It's Up to Us

Leonardo da Vinci’s newly restored ceiling at Sforza Castle, a short walk from my apartment, featuring a canopy of intertwined mulberry trees.

Leonardo da Vinci’s newly restored ceiling at Sforza Castle, a short walk from my apartment, featuring a canopy of intertwined mulberry trees.

In June, I completed a four-week Bag Design course, at the end of which we presented a hypothetical collection along with research on our market and brand. One student, when sharing an early version of her brand vision, said cheerily, “I want it to be sustainable, but not too sustainable.” This resulted in a wry chuckle from the instructor, and a conversation ensued about the use of “sustainable” as a conscience-soothing buzzword, one that was quickly losing its meaning. Because the fact is, as absurd as it sounds, “sustainable but not too sustainable” is exactly the goal for today’s fashion brands and corporations in general. Everyone wants to get on the sustainability PR train, but no one wants to do anything that might compromise growth, climate be damned.

Everyone wants to get on the sustainability PR train, but no one wants to do anything that might compromise growth, climate be damned.

My walks to and from school have been a bit less idyllic these last few weeks, as the temperatures have been in the 90s most days, passing 100 more than once. Heat records were set across Europe for the month of June, which proved to be the hottest June ever. Last week I was sitting at a sewing machine when the power went out, a result of air conditioners working on overdrive across the city. Even the perennially put-together Milanese women look wilted these days.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a park during my lunch break, the heat lessened by the shade of a stand of sycamore trees, and questioned, once again, the path I was on. I had recently finished The Overstory, Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about humanity’s blindness to the wonder and power of the natural world, and all I wanted was to stay sitting under the trees instead of returning to our basement classroom to discuss merchandising strategies. In the days that followed, instead of researching competing brands and conducting market research in Milan’s renowned fashion district, I found myself reading obsessively about scientists’ dire predictions about climate change and about the positive deep adaptation and climate rebellion movements. I was in a state of mind that wasn’t conducive to writing coherent and uplifting blog posts, hence this quiet period on my blog and social media. 

I wish I could say I figured it all out and can now present to you my findings, but I didn’t and I can’t. But I’m grateful to have a disposition that skews toward optimism with a touch of protective denial, so I couldn’t stay in the dark world of climate catastrophe and societal collapse indefinitely. Still, I can’t return to a time where I thought we could all keep doing what we’re doing and everything would work out somehow. 

I’m not ready to share how my deep dive of the past month has resulted in an action plan for my life and business, because things are still developing. But I can say that I’m going to keep making bags, and thanks to my learning over the last four months, they’re going to be even better. But, I’m thinking a lot more these days about the profound changes we all will need to make if we want to hold onto the privilege of living on this planet. And a lot of those changes will need to happen outside of the framework of consuming our troubles away. 

A lot of those changes will need to happen outside of the framework of consuming our troubles away. 

It has taken me a while to find something coherent to say to my teeming millions of readers (hi, Mom!). This is the best I can do for now, but I promise more is to come, and it won’t be all doom and gloom. Stay tuned, friends.