Giusy Bettoni

...Creativity, Lifestyle and Sustainable Synergy

by Mariel Reed
CLASS stands for Creativity, Lifestyle And Sustainable Synergy. Founded five years ago by Giusy Bettoni, it is a unique international forum for textiles, fashion, lifestyle, and home design, creating business opportunities through more innovative, responsible and eco-sensible products designed for a better way of living. The organisation works hard to help create new opportunities, drive information and provide focused communication for commercially available eco-textiles, yarns, processes, finished products and services.

CLASS has two expertly staffed showrooms in Milan and London. Each of the two houses a comprehensive materials library available for businesses, designers, buyers and media. CLASS works hard to connect materials producers with designers and retailers, clarifying what’s available in the marketplace, where to find it and making the search for eco-friendly materials for fashion, lifestyle and home even easier by fusing the world of commerce with responsible innovation.

The third dimension is a unique approach to sustainability that puts the subject at the centre of design and innovation. A lot of the work CLASS has undertaken is to educate and inform the marketplace. Even in textiles, it is a unique ability to be able to communicate effectively and work through all areas of the supply chain, both upstream and downstream. This is something that they offer which is quite unusual. Giusy Bettoni explains CLASS's mission:

How did you start your business?
I’d been working in textiles for over 30 years, for corporations such as The International Institute for Cotton, ICI, and Dupont. I set up my own textile-marketing agency in 1993 to help develop the synergies between market development and communication. Soon I became established across industries for helping forge collaborations from spinners to fashion and lifestyle brands, retailers as well as consumer and trade press.

I decided to set up CLASS for two main reasons reasons: One, I was seeing the great work some of the technical producers and weavers were creating, but was frustrated that no one knew about it. Two, I wanted to challenge the perceptions surrounding sustainable fashion.

Up to this point, generally speaking, the sector was quite poor and uninspiring, with little appeal for designers. From the producers and manufacturers, I was seeing cutting edge innovation, backed up with in-depth research and the most incredible and inspiring approach to sustainability. It has all come from there really. We are now working to help develop and promote the most innovative sustainable fabrics possible, and loving working with brands and designers to 'always surprise and delight', showing designers the future and what’s possible with expert know-how.

How can a designer get involved?
We help designers source fabrics, from sampling through to production, we work with several designers on NJAL already, so there are many ways people can get involved. Firstly, there is the library where designers and brands can come to source new things. Designers can also apply to become a CLASS Partner; this is open to small designers and to some larger organisations.

CLASS helps showcase finished products and companies on a global platform, encouraging sales, introducing new designers to buyers and helping build brand profiles with the right people. CLASS helps facilitate a business dialogue and connects designers with other important areas of the supply chain. CLASS is a new way of helping grow and develop business.

CLASS is also supporting and spreading a key communication message: your brand or product can offer creativity, quality AND responsibility – a unique story, one that’s a great step forward not just for the industry, but also for everyday consumer lifestyle.

By working with CLASS, designers and brands can tell their customers a positive story about how they are working to ensure the future of the environment and reinforce the adage, so together we can make a difference. By driving consumer interest in responsible-clothing issues, these designers can contribute to a ‘mass change’ in the market. CLASS also curates the eco-fashion section at WHITE in Milan each season. This is a show that is very well attended by European buyers and our designer-partners have the opportunity to showcase.

What is your vision?
My vision is that this kind of responsible 'dimension' will become a “given” for the entire textile sector and we will be able to affect change on a large scale. The industry as a whole has a long way to go and if I can, through my work, make even the smallest difference I will have achieved something. In an ideal world I’d like for all companies and brands to source textiles with a low environmental impact and produce them in a responsible way. I’d like customers to think more about the impact their purchase has on the rest of the supply chain too.

You travel quite often, what has been your most interesting destination?
Copenhagen. Before I worked with the NICE initiative, I’d never been to Copenhagen, it's a great city, those who live there have a great attitude and there is always something new to be discovered.

You work with a wide range of brands. What are the benefits of working with a bigger brand compared to a smaller brand and vice versa?
I do not think we can talk about benefits, but opportunities. We must understand and work with different approaches to both product and market. Both are really challenging for something so cutting-edge and for responsible innovation, but the good part of CLASS is that we love challenges, and so far we have been able to deliver.

We need to work with both product, design and the wider market. We need to make a real change at industry level, and in order to do this you need the help and support of really key players. However it's also important to “grow” and nurture a new generation of designers, so that a whole new approach to design exists for them to select from and that they are not having to work at it themselves.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
First of all challenging the misnomers around sustainable fashion. Bad education or knowledge of the sustainable textile area is really something that acts as a barrier and stops the whole development process towards this new and fresh way to look at business. My second biggest challenge has been to develop simple information which is easy to understand but which sums up correctly the REAL essence of sustainable fashion textiles. This new innovative concept is all about high-level design. The ultimate goal is to see innovative fashion collections that deliver the lowest environmental impact as an inherent value.

There are also challenges with maintaining motivation, getting doors to open and pushing sustainable fabric developments into the mainstream. The last year or so we have seen a huge shift and increase in enquires and requests coming through.

Your biggest success?
CLASS has been confirmed as the official textiles partner for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. This is the world’s largest conference on sustainability and fashion and is organised by the NICE project in collaboration with the Danish Fashion Institute.

We have received increasing recognition through the growing number of textile partners we have started to work with in the last year. We are especially excited about New Life and Cardato.

We signed a partnership of cooperation with Livia Firth on the new Green Carpet Challenge to supply the luxury designers with sustainable textiles.

How do you find your business differing in each country you work in?
Honestly in our market, I have not seen a huge difference between countries when it comes to the sustainable design objectives; everybody is really seriously interested in working to develop a 'beautiful fashion collection', with a unique look and feel, with appeal and performance for their target customers. What we are clear about is that responsibility offers true value universally. The main differences between countries are how they reach this point. The production and development processes are completely different from country to country and really linked to the different cultures.

Is there anything you are working on now that we should look out for?
We are working on lots of new things right now, covering a whole range of perspectives. To broaden our showroom space in the world, it is so important to have local support and of course a voice.

Immersing ourselves in some really fantastic and interesting partnerships around the world in order to better support the market is both educational and promotional for us.

We have been creating specific events together, to gather pioneers and movers in this new world of high design with responsibility. We have been engaging with key players at all levels of the market, where buyers and operators can really have a clear view of the possibilities and benefits from the advantages this area of the market offers.

We are always scouting for new and interesting materials for our fast-growing eco-textile library. Our most recent additions have been in the recycled and regenerated area (Newlife™, Cardato Rigenerato) but we are working to create and showcase more examples from the renewable sector soon, so watch this space!