A totally ethical designer
What would you like to tell us about yourself?
I arrived in Milan at the end of 1989, after a decade spent in the United States, mainly in Los Angeles. The feeling Milan gave me was like having a warm blanket over my shoulders, a sense of comfort and familiarity. The English term that best defines this good feeling is "cozy". I had never lived in Milan, I grew up in Bolzano and from there, when I was 18 years old, I left for the United States. So this "returning home" from a megalopolis like Los Angeles, to a decidedly human scale city like Milan, immediately made me feel at ease. In America, I had many important experiences such as college, work, marriage... I lived in the United States from 18 to 30, therefore a significant part of my life. Returning back to Italy gave way to new experiences, both private and professional. I ran my own fashion brand “Marina Spadafora” with an intense activity of design, production, distribution and promotion, with two fashion shows a year during the Fashion Week in Milan. In 2002 we sold the company, and I continued my work as a designer, first with Ferragamo and later with Prada.
I got married in 1994 in Tibet through a Buddhist ritual and started a family with my current husband and father of our three children, the director and producer Jordan Stone. In 1995 Veronica was born, in 1997 Stella and in 1998 Vincent. Starting a family was the greatest joy of my life and still is. After years in the fashion world, at some point, I felt a very strong desire to do something that had a deeper meaning for me. I strongly believed that my skills could be put at the service of projects that reflected my ideals, and in 2007, the first opportunity that corresponded to my true feelings finally arrived. They offered me to follow the entire production line of an African collection, entirely made of organic fabrics. A wonderful adventure that took me to visit many African countries and to work closely with local realities. Shortly after, I was contacted by the consortium Goel in Calabria, which conducts various activities to give local workers the opportunity to work outside the mafia circle.
The project "Cangiari", which in Calabrian dialect means "to change", enhances the local tradition of weaving beautiful fabrics on hand looms. We used biological materials also during this adventure, and I was the artistic director of the brand for several seasons, until 2010, when I was contacted by Altromercato to take over the artistic direction of the clothing line Auteurs du Monde, which I still follow. Our clothes are produced by artisans in 15 countries in the Southern hemisphere. All our producers belong to the World Fair Trade Organization that regulates fair trade. The opportunities to create growth through fashion in emerging economies led me to collaborate with Franca Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italy, for the initiative Fashion for Development. We create the opportunity for Italian companies to implement projects in Africa and offer young African designers the chance to show their collections to the press and buyers over here in Italy. This year, I was the National Coordinator for the Fashion Revolution Day, an initiative that aims to empower consumers to shop more consciously and carefully, and to commemorate the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh that, in 2013, killed 1133 garment workers who sewed our clothes at low prices. I describe my activities as "Fashion with a Mission" and my commitment led me to receive the prize “Women Together” at the United Nations in New York on June 23rd, 2015, in recognition for the development opportunities and work I create for artisans in the Southern part of the world.
You exterior image as a "celebrity" and your inner feelings as "person"...
I'm a consistent and transparent person, therefore, there is no difference between me as a person and me as a celebrity.
Would you like to tell us about your dream?
For many years I've practiced meditation and still study and apply various disciplines of personal healing through energy. The Barbara Brennan School of Healing offers a complete course of four years where people hone their sensory abilities and analyse the body and disease from a holistic point of view. I have followed short courses with them and would love to attend the school because I know I have the ability to heal with energy.
Meditation and use of energy are two aspects of great interest; could you give us more details about these practices?
For more than 30 years I've studied and practiced techniques on meditation and healing. I first approached this field fascinated by crystals and minerals and their properties. At the time, in the early '80s, I was living in California, the last Western coast before the East, the perfect meeting point between Eastern philosophy and Western pragmatism. The offers were many, but there was a particular bookstore in Los Angeles, the legendary Bodhi Tree, where I used to spend hours looking for interesting books that talked about spirituality, meditation and healing. I began to study the energy body, the chakras and their properties, as well as Kundalini meditation. Upon my return to Italy, I attended many seminars and I was asked to teach Kundalini meditation and Chakra studies at the Università della Terza Età in Milan. It was a great success and I continued for years teaching in community centres and other organizations. In the early '90s, I started studying Reiki, an ancient energy healing technique that comes from Japan, which channels the energy of the universe towards the person that needs to be healed; I have the second level qualification and I still apply this marvellous technique to my family and friends when they need it.
In your opinion, can the world be changed through approaching differently thought and life?
I learned and studied many philosophies from Sufism, to the Kabbalah, to Tibetan Buddhism and 5 years ago, I started practising daily Japanese Buddhism of Nichiren Daishoning, reciting the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. The practice of meditation is constantly increasing in the West. Clinical studies have proven that both physical and mental health are better in people who practice meditation. There is a more and more widespread search for spirituality because the conventional forms of spirituality practiced by religion and the Church are not so common nowadays. However, one must avoid falling victim of various sects and charlatans, but valid options do exists and are very effective.
