Valentina is a sustainability & storytelling expert. She is the Founder of Newromantic, a contributor at Green & Simple, and former sustainability manager of H&M Australia & New Zealand, and Spell. It’s her mission to create and work with what she calls Brands Of The Future©. We sat down with Valentina to learn more about how brands can tell their sustainability story with authenticity.
F: You’re a sustainability expert that specialises in storytelling. What have been some of the pivotal career moments that have gotten you to this point?
VZ: I like to think that my career journey has serendipitously led me to this point. With a background in data and consumer behaviour, marketing & communications and ESG strategy, it has proved to be quite a useful mix of skill sets. I have to say that I love being on the land. Coming from Canberra and spending 2 years of University in rural Australia, really gives me an appreciation for farmers who grow the materials that so much of the textile industry relies on. Field trips from India, to Tasmania getting a better understanding of agriculture and biodiversity have made a major impact in the way that I think about fashion and textiles, whether it be from choosing a garment as a gift, bedding option for myself, or developing strategies for my brand and retail partners, I think about the water, energy, time etc that has been put into developing the finished product. Working with Patagonia was a real highlight, and I loved having the opportunity to host two events for them to share their stories based on their responsible sourcing practices. The globally based Sustainability team is phenomenal, and they are such an inspiration – bringing them together with the Australian Fashion Council and it’s membership community of local brands to tell the story of organic cotton has been transformative for many who attended – and that kind of tangible impact is what I’m always looking for. Also, having the opportunity to have been trained in sustainability by the global H&M sustainability department, gave me a huge insight into the complexities of such a nuanced field and helped to define my approach to working with brand partners today.
F: Sustainability and transparency are now vital parts of a brand story – what do you think has been the catalyst for people changing how they engage with brands?
VZ: Not only should they be part of the brand story, they should be the foundations of how brands operate. I’m of the opinion that every brand manager should be able to put ‘responsible’ in their job title – it’s the New Luxury©. The tireless work of active citizens and movements such as Fashion Revolution have played a big role in driving the narrative, coupled with the growth of two-way communication between brands and their communities via social media. Accountability is an integral part of building the integrity of a brand, and transparency is vital.
F: How important is PR to brands telling their sustainability story? What are some great examples of this?
VZ: PR is important to brands, and the sustainability work provides storytelling opportunities, although for me, this all comes down to integrity of the responsible brand strategy. To gain credibility, it’s important to ensure that a brand is prioritising the fundamentals before moving towards the ‘shinier’ layers or tokenistic gestures. In saying that, it can be a difficult place to start, and starting somewhere is better than not starting at all. I always say to my brand partners “you have to get perfectly comfortable sitting in a place of imperfection.”
The best stories that I have seen in the market are generally the product of really hard work behind the scenes. I love that of Houdini Sportswear – Houdini Menu, where the brand recycled garments via composting it, and from the compost grew vegetables that formed part of a menu. This took years of development – the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit, so to speak.
Australian brand Outland Denim is at the forefront of worker welfare. When you purchase a garment from them, you are also gifted with a note from the individual maker on your item. It’s such a nice touch, as you build an emotive connection to the piece, which then has you place a greater value on it, meaning better care etc.
F: What if you’re still on that sustainability journey? What should brands be communicating to their customers?
VZ: You will always be on that journey, so as much as you can! Start with your website, share your mission, strategy, policies, goals, results, and challenges. Being as open as possible is a great approach. Ganni does a really good job of this.
F: How do you continue to stay inspired?
VZ: I get SO much energy working with my brand partners. We really work like an extended team, and seeing them grow and transitioning to meeting their goals within this space is so humbling. The relationship is symbiotic, with every brand being different, I learn so much and so we continue to work closely together to solve challenges and bring to life new ideas. I also really love the landscape of professionals within the sustainability space – there is a lot of collaboration, especially amongst the International community. Working as a community to navigate a highly nuanced space is really energising. Also, reading and listening to podcasts. I read about 2 reports a week, and constantly listen to podcasts. My favourites are Big Closets Small Planets, Forward Thinking – McKinsey Global Institute and the Business of Fashion Podcast.
F: What was the last thing you googled for work?
ISO 14021: 2016 Environmental labels and declarations — Self-declared environmental claims.