions to your suppliers. Designers and manufacturers have a symbiotic relationship and if we don’t push on our end to find out where our fibers are coming from, what types of dyes are being used, what a mill does to treat their waste water and manage their carbon emissions – who is going to ask these questions? Now we have a comprehensive list of questions that we ask all our mills.
“Designers and manufacturers have a symbiotic relationship and if we don’t push on our end to find out where our fibers are coming from, what types of dyes are being used, what a mill does to treat their waste water and manage their carbon emissions – who is going to ask these questions?”
SVILU CONSIDERS THE WHOLE PICTURE WHEN IT COMES TO CREATING RESPONSBILY. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE STEPS YOU TAKE TO ENSURE THAT YOUR CLOTHES ARE ‘MINDFULLY MADE’?
We believe sustainability goes beyond carbon offsetting and recycled paper (though we like and use both these things). So we coined the term Mindfully Made to encompass what SVILU is all about.
At the primary level this means making choices that are better for the environment – using only low impact materials ranging from recycled polyesters made from plastic bottles, to organic cottons free from toxic chemicals.
We also think about the people that make our clothes, there is no SVILU without our makers. We’ve visited countless manufacturers to build a network of factories we trust and that meet our standards. Our manufacturing partners are compliant with state labor laws, pay their employees fair, livable wages, and provide clean and safe working conditions.
Finally we think about design. We believe good design is inherently sustainable. Clothes that are thoughtfully conceived to sustain both wear and whims – that are worth holding on to, taking care of, and make life a little bit better. Our goal is to build a wardrobe of fewer, better essentials that make you happy.
“The current administration seems set on reversing every step of progress that has been made in the past decades with regard to environmental protection, energy infrastructure and carbon emission regulation. We are a small business but we feel a responsibility to pay attention to what is happening and work diligently to fight back.”
TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR DESIGNS. WHAT DO YOU HOPE THAT A WOMEN WILL FEEL WHEN SHE WEARS SVILU?
First and foremost we want women to feel like themselves when they wear our clothes. We design for the intersection of purpose and joy – pieces that are a little bit special that you can wear for real life, everyday adventures….that means we put pockets in everything.
The greatest environmental impact of a garment comes from its material, so our design process starts with fabric – we’ve developed a library of the best sustainable materials available and use it as a base for our collection. Incredibly soft organic cottons, raw silks, drapy washed linens, recycled taffetas – these low impact materials help inform our designs. We are obsessed with how our clothes feel. We do at least 3 fittings before anything goes into production. We road- test our clothes to make sure the proportions are right, they move with you and can stand up to wear and washing.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE CURRENT STATE OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY? WHAT DIRECTION DO YOU SEE THE LUXURY FASHION SPACE HEADED?
We are definitely at a crossroads – when we started SVILU very few people were talking about sustainable fashion. Now this has become more mainstream – with everyone from H&M to Gucci taking a closer look at their supply chain. It’s really good progress yet we still have a ways to go. As the demand for truly sustainable fashion grows we need a better universal labeling system to ensure that we’re all on the same page about what’s important and to give our community a more complete way to understand this ever-changing landscape.
FINALLY WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE SVILU PLAYING THE MOVE TOWARDS RESPONSIBLE DESIGN?
The current administration seems set on reversing every step of progress that has been made in the past decades with regard to environmental protection, energy infrastructure and carbon emission regulation. We are a small business but we feel a responsibility to pay attention to what is happening and work diligently to fight back. Sustainability has always been at the root of SVILU but we feel an increasing sense of urgency to continue on our mission. We believe it’s important to shed light on what sustainability in fashion means – and it’s clear it’s going to take a collective effort to implement the change we want to see.