If you can't drink it...wear it!
Milk proteins are being turned into textile fibres, then used to create the pieces of Giulia Mazzer, the Italian-born founder of Giulia Rien à Mettre. After completing a degree in architecture in Switzerland, Mazzer honed her skills while working with internationally respected architectural firms, including Fuksas in Rome and SANAA in Tokyo. Mazzer then went on to collaborate with the celebrated director and stage designer Robert Wilson in New York.
|A piece from the A/W 2012-13 Collection.
Photograph by Gloria Ferres.
All of Mazzer's creations are driven by her strong desire to demonstrate that ethics, the environment and social responsibility are instrumental to the art of living in a refined manner. With this in mind, the designer launched her first collection in 2011 and most recently, presented her A/W 2012-13 collection (a series of dresses inspired by wartime and post-war fashion) in Milan.
As Mazzer explains: "In this new collection, the dresses have the allure of a governess and the charm of a spy woman. Pencil skirts, padded shoulders, defined waistlines, hemlines reaching the knee and a slim-fit, rigorous silhouette." The name of her label, Guilia Rien à Mettre, aims to draw attention to our consumption habits; as the brand's website notes, "we so often say we have 'nothing to wear,' even in front of a closet full of clothes."
Mazzer's design style combines her green manufacturing soul with architectonic cuts. Milk fibre, organic cotton and Ahimsa silk are her main ingredients, all of which are exclusively made in Italy.
Silvia Brambilla: How are milk fibres produced?
Giulia Mazzer: To make milk protein fibres, milk is first de-watered and skimmed in order to get a suitable fluid for the wet spinning process necessary to soften the milk and its naturally-occurring proteins. We obtain milk fibre from the polymerisation of casein and modacrylic. The result is a textile containing a protein with more than 17 amino acids, which may also have beneficial properties for human skin, such as nourishing and softening.
SB: You also use Ahimsa silk in your collections. What are some of its characteristics? How is it produced?
GM: "Ahimsa" is a Sanskrit word, meaning "non-violent." Silkworm cocoons are subjected to boiling in order to eliminate the gum layer covering them - a cruel way in which millions of silkworms die every year.
Ahimsa silk is the non-violent silk endorsed by Gandhi through his strong awareness campaign; cocoons are not boiled, but instead the process begins after the complete metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly. We basically use the leftover shell once the butterfly has emerged from it - there is no violence, only respect. All aspects of production are clean, healthy and honourable; cocoons are raised in small family farms without the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, genetic engineering or any other practice of disrepute.
The silk is hand spun with traditional methods that result in very high quality silk. The philosophy of this silk doesn't follow the terrible logic, where in order to gain what one wants in the quickest time possible, no respect is shown to anything or anybody. This is what makes Ahimsa silk so precious; the manufacturing process has been passed on through the centuries.
SB: What is the environmental impact of these materials?
GM: Milk fibres are green fibres, produced by using the waste fats from milk processing, they are also biodegradable. These are the reasons why milk protein fibres obtained the international certification Oeko-Tex Standard 100, a globally uniform testing and certification system for textile raw materials, intermediate and end products at all stages of production.
The impact of Ahimsa silk is surely low because the process avoids killing millions of silkworms! The spinning method is not the industrial one, but handmade. Social and environmental impact are both crucial themes for me: Giulia Rien à Mettre supports the principles of fair trade to maximise benefits to people and communities while minimising the impact on the environment. That is why our collections are made from eco-friendly fabrics, respect every living being and avoid wasting water.
SB: The use of such materials must be very expensive for a young label.
GM: Yes, to buy such raw materials and to work by respecting the principles of fair trade means higher expenses. We don't exploit the workforce; workers receive right payments for their efforts, they can maintain their families and work in good and safe conditions.
SB: Are your creations 100% made in Italy?
GM: Giulia Rien à Mettre sustains the idea of slow fashion through 100% made in Italy; every item is handmade in Italy. We care about quality more than quantity. With the label, I search for a more significant interaction between designer and producer, producer and product, product and the person who will wear it. It is not just a chain production process - for me it is a link among persons.
SB: From architecture to fashion designing; did your academic background influence the choices you made with your label?
GM: My university degree deeply influenced my relationship with the environment and allowed me to develop a greater awareness towards the ecological problems of our planet. I changed my habits: I only use public transportation or my bicycle, buy organic food, practice yoga…
As a fashion designer I am influenced by my background. Fashion is not so different from architecture - they both involve creativity and production processes to turn an idea into sketches and then into something concrete. Raw materials, research, details, choosing the right combination of materials, creating prototypes - these elements are in both fashion and architecture.
|A piece from the A/W 2012-13 Collection.
Photograph by Gloria Ferres.
SB: In the near future, do you think the use of the alternative textile fibres will become more common?
GM: The fashion industry is one of the last industries to change from older production models to green ones. It is imperative now to make different choices because consumers are much more aware of environmental problems and of cruel practices towards animals; it is my opinion that fashion designers need to learn to speak the language of the green economy if they want to be understood and taken seriously.
Sometimes the most important fashion houses pretend to understand the new awareness of their clients by interpreting the environmental emergencies as a temporary issue and not as the beginning of a cultural change that would mean a complete transformation of their production models. Sustainability will become a permanent factor in the world of the consumer goods.
SB: Do you really think so?
GM: Yes! We are living in a period of cultural change that can be compared with the hygienic revolution of the nineteenth century. At that time, satisfying new hygienic principles meant that a product would succeed on the market. Yet now, asserting that a product should be appreciated because it is "clean" wouldn't make any sense at all! The same will happen in the next 20 years with the concept of sustainability.
There is a very limited offering of certified organic fabrics. We do a great deal of research behind the collections: we check local and international fairs and pay particular attention to small niche textile businesses. It gives us the chance to find unique fabrics and, in addition to Ahimsa silk and milk fibres, we also use eco-friendly cotton and hemp cloth.
SB: What are your goals for the future?
GM: We believe in and will keep sustaining the 3Ps: profit, people, planet. Our major goal for the future is to keep on conjugating development, social balance and environmental protection, so we will more and more collaborate with foundations and non-profit organizations.
That's why our motto is "Re-fashioning the Planet"; we aim to be the new interpreters of the Made in Italy eco-friendly excellence.
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