Gabrielle Mastronardo – The Trend Researcher of Sustainability

Fashion is about trends, sustainability is about lifestyle. There is a person who is able to put together trends and sustainability focusing on the key factor they have in common: the future. Gabrielle Mastronardo is not only part of our Sustainable Mag family, but she is also a trend researcher and strategist. She has just published her report “Supernatural: The Biomaterial Market Overview & Future Outlook” and today we are very glad to know more about trend forecasting and sustainability.

Trend biomaterials for fashion report forecast

After your studies in Trend Forecasting at Polimoda, you decided to focus your trend research on sustainability, why?

When I started off working within the fashion industry, it was hard to be part of it while knowing that there was a deeper problem plaguing fashion. Especially now with the amount of accessible information about sustainability, I couldn’t turn away from it. I was really taken back by the problem of synthetic fibers. I read a quote once that said “Everything that was ever made in polyester, is still in the world somewhere.” It shocked me and made me think, so I decided that I wanted to be a part of the change rather than a part of the problem.

The fashion industry does a lot of good things like employing over 75 million people, most of which are women and it is crucial for self-expression. I come from a little town in Wisconsin. Fashion was always my connection to the broader world, so I didn’t want to leave the industry. Instead, I wanted to use my voice and skills to make a difference. I recognised that one of the biggest problem was the materials we use and as a trend researcher, I kept finding these interesting concepts that were being developed about biomaterials and new ways of recycling, so I was drawn into sustainability through that.

How can you help brands to embrace sustainability?

Sustainability is such a broad and complicated topic, especially within the fashion industry.

I assist brands in two parts:

  • Firstly I help them understand the innovations that are happening in the world, and what that could mean for their future. For example with sustainable materials, my latest report, “Supernatural” was made educate and inspire brands with this budding world of biomaterials, and how that could change the landscape of the fashion industry in the longterm. In general I work to help them to think more freely about the future, specifically their futures. Companies tend to be so deep in their business that they don’t see the broader horizon of the innovations happening on the fringe that will effect their business.
  • Secondly I help them building a strategy, or a roadmap to make the future that they desire a reality with a holistic sustainability focused vision.

You have just published a report called “Supernatural”. What is it about and what are the main trends you face in this book?

I created a report on biomaterials to give overview of the market, bring clarity around the sustainability issues in this sector, and analyze what it means for the future.

I realized that there’s a lot of confusion about these topics and specifically what’s actually sustainable or available. A biomaterial is not necessarily sustainable by definition, which I explain in the first part of the report where I introduce the Biomaterial Market and its key players. Then in the second part, I talk about the future, highlighting four key trends: Made to Degrade, Living Layers, Waste Redefined, Wearable Wellness. For example, mushroom leather is one of the main drivers in what I’ve called “Made to Degrade”. In the future, in fact, we could have garments that are meant to be “Made to Degrade” in a certain period of time. This could be an answer to Fast fashion, which could adopt it to reduce its impact but still conserve that gratification that trendy items embed. There are then materials that give us the opportunity to highlight the power of nature harnessing things like photosynthesis: a garment can basically capture carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen thanks to sunlight. In the report, I explain also how to use the waste of other industries to create biosynthetic fibers, underlying the importance of these processes for the biomaterial market and for the development of the circular economy. Wearables are also very interesting because they go hand in hand with the wellness boom: our skin is in contact with our clothes every day, so it is an opportunity for biomaterials to be able to promote wellness and health through properties that can be absorbed by the skin.

You are American, you studied in Italy and now you are living between The U.S. and Germany. How has your global experience impacted your vision?

It’s funny, you would think that the biggest difference would be between the U.S. and Europe, but Italy and Germany are the complete opposite in terms of culture.

I wasn’t expecting that. Embracing all the differences has given me a unique perspective. It’s changed the way I look at everything.

The way Italians eat for example, is very different from Americans and Germans, and this really changed the way I approach food in my life. It’s these small things that make you question what’s “normal.” It makes you start to question the things you do automatically without thinking. Then you start to put that in a broader perspective of questioning what it means for the future.
What would be different if we would question all of the so called “norms”?
It’s really hard to put into words, because it’s something intuitive. When you’re taken out of your comfort zone, you’re forced to widen your outlook to understand your new surrounding. You learn to see through different people’s points of view and to adapt very quickly, you need to. All of these things are super important for trend forecasting, because questioning your biases is key for keeping an objective view as much as possible. By learning about and being exposed to more cultures, you understand the differences and why do people think the way they do. It helps broaden my mindset and ability to come up different solutions. I am always questioning how someone would approach this problem from the mindset of another culture.

How are the new technologies and communication channels changing trend forecasting?

Trend forecasting is really changing now.

I’m part of a global network of trend forecasters, and we’re all in agreement that trend forecasting also needs to make adjustments to become more responsible. For example, maybe pushing seasonal trends is not the most sustainable thing to do anymore. Seasonal trends are the ones related to colors, materials and shapes that stay for the season. By constantly putting out new trend reports like this we are feeding into the overconsumption and mass production that is plaguing the industry.

Like all of the Fashion world, we are at an inflection point, trying to understand what areas are relevant and how to move forward.

gabrielle mastronardo

There’s a lot of talk about if we should be more focused on macro and micro trends. Macro trends are more related to socioeconomic issues, to people, and how these things will change the future. Micro-trends are more aesthetic focused but last longer than seasonal trends; they are more sustainable in their nature. I personally like to focus on the macro trends but fashion brands still need an understanding of design direction, but the question is how can we do it sustainably? I am constantly questioning things like this, how can I give this analysis in more sustainable focused way? I don’t have the answers yet, but it’s something we are all thinking about.

What is the trend for the next autumn/winter collection?

In general we’re seeing two interesting patterns emerge as a result of the pandemic. One group of people wants to enjoy life again, go out partying, looking for extravagance and joy. On the other hand, some people want to look inward, and go on a self-healing journey. Following micro-trends, pants are getting wider for many reasons, but namely people are seeking comfort. This is for example a tangible trend that will define the next decade. We’re also seeing a lot of brands using deadstock materials, natural dyes, and upcycling for their collections.

What will people look for in the fashion industry?

Regeneration and restoring biodiversity is becoming increasingly important.

It’s also an easy concept for consumers to understand and gravitate too, it’s something they can specifically ask for in a store, much like organic cotton, they could ask for or look out for regeneratively grown materials. Recycled materials aren’t going anywhere, as the processes are more and more common, they are also advancing, we are seeing companies developing processes for recycling mixed materials (e.g. cotton, polyester blends) which before couldn’t be recycled.

How are Gen Z changing trends? What do you think will be next?

Gen Z is a fascinating generation, and they are already changing fashion in a big way.

Second-hand clothes are now considered cool, which is a huge win for sustainability. Their effect on trends in general is something to keep an eye on as well because a large group of them denounce the idea of trends. Instead, they are focused on individuality and embracing their unique subcultures that they gravitate too on social media. They really use fashion to express themselves, they are experimental, and this pushes things into a lot of colors, prints, and mixing and matching referencing past eras. Millennials instead are more minimal and muted in terms of style, just think of how long millennial pink stayed a key color. Gen z is going to continue changing, they have a creator mindset, they make things for themselves, bringing fashion to a more democratic level. Even on the runways, you see trends that were popular on TikTok during the pandemic. They’ve brought a new streetwear vibe into the luxury industry. We see causalized formalwear coming back in a mix and match way, that sees a suit jacket with biker shorts, or hoodies under blazors. It’s ok to clash a little bit, it is part of the experiment.

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