Visionary Paris-based Belgian designer Bruno Pieters on sustainable fashion

If you thought fashion was all about pretence and appearances, Bruno Pieters is about to change your mind. The Paris-based Belgian designer launched Honest by. last January after a two-year sabbatical from the industry. In this candid interview, he talks about his core values, the importance of sustainability in fashion and why transparency is the only way forward.

You used to design your own line and work for Hugo Boss. Why did you leave fashion for 2 years?

I stopped because I had a burn-out. It was during my time away from the industry that an idea for a new brand slowly emerged. What happened when I quit design was that I became more conscious of everything around me. I still loved fashion, but I got more aware of the choices we make as consumers and the consequences these choices have.

What are the key principles behind your new line?

It’s about complete transparency. We inform our clients about everything from fabric information and manufacturing costs to mark-up calculations and carbon footprint. The more details you give, the more enlightened you become. It’s like customer service for me. There were brands that were environmentally-friendly, except that they didn’t offer high-fashion garments I actually wanted to wear.

How did you put all the elements together, from the campaign images to the design of the website?

Once I had a clear picture in mind, I knew what images I wanted and how the website should look. We launched Honest by. at the end of January this year and did not originally plan on selling to retailers, but they contacted us quickly and expressed their interest in stocking the collection.

Was the project initially meant as an online platform only?

Yes, it was. Given the interest we have been receiving from international stores, we decided to have a showroom in Paris during the next edition of Fashion Week, from the end of September to the beginning of October. Even though there are more and more online shoppers, there’s still a large audience that wants to go to a shop and pick clothes there. I guess the line will be more accessible, too.

Does that mean you will be able to offer better prices with actual production?

That’s what we’re hoping for. We started with limited quantities as it was our initial concept, but the more orders we have, the more we can adjust our prices. It’s all related to quantity in the end.

What’s interesting about fashion is that it creates trends, which has to do with leadership. I therefore envisage it as a perfect tool to promote certain ideas.

People are not used to complete transparency in fashion. What reactions did you get after launching the brand?

Well, we’re not used to honesty anywhere (he laughs). Reactions have been very positive. I guess it’s a logical thing. What’s interesting about fashion is that it creates trends, which has to do with leadership. I therefore envisage it as a perfect tool to promote certain ideas. Hopefully, transparency will become a classical way of doing business. That’s also the potential of fashion. What we do is work with guest designers as it’s not just about my own aesthetics, but sharing a common approach as well.

Are you familiar with Haleluja in Brussels, which focuses on high-end, sustainable clothing?

Yes, I am. Sonja Noël contacted me after the website launch and really insisted on carrying the collection. We had just enough in pre-production to select one retailer and we decided to work with her. Sonja is such a risk-taker, and always has been. She’s a pionneer when it comes to new brands and young talent. It was the right person to collaborate with.

When you look at Haleluja and similar initiatives surfacing in the industry, do you think the idea of sustainability is gaining momentum?

I think awareness is growing. I recently had a discussion with ILO, a division of the UN focusing on human and labour rights as well as social justice. Last year, they found 250,000 cases of child labour in the textile industry. It’s enormous and nobody talks about it. I was not even aware of that when I designed my own label before. People think child labour is decreasing, but it’s the opposite. It just keeps on growing. We really need to start shopping for clothes in a more conscious way. We know how it’s done and what the consequences are. No one accepts child labour or advocates it. We should act accordingly when we shop.

Is it about buying less, but buying better?

Yes, of course. You have to follow you gut feeling and trust your instincts.

How do you feel about the increasing polarisation of fashion, with large luxury groups on the one hand and high-street chains on the other? Is there still room for independent designers?

Yes, there is. The difference is that you have to come up with a new vision and interesting way of doing things. Otherwise, there is no point repeating what’s on the market already. There’s always space for lateral thinking.

Does that mean that there’s a fashion client who values this?

Yes. And there is more than one.