[October 31 2017]
We were able to catch up in Antwerp with the celebrated Belgian fashion designer and art director Bruno Pieters about his Honest By project. During his accomplished career, Bruno was leading the creative direction at fashion houses such as Delvaux and Hugo Boss, and working alongside on his own namesake label.
He took a sabbatical from 2010 to 2012 and after a trip to India; He developed a new model hoping to lead the way for a more transparent and sustainable fashion industry. The result is Honest By, a fashion label that allows customers to trace everything they buy down to the thread used to stitch the garments.
Honest By focuses on collaborations with luxury brands that are interested in transparency and working responsibly. His latest collaboration with ANDAM award winner, Y/Project‘s Glenn Martens, was recently announced and comprises of six pieces produced 100 percent ethical. The face of their visual campaign, Franziska Bachofen-Echt, went on Purple’s behalf to interview Bruno on his collaboration with Glenn and to discover more about the message behind the Honest By mission.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — What is the name “Honest By”?
Bruno Pieters — “Honest By” is what I want to say about my brand, it is the truth of how everything happens behind it. The concept of the name is about transparency and showing the customers what we are making and how we are making it.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — What is your definition of “honesty”?
Bruno Pieters — To be loyal to yourself and to listen to what your soul is telling you. If I do something that my truth does not agree with, then this feeling of guilt comes up. I used to think it comes from my childhood or the religion of my upbringing. The gut always tells you “you’re better than this”. I try to avoid going against my truth as much as I can.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — How did your collaboration with Glenn Martens Y/Project come together?
Bruno Pieters — I’ve known Glenn since 2006. He was a student at the Antwerp Academy, and I was teaching there. I became his mentor and a few years ago he asked me to be one of the characters in his A/W campaign. We then spoke about collaborating as Glenn has always shown interest in Honest By and transparency. He designed the first collection for me. Back then it was called Honest By/Bruno Pieters and he developed most pieces.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — What explicitly speaks to you about Y/Project’s designs?
Well, I love what Glenn is doing. There is this opulence to it, and it’s very fresh. I love the historical references, and the combination of that with the streetwear elements. Its one of the most exciting brands or the most exciting to me in the industry right now.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — Based on what do you choose your collaborations?
Bruno Pieters — The people who accept my invitation are already working on or are interested in sustainability and they are proud of what they are doing. If you are satisfied with your outcome, then you have nothing to hide, you don’t have a problem with transparency. That’s the kind of people we attract.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — What made you transparent?
Bruno Pieters — As I became more aware of the consequences of fashion and the implications of every purchase, I changed my mind as a customer and a designer about certain things. I wanted to be sure that what I bought, whether for my collections or for private use, that I would be ok with the consequences. Now I know exactly where something is from or who made it. In the end, buying is like voting, you encourage a specific practice through the money you spend. I think it’s a signal if something is selling well, they won’t change because it means the customer wants it. Brands always do what the customer wants. But to make good choices as a client, you need to have the information. You need to have transparency as well as sustainability. You have a lot of fashion brands that claim to be working in a sustainable way but in the end without transparency sustainability is a phantom.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — Is it always good to be transparent?
Bruno Pieters — For me, it is essential in case you want the information. You are not forced to look at it, but to have it there, in case you are wondering. You know it’s worth that price in case you want to see why it costs that much. Price transparency also helps to eliminate child labor and any malpractice.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — When was the moment you realized that there were considerable consequences in non-sustainable fashion?
Bruno Pieters — Through the press and through the research by talking to manufacturers and to people who have been sustainable for a long time. You learn of harmful chemicals or what the difference is between the industrial product or a GOTS certified product. GOTS accredited product stands for Global Organic Textiles Standard, which is the standard way of growing crops or dying fabrics. It’s now seen as something exceptional and non conform to what is considered to be normal; but if you look at what it means to work organically or sustainably, it’s actually the most logic and the most humane way of working. Ultimately I think that it will become the rule rather than the exception.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — We read that you were much inspired by the book ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle, what is it about?
Bruno Pieters — The book for me was an awakening and a realization of my ego. I read it in a moment in which I was achieving a lot of things that I had wanted, but it was not making me happy. And I think the book addressed that. It’s a search for authentic happiness. It was a trigger not the inspiration of Honest By, which is the result of 35 years of my life. I do not regret anything that I have done in my life and the past; The book was a trigger, afterward, I went to India. And India was a further trigger.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — And what did you discover there in India?
Bruno Pieters — In India when you go to a market they can immediately tell you who made the product, where it is from, how long it took to be delivered. They are very proud of what they are selling and they will explain to a tourist every detail. There is this spontaneous transparency that they have. And I missed that in fashion. Couture houses build their reputation for this involuntary openness. Now, these companies have become cooperation, changed their production methods, and it’s all become very vague. There is a shift from knowing what you’re getting to not understanding. European laws now allow companies to have their products made in Asia and have it labeled ‘made in France’ or ‘made in Italy’. As a customer you no longer know what you are paying for, or what you are supporting. Of course, there are some exceptions.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — How easily can you incorporate sustainability in big fashion houses?
Bruno Pieters — A lot of companies are thinking about it. Hugo Boss, Gucci, and Calvin Klein have already announced they will no longer work with fur, which is already a big step; The Kering group is making a lot of efforts. Slowly people are turning their promises into actions. But if it has to happen it also depends on the customer, to help quicken the process. One customer can have so much impact. They have a team of designers, but the team that analyses the market in the store’s report is much more significant. It is all about satisfying the customer in the end.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt — Do you have a hero figure?
Bruno Pieters — I love and admire Gandhi; I like Jane Goodall, Martin Luther King, and even Jesus. For me, all these people stood for change and got an enormous amount of opposition; most of them were killed or imprisoned, that frustrates me. It’s still happening today and I wonder why there is so much opposition against who wants to change these logical things. If you look at history, society only advanced when it adopted new ways of thinking from the minorities. That’s when we develop. But there is always this moment of denial, and I feel that as well sometimes in the fashion industry. They will ignore your message or your work if it does not correspond to what they expect from you or if it threatens a way of doing business. But to get over it I focus on the people who are changing, and I just ignore the rest.
Franziska Bachofen-Echt —Is there anyone in the arts, politics, science that inspires you and encourages you to be who you are?
Bruno Pieters — I think it’s mostly my friends and family more than politicians or artists. They really encourage me and give me the strength to continue what I am doing because they see progress around me. It’s not a concept of progress or a promise of progress. It’s actual progress and that makes me really happy.
Interview by Franziska Bachofen-Echt and video by Géraldine Valentina Biasotto