Fashion at EUR – an interview with dr. Mariangela Lavanga

Project manager and researcher of Re-Frame Fashion, co-initiator of Culture.Fashion (an open, value-driven, network in the field of fashion and textile) and participating in a roundtable on Dutch-Italian collaborations in sustainable fashion, dr. Mariangela Lavanga (ESHCC) has a busy schedule. In this interview, Mariangela elaborates on these projects and on fashion education at EUR.

What is your opinion on the range of education at EUR in the field of fashion and design?

I would say that our school is a pioneer in this respect. I still remember the first thesis I supervised on entrepreneurship and sustainable fashion in 2013. In 2014 I introduced the course on ‘Economics of Design’ in the Master Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship and started an NWO KIEM project on local production and fashion in Rotterdam with WdKA, Hogeschool Rotterdam and fashion stakeholders. It seems ages ago, but now we can count on a Minor Fashion Industry with my colleagues Ben Wubs from History department and Ana Uribe Sandoval from Media department, and a new course on ‘Heritage and Fashion’ with Ben Wubs, part of our Erasmus+ KA Strategic Partnership Re-Frame Fashion (together with Dauphine University in Paris, Gdansk University of Technology and international fashion stakeholders).

The minor is a huge success. We started in September 2016 and have ca. 30 students every year coming from all faculties on campus, from EUC, but also from TU/delft and Leiden University. Furthermore, through Re-Frame Fashion we are bringing our school and EUR on the map of fashion education in Europe. At the end of October, we will host a virtual event where we will present the results of our project together with our partner universities and fashion stakeholders. We will discuss education innovation in fashion and heritage, fashion and sustainability, fashion and entrepreneurship. Stay tuned!

You’re co-initiator of Culture.Fashion. What is this project about?

Last year I was invited by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) to join a national taskforce to develop a national fashion programme (‘OCW Mode Programma’). Just before lockdown, we kicked-off the ‘OCW Mode Programma: werksessie’ in the beautiful City Council of Arnhem with over 100 Dutch fashion stakeholders.

Last May we launched the platform Culture.Fashion, an open, value-driven, network in the field of fashion and textile. The overreaching mission is to contribute to a fashion industry that addresses inclusivity, collaboration and circularity and that puts the cultural and societal values of fashion forward. I am among one of the initiators, along with FASHIONCLASH, MAFB, M-ODE, State of Fashion, TextileLab Amsterdam | Waag and Lisa Wortels, part of the core team for mapping fashion in NL and for the impact/assessment of the programme as well.

Last Monday, you have participated in a roundtable on Dutch-Italian collaborations in sustainable fashion. Can you tell us a bit more of what was discussed at this table?

Sustainable fashion is one of the priorities of the Embassy and Consulate General of The Kingdom of the Netherlands in Italy. The roundtable was organized because one of their planned trade missions to Italy was cancelled due to the Corona outbreak. It was fascinating to hear about current collaborations among Dutch and Italian entrepreneurs, e.g. textile innovation and recycling; a QR code to assess how much a clothing item saves in terms of energy, CO2 and water; a fashion start-up bootcamp; a sustainable luxury brand in modest fashion.

I introduced what we are doing at EUR and discussed the collaboration I have with Slow Fashion Italy and the cooperative CreAzioni Moda in Molise, the region where I come from. ​​Slow Fashion Italy aims at revaluing the lost skills following the bankruptcy of Ittierre, one of the largest fashion manufacturers in Italy. I discussed the values of fashion in peripheral and rural areas, the potential for the revitalization of the territory and local community, and how beneficial a collaboration with the Netherlands could be.

What is your vision for the fashion industry in the Netherlands?

It is a difficult question to answer because I don’t feel I have a vision for the Netherlands per se. The fashion industry is a global industry, but still fragmented. The Netherlands needs the expertise in high quality textile production and recycling, craftsmanship and manufacturing from other countries. The Corona pandemic shows even more how much each country is dependent on each other. The roundtable organized by the Embassy reinforced the strategic importance of cooperation across nations.

Culture.Fashion, supported by OCW, is all about the values of fashion and building networks, increasing inclusivity and circularity. Systemic thinking, long-term collaborations, regulations, and harmonization of standards and certifications are all essential to move towards a sustainable and circular fashion, but we need coordination. Maybe the Netherlands can play a key intermediary role in this respect.

I am writing an article on the role of institutions in the transition to a more sustainable fashion industry with colleagues from Canada and Australia. Approximately half of the global sustainable fashion intermediaries are based in the Netherlands. After all, we always mention to our students that we train them to become intermediaries between the arts and business fields, and much more, and foster their analytical but also collaborative skills in an international classroom. Some of them are already working for global sustainable fashion organizations and are or will be taking the lead in the transition to a better fashion industry.