What it takes to be a sustainable fashion expert
From the inside looking out
Each month our resident sustainable fashion expert Valentina Zarew takes a deep dive into the world of sustainable fashion for us, from the brands to trust making genuine change to the questions her friends always ask her and championing us all to ask #whomademyclothes. It’s a complex and nuanced world she works in, so we decided to ask her what exactly it takes to become an expert in her field.
I grew up in Canberra with migrant parents, my mother is Macedonian, born in Egypt, and my father is Russian, born in Germany. I’m one of seven children and I was mostly raised by my grandparents in the early days, which through watching them in their garden and maintaining ties to their Russian community is how I learned a huge appreciation for growing your own food, understanding cultural diversity, languages and after my mother and father separated, a lens on social structures and inequality.
Later I was lucky enough to spend time in Brazil, with a family that so graciously accommodated me and encouraged me to work in local favela’s. Prior to this experience I was really interested in studying law, however, the systemic influences at play led me to study in commerce (my favourite subject being economics – not that I was great at it, but it influenced the way I see the world now) and marketing – business, and storytelling.
Taking on roles in consumer insights, communications and then founding my own businesses within these fields, the pull to work in business strategy and positive impact, coupled with my love for design and fashion (I used to sew my own clothing at university, directed a play that really engaged students to design the costumes, and have always admired the creativity and expression of Marnie Skillings, Michelle Jank, Oscar De La Renta etc), I moved into study within sustainability and fashion strategy, which saw me take on roles as sustainability manager with H&M and Spell.
After a lot of hard work, trying to familiarise myself with the importance of data, science, storytelling and strategy – as well as an internal growth process, I am now dedicating my time to helping individuals and brands and my team, drive a New Luxury © through Newromantic. A New Luxury © is the positive transformation of People, Planet and Profit. I’ve always hated the word consultant – language is really important when it comes to behaviour change, and consultancies come with a set of old founded implications – at Newromantic, we are part of your team – it’s about empowerment, leadership and empathy at the core.
According to the Australian Fashion Council, the Australian fashion industry is worth just under $23 billion dollars. If we think about this in terms of the traditional GDP economics – such as Doughnut Economics (an exciting new paradigm of quantifying output) – this realises an industry that is powerful to create systemic change. As people that study economics, communications and leadership, the ‘why’ presents pure potential for impact and major systemic change. I find myself beyond privileged to work with the next generation of business leaders, enabling them to develop a vision – created by the whole team, a roadmap that is feasible and reporting systems that are accountable and at the end of the day, enable them to tell their story.
I truly believe in system change – as individuals we are empowered by knowledge, let’s democratise this, let’s enable the next generations of leaders and let’s help them tell their stories.
Valentina is a sustainability expert, with among other accreditations a certificate of sustainability from the University of Bath. She is focussed on working with the brands of the future to help shape their strategy, sustainability framework, stories and partnerships. You can connect with her at [email protected], or follow her on Instagram. @valya___z.
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