I knew who Matea Benedetti was for a few years before I finally heard her speak in October 2018. A few of my pieces were exhibited at a large exhibition in Ljubljana, Slovenia held during their Month of Design. The exhibition was amazing but I hadn’t been designing for two years prior to that. I was really focused on writing and saw my visit to Ljubljana as a chance to learn new things and meet people with innovative ideas.
I was particularly eager to hear Matea speak. At that moment, I already knew that Livia Firth loved her, that Suzy Menkes interviewed her at Milan Fashion Week and, honestly, just was genuinely excited to hear her speak about apple skin leather.
Matea started her career as a costume designer in theatres and operas in Slovenia before finally launching her sustainable brand in 2014. She was 100 percent committed to it since day one working with organic fibers and innovative textiles like aforementioned apple skin leather. That kind of devotion to sustainability which wasn’t a very hot subject 6 years ago, took her to prestigious fairs and shows in Milan, Paris, and Singapore among others. It has also led her to become one of the five finalists of the Green Carpet Award in 2017 organized by Livia Firth and highly appreciated by Vogue magazine.
Fast forward to two years after the exhibition in Ljubljana and I finally reached out to her and asked if she’d be interested in doing an interview for my tiny little blog. She answered in the very same hour in the kindest possible way and instantly had me doubting my interviewing skills and questioning every single word I was going to ask. It took some time but the excitement was much stronger than the self-doubt. Hence, I present you with the interview. Hope you enjoy it. Hope you learn something new.
What is a sustainable fashion for you? How would you define it?
Sustainable fashion uses only non-toxic, recycled or organic textiles and production practices, which do not harm the water, soil or human health. This was my focus when I established Benedetti Life a sustainable luxury and animal-free brand. Sustainable fashion even cares about the quality of manufacturing processes and supply chains and puts workers’ conditions at the forefront of operations.
You started your sustainable brand in 2014 which makes you one of the pioneers. What was the climate for starting a brand like that then? How hard was it? Did people even know what sustainable fashion is?
At that time nobody talked about sustainable luxury. I think I was one of the rare brands in the world that understood that first, we have to change the luxury market, then all the lower-priced brands will do the same. When I came to Milan, my first showroom was in one of the most known fashion streets Via Montenapoleone, and they took me as a new innovative brand. Nobody understood what was behind these poor garments. I was the only one in the whole showroom with the poorest look ever and the highest prices. The start was very difficult. Financially, aesthetically and in production.
I was one of the rare brands in the world that understood that first, we have to change the luxury market.
What has changed in the way you work since then? What have you learned?
I have learned not to compromise, to control everything, suppliers, textiles, papers for tags, certifications – its a huge research and you spend lots of hours in controlling everything. It is a challenge and a strong passion.
On your way, you were a Green Carpet Challenge finalist, Vogue Italia selected you as one of the 20 most promising eco-friendly clothing brands in the world, Suzy Menkes interviewed you. What is the most valuable experience or advice you collected on the way?
No matter what you have to be loyal to yourself. At the beginning all laughed at me, they didn’t understand how difficult it was to make sustainable fashion beautiful, how much more you have to pay for textiles, how many hours you have to spend to find companies on this planet that work fair trade and honestly, just to find an ecological print company I waited two years, today this is not a problem. This year Benedetti Life presented a Tencel Luxe dress at the pre-Oscars gala in Los Angeles at the Red Carpet Green Dress and won the ELUXE award for the Best Fashion Brand in the UK.
Which person you meet on the way had the biggest influence on you and why?
If I am honest – nobody. Because at that time they didn’t exist. Today I can say that there are lots of amazing people supporting and working in sustainability as is Livia Firth from Eco-Age, Suzy Cameron and Samata Pattison from Red Carpet Green Dress, Emmanuelle Rienda from Vegan Fashion Week and lots more, spreading awareness about animal rights and sustainability.
Who had the biggest influence on me? If I am honest – nobody.
What are the biggest challenges for sustainable fashion designers today? What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part is how to enter as an unknown brand in a luxury market. How to do amazing garments, but sustainable and how to challenge yourself to do even better.
And what attitude do people have towards sustainable fashion compared to 2014? What do they still need to learn?
Today people know much more about sustainability than six years ago. They even ask more, they are critical which is good, but they have to learn that sustainability means to sustain others, too. It means to reduce, respect and pay more means that you pay honestly. No woman or child should suffer because of your beautiful dress and with sustainable fashion, you invest in a healthier and more honest future.
When working on a sustainable collection, how hard it is to control the whole production chain? How do you handle that?
For suppliers of textiles, I choose companies in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and in China, where the factories are already sustainable. I check all certifications. The production is easier because I go personally there and we produce in Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am finishing Octopus collection, I am working on a sustainable capsule collection with a world-class goalkeeper Jan Oblak, I am a costume designer for a new opera in Ljubljana and I am teaching my students from home while we fight coronavirus.
What would you advise young designers who want to start a sustainable brand?
To do research on the market, to be focused on one thing, do a strong concept and think big and globally. But first, watch “The True Cost” and “Behind the Mirror of High-end Fashion”.