Symonne Torpy, Head of Cross Channel Conception at BETC Etoile Rouge, has mastered the art of purchasing iconic pieces from premium brands and selling them on Vestiaire Collective to fund buying more for her collection. This new way of consuming fashion highlights the sustainable side of fashion. Hear more about her experience about working in a luxury department and how the fashion industry can turn its concern for sustainability into concrete action.
Why do you think fashion is still important in our current times?
Fashion tells a powerful story about what inspires us, our moods, our choices, and what we want to celebrate about ourselves. Expressing those facets is deeply human. And it’s part of the spice of life! Yet fashion is not just about self-expression. Fashion is social glue. It connects us with others, sparks conversations about our identities, reveals our status, makes symbolic and political statements. That’s been the case throughout history.
Today, the number of hyper visual terrains we navigate has burgeoned and will continue to multiply. Whether you’re having an ephemeral street encounter, bonding with a community online, or shooting your way through Fortnite, you have so many more opportunities for fashion expression, and the ability to pick and choose different facets of yourself to share with multiple worlds.
The industry is also, more than ever before, at the heart of critical debates we all need to be having about sustainability, inequality, diversity, and social responsibility. In that sense, fashion is an important social elevator but also a great leveller. We are all human. We have the desire to engage with fashion in our own unique ways, yet we all share the burden of helping resolve the many issues it creates or reveals. I think that paradox defines our current zeitgeist.
How do you feel luxury brands can impact the world in a positive way?
To be blunt, luxury brands have the money, power and exposure to make the changes they wish to see in the world. And as capitalist actors, they are driven by the desires of their consumers to react to global need.
With increasing pressure from luxury audiences to be more sustainable, socially conscious, diverse, and equitable, we are finally seeing a shift. As luxury brands compete for consumer choice and loyalty, the push to do meaningful good is becoming ingrained in every strategic brand plan. Whether or not the drivers behind doing good are purely innocent, they do lead to positive change.
In addition, we often neglect the fact that quality and artisanship are key tenets of luxury. That means the industry is underpinned by values of slower consumption, less waste, more protections for workers and their savoir-faire. It’s of course debatable whether all luxury brands respect this, but it’s something I hope we are turning back towards as we seek better, more responsible patterns of consumption.
Do you feel fortunate to work in a job that matches your personal interest?
Waking up stimulated, joyful, and inspired has always been my goal. Being paid for that obviously brings more joy to the table. I am grateful to be working in a job that matches my personal interest, not only because it keeps me fulfilled on a personal, creative level, but also because it puts me in touch with people who share the same passions. I have found my family here. We appreciate and respect what we each do on a deep level, and we share pleasure in what we create together.
Should the fashion industry be more concerned about sustainability?
The fashion industry is already concerned about sustainability. You see it in the way we approach fashion advertising. Almost every campaign has a mention of environmental or social responsibility. And most brands are taking steps towards ameliorating their environmental credentials. But concern is not enough. When it comes to sustainability, it’s not the thought that counts. The sentiment needs to be translated into consequential, dramatic action, and industry-wide regulation.
Do you believe that the fashion customer cares about sustainability?
What is a “fashion customer” really? We come from every stratum of society, from every walk of life, from every subculture.
Indeed, as educated human beings living in 2022, we all care to some level about sustainability. The question is, do we care enough to act? And do we have the privilege to do so?
Does the fashion-conscious, single, working mother have the resources to pay that little bit extra to make a sustainable choice? Is she aware of the affordable circular fashion options available to her, like thrifting, clothes swapping, reselling, or recycling? Does she have the time to make use of these options? Does she have the geographical access to them?
Is a Gen Z university student going to choose sustainability over the desire to define and express their ever-evolving identity? Will they choose to buy high quality garments that endure but make less of a statement, or will they indulge in regular shopping sprees on Shein? Will they do both?
Will the luxury addict take the time to repair their favorite pieces, or to resell their goods when the season is over? Will they remember to refill their perfume bottle instead of simply moving on to a new product?
In the end, we need to take a nuanced and contextually relevant approach to fashion customers. We need to understand where they’re coming from, their potential resistance to sustainable practices, and offer them accessible ways to positively participate in the fashion cycle.
What are the steps that consumers should take to be more considerate about the environment in their buying experience?
Consumers should not be intimidated or overwhelmed by the largess of the global environmental issue. Buy quality garments you love and will wear over and over again. Know where your clothing comes from and how each brand you buy is working towards positive change. Purchase locally produced items to cut the carbon impact of delivery, and support artisanship over industrial production. Swap clothes between friends. Repair things instead of throwing them away. Thrift and resell.