Matea Benedetti was vexed by the dreadful impact of “fast” fashion on the environment. So she started her own clothing line.

Matea Benedetti

Matea Benedetti.

This article, by author Mia Baškovič of Slovenia, was a Silver Prize winner in the Climate Champion Profiles Challenge, organized by Global Youth & News Media and was part of The Writing’s on the Wall project, in partnership with News Decoder and The Climate Academy. The project aims to help student journalists in their climate change reporting and to offer schools new tools to integrate climate science into their teaching.

Fast fashion is one of the world’s most burning environmental problems, and yet it does not get talked about enough.

Teenagers love shopping for cheap clothes online. New trends, which seem to change daily, are so easily accessible. A few clicks, a few days and the ordered clothes are waiting at the door. We wear them a few times and then we are already attracted to a new trend, which is “more beautiful.”

With throwing “away” the clothes we do not like anymore we discard the labour of those who work in sweatshops day and night for a wage barely enough to survive on. Furthermore, the produced toxic waste is not only a risk to their health, but also causes pollution and climate change.

Matea Benedetti is a Slovenian fashion and costume designer. She was vexed by the impact of fast fashion on the environment and saw that the biggest and most popular fashion brands were not making any changes for the better.

“I realised there is no time, so I decided to do something myself,” Benedetti said.

She decided to create a slow fashion label. “The decision has changed me as a fashion designer and as a person because now I am more aware of how individuals can contribute to saving the planet by what they wear.”

Clothing that’s animal-friendly

Benedetti enrolled at the High School of Design in Ljubljana after she was impressed by the fashion sketches she saw there. She studied in the field of textile and clothing design at the Faculty of Design in Slovenia and HKU University of the Arts Utrecht in the Netherlands.

In addition to her love for drawing, Benedetti has loved animals since she was a child.

“I have spent my childhood in a village, in close contact with nature and many animals,” Benedetti said. She did not want to just create an environmentally-friendly, sustainable and animal-free fashion brand, but also advocate for endangered animal species.

A sustainable business model for a sustainable planet

For two decades Benedetti created costume designs for theaters and opera houses in Italy, Germany and Slovenia. “I never thought I would become a fashion designer,” Benedetti said.

Her quest for environmentally-friendly fashion began when peace silk made from humane breeding and harvesting first came on the market.

Benedetti’s brand Benedetti Life, founded in 2019, is built on a sustainable luxury fashion that focuses on environmental awareness and responsible consumerism and ethics.

“Environmental awareness is choosing materials that have minimal environmental impact,” Benedetti said. “Responsible consumerism is buying sustainable products. Ethics means a fair wage for workers and use of materials that are not of animal origin.”

Her collections contain no synthetics and they are made of only plant-based materials such as pineapple leather, bamboo, organic wool, silk, knitwear and cotton.

“The garments disappear from landfill in three to five months with a minimum impact on soil and air,” Benedetti said.

Clothing that depict snakes but aren’t made from snakes

A slow fashion brand like Benedetti’s produces approximately one collection every two years. The number of products is small and they can be expensive, but they are durable. In comparison, a fast fashion brand produces at least 24 collections in one year. A large variety of cheap products encourages consumption, therefore creating large amounts of waste and polluting the environment.

Around one million species are at risk of extinction because of climate change, pollution and loss of habitat caused by humans. Benedetti raises awareness of the need to save endangered animal species by depicting them in her creations.

“I would love people to think about them before ordering octopus in a restaurant, buy a snakeskin handbag or an exotic pet only because they are influenced by the latest fashion trend,” Benedetti said.

So far, she has depicted tropical fish, birds of paradise, parrots, octopuses and white tigers in her creations.

Can we make fast fashion unfashionable?

Benedetti Life’s mission is to set new values in the fashion industry; workers are fairly compensated and no materials of animal origin are used. All Matea’s products are sustainable since no pesticides are used in production of materials, dyes are non-toxic, water consumption is minimal, clothes are made locally and packaging is organic. Her brand’s vision is to be an inspiration in the field of fashion.

In 2014, the Italian edition of the fashion magazine Vogue named Benedetti Life one of the most promising ecological global fashion brands, and in 2020 the company received the Eluxe award in London for the most sustainable luxury brand of the year. The most resounding news was that Billie Eilish’s mother wore one of Benedetti’s designs to the Oscars in 2022.

Furthermore, Circular Change, a private nonprofit organisation starting circular economy projects all across Europe, has recognised Benedetii’s work as “a striking example of circular economy.”

Circular champions and frontrunners, like Benedetti, create inspirational sustainable businesses, raise awareness about burning environmental issues and therefore change the world for the better.

When big and popular fashion brands will adopt more of the new values in the fashion industry, which Benedetti Life is setting, people will change their lifestyles, especially consumer habits.

The door for a major systemic change will open.

Three questions to consider:

  1. What is wrong with the way big corporations make clothing?
  2. What does Matea Benedetti do differently to be a good environmental steward?
  3. What could you do differently in your clothing choices to have a lower environmental impact?
Mia Baskovic

Mia Baškovič is a student in the first year IB Diploma Programme at Prva riječka hrvatska gimnazija (PRHG) in Rijeka, Croatia. She was born in Izola, Slovenia and before enrolling in the IB Diploma Programme, attended Gimnazija Bežigrad in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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