What is pleasure for you…
To spend time with my loved ones, family and friends. I love having dinners at home and at least once a week I cook for my friends, it's always a great pleasure to host them. Exploring unknown territories gives me immense pleasure, especially working and interacting with local people, not simply travelling as a tourist.
The woman today; emancipation or integration?
Definitely integration, although we must remain vigilant because too many women still have no rights in many countries of the world and we have to fight for them and help them gain their independence. Not to mention that in Italy a woman still earns less than a man for doing the same job: this is unacceptable!
Woman is power... what do you think?
Women are the engine of the world. The strength of a woman is unstoppable because it is often driven by love.
Stereotype and reality of women from Milan...
The stereotype of a Milanese woman is that of an icy bourgeois, a little snob, slightly narrow-minded. But the reality is very different, Milanese women are from many different places and create a kaleidoscopic and vibrant reality of creativity, solidarity and dynamism.
Woman's relationship with the contemporary man: confrontation or clash?
I would say confrontation; communication and dialogue are and remain fundamental to progress together as a human race.
Sexuality, motherhood and work; three threads that are interwoven, clash or neutralize each other?
In my experience, fortunately I was able to manage all three these realities simultaneously. One must be very organized and rigorous to be able to give the right commitment and energy to each aspect of our lives.
How have the major fashion houses "interpreted" your breakthrough?
I think that today there is a great deal of respect for what I do and my commitment in promoting a sustainable practice of fashion, as well as creating awareness in the buying habits of the consumers. Another of my activities is that of speaking at conferences, I get invited to talk about these issues around the world, especially after the TEDTalk I did in 2014. The group LVMH invited me to speak at the Environmental Commission in 2015, where all the brands of the group met to discuss sustainability issues.
“Ethic” fashion and the market; how can they be conciliated, if possible?
It is possible, actually it's a necessity! The new consumer groups, Millennials, Generation Z, the Lohas, expect that the companies they buy from have product traceability and transparency over the supply chain. They also want the companies to guarantee the workers the "Living Wage", or salary, that corresponds to the real needs of the employee and not to the poor payroll that is offered today in the Third World.
Tell us about the project Auteurs de Monde.
Auteurs du Monde, authors of the world, our producers and artisans so to speak, is a beautiful collection that follows all the criteria of innovation and aesthetics of a line of fashionable clothing. Our aim is to match Ethics and Aesthetics. Altromercato, which was amongst the first in Europe to associate with Fair Trade, has 300 stores across Italy through which we distribute Auteurs du Monde. The characteristics of the items is that they are all made of natural materials, dyed with AZO free dyes free from heavy metals. Organic cotton is present in the collection along with pure alpaca, wool, silk, banana fibre, hemp and nettle. The best part of my job is to go and visit my producers around the world, they are wonderful people. Often they practice social entrepreneurship, or do business according to the rules of the WFTO, but then they pour most of the profits back into the community where they live by providing support to various activities in the fields of education, health and micro-credit. Altromercato finances the production by paying 50% deposit when ordering, and settling upon delivery. It guarantees a minimum seasonal order and ensures continuity.
How did the public and the media respond to your project?
I would say very well, the press has always been on my side and has followed my progress and my success step by step. The public is increasingly curious and passionate about these issues. Slowly, everything is turning into sales and demand for ethical products, based on a transparent supply chain.
Which are the educational and practical initiatives you would suggest to start a responsible fashion consumption?
I believe it's essential to start in schools and educate children right from the beginning. It would be ideal to have Ethics and Sustainability lessons during high school, and why not, even in middle school. It would also be wonderful if in Italy volunteering would be a prerequisite to enter university, just like in England and America.
Milan is the city of fashion, but which kind of fashion prevails?
At present, traditional fashion still prevails, it follows the logic of the market without giving much importance to the workers' rights or environmental protection. There are some virtuous realities such as Auteurs du Monde, but it's important that these collections of Ethical Fashion stop being seen as stereotypes of fashion from the '60s, warn by politically engaged hippies. We must rejuvenate the image of Ethical Fashion and make it move with the times under communication, style and marketing points of view. In America there are two particular brands that have done this with great success: Eileen Fisher and Mayet.
You love the environment and production on a human scale; which streets, neighbourhoods, or surroundings of Milan do you feel are more human and liveable or inspire a sense of inner peace?
I love Milan because it feels very friendly. I'm particularly fond of the Brera area, it's so cozy and local, so Milanese!
Translation by Chloé V. Ercoli Bannister
For more information: