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August 23 2014

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Elizabeth von Guttman and Alexia Niedzielski Talk Going Green, Ever Manifesto, and That Little Balenciaga Vs. Nicolas Ghesquière Lawsuit

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 Alexia Niedzielski and Elizabeth von Guttman

Editors Elizabeth von Guttman and Alexia Niedzielski are not your typical sustainable-fashion activists. They’re not into hemp, and their vision of eco-clothing is more tailored metallic faux-leather Suno than organic cotton tee. They founded Ever Consulting, their eco-conscious think tank, along with Charlotte Casiraghi in 2009 on the premise that environmental awareness does not necessitate aesthetic or social restriction. Last week, the duo launched a new collaboration with mass retail giant H&M, as well as the latest edition of Ever Manifesto, their free print publication dedicated to thoughtful—and positively charged rather than reprimanding—conversation in eco issues. We caught up with Von Guttman and Niedzielski, who were dialing in from London and Brazil respectively, to talk about the new issue, “Ever Conscious”; what’s next for eco-fashion; and, as co-editors of System magazine, just how they feel about that Nicolas Ghesquière-Balenciaga lawsuit.

Tell us about the new issue.
EVG: This is the third issue. Each time we take a different theme. This one, since it was partnered with H&M, is so much bigger than what we’re used to. Before, we did one with Gucci, which was great, but it was much more exclusive and luxury-oriented. This one was a great opportunity to talk to a bigger audience and also to make sustainable fashion a bit more available and affordable. We collected all these amazing people we had met throughout the years who have inspired us in different regions—fashion, design, activists, celebrities—and gave them a platform to explain all the wonderful things that they’re doing. We included Pharrell Williams, who has a new company called Bionic Yarn that does all this tech stuff with recycled plastic; Elettra [Wiedemann], who is obsessed with food; and Dianna Cohen, who is an activist against plastic.

Ever ManifestoI love the cover.

EVG: It’s kind of funny, no? It’s a little tongue-in-cheek. We wanted to show some humor, too. We always collaborate with different artists, and this one was Carsten Höller, a great contemporary artist. He did the big slide. He’s been obsessed with consciousness. So there’s this thing that you do with chimpanzees, and he actually did it with his newborn baby. You put your baby in front of a mirror with a dot on its forehead and the moment where the child rubs the dot off its forehead, that’s where you realize that they gain consciousness. So this is the inspiration for the cover. It’s about the theme of self-reflection and awareness and consciousness.

I think that’s where this whole project started: around the self-consciousness idea and also the selfie. The selfie was added as a word into the dictionary last year. Selfies are so…everyone in the industry does selfies. It pushes this idea of self-consciousness but not always in a positive way. What we were trying to do was change that idea and to raise the awareness of collective consciousness. We wanted to make a conscious selfie instead of just this or selfish selfie. Through a social media campaign, we want to open it up to the public and ask people to take conscious selfies around the world.

From a sustainability standpoint, how do you feel the industry is changing?
EVG: I think that maybe trying to be a bit more transparent. That was not the case at all a couple years ago. People are starting to open up, and I think this is a good thing because no one should do great things on their own. People are much more educated and they are finally realizing that sustainable fashion is not only about organic cotton. But there’s still so much to do. That’s why it’s so important to keep on persisting and create more awareness and to propose ideas about how to create in better ways and more responsible ways.

AN: I think the customers and the brands have gained more consciousness over the last few years. The customers are demanding more information from the brands. It’s like a few years ago in the food industry—the customers demanded more organic food and now there is. That has to transfer to the fashion industry. If there’s more demand for these kinds of products, I think companies will produce more ethical products and more beautiful clothes.

They have to be desirable, as well as sustainable.
AN: Yes. You don’t want to just go buy something because it’s green. You want to buy it because it’s beautiful and also green. I think there are more and more brands, like Maiyet and Suno, that are doing great things. People are realizing that we can have both. There’s no compromise anymore.

So what are some things that we as consumers can do?
AN: We have a choice every time we purchase. I think they need to show it by buying something that they think is responding to their needs, and being responsible should be one of them. Elizabeth and I—we’ve changed along the way. We’ve consumed more responsibly.

EVG: We can just be a bit more informed. Information is out there now. Take a little bit more time before you purchase. Think twice about it.

I wanted to ask you as well about System, and the process of publishing more intellectual magazines in a climate where everything is about tweet-size consumption and being easily digestible.
EVG: We need content. We need consistency in content. So much of what is out there is a lot of the same, and that’s why we’re always trying to work and make new ways. I think it’s about pushing yourself constantly, about pushing the limits and redefining the limits. That’s what we’re trying to do with all the projects we do.

AN: I think, also, when we print something, we want it to last. We’re obviously against disposable fashion but also disposable printed material. We want to print passionate products—more like objects—and something that you can pick up a year later and it’s still relevant.

What are your thoughts on Balenciaga’s legal action following Nicolas Ghesquière’s words in System? You gave him the space.
EVG: Obviously, this was the kind of hot topic of the season. This is not really what we’re about. We’re not looking for the scoop. We’re just looking for great stories. We turned out to be the scoop of the season. But it’s not what we looked for.

AN: I think [Balenciaga] moved on. Most of us have moved on from the drama and tried to do great things. [Alexander Wang's] first collection was great, and I think there’s so much to look forward to. I just hope everyone has moved on, because it’s a shame to rest on the little quarrels, and I think everyone should be above all of that by now. There are so many other things to focus on for everyone.

Photo: Matthew Stone 

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