Robert Bergmann is the founder of Responsibility in Fashion, an organisation inspiring positive change in the international fashion industry.
Through programs and initiatives – including the first open-source sustainability resource-hub – it aims to inspire, inform and reward responsibility in the international fashion community.
Robert is also the founder of M/pakt, a luxury branding, design and packaging agency in New York City.
He tells us how he keeps his life positive.
One word that describes you?
In your own words, what do you do?
I’m doing my part to help inspire an industry to take more responsibility. I also run an agency that brands, designs and packages luxury brands.
Who is the greatest influence in your career/life?
Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Academy-Award winning composer. He’s probably Japan’s most famous musician. I worked with Ryuichi for several years at the beginning of my career, designing music packaging and directing videos. His refinement, creativity and passion inspires all of the work that I do to this day.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Knowing the positive impact that Responsibility in Fashion will potentially have on millions of lives around the world. For the most part, the decision makers in the fashion industry don’t know just how much power they have. It’s the designers, procurement specialists, executives, and supply chain managers that make the decisions every day that are affecting millions of lives and the health of the planet where we all live. They choose to make decisions responsibly or irresponsibly – to ignore the climate crisis facing us, or do their part to help stop it. But change is only going to happen if they are inspired to and have the information and resources they need to make more responsible decisions.
Last August, I was in Dhaka, Bangladesh, meeting the families of the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster. I experienced first-hand the depth of suffering that’s directly linked to the clothes we wear and an industry that has acted irresponsibly for so long. If I can help the lives of these people in any way – or maybe even in a big way – with the work I am doing, I’ve truly succeeded.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Getting things done. With two careers, there’s never enough time in a day to do it all.
What is your greatest achievement?
The greatest achievement with Responsibility in Fashion was getting the website completed. The urgency behind it came from the question that started to be asked over and over at dozens of sustainability round-tables, panel discussions and lectures: “where can we go for information on how to start being sustainable?”
At these events no one had an answer, just shrugged shoulders. Clearly, someone had to build a ‘starting point’ for the industry because the industry itself was asking for one. So that’s what we’ve done.
What was your Plan B?
Responsibility in Fashion is my Plan B. After 25 successful years branding, designing and packaging brands, it’s time to give back.
What is your most prized possession?
When I was in my early thirties while working as a photojournalist in the Middle East, during one assignment in the Sinai Desert I photographed a portrait of Bedouin child holding his own prized possession: a large chunk of crystalline rock. After I took the images, the child offered me the rock. I tried to graciously decline the gift, but he insisted, and I still have it to this day. It’s a reminder of the importance of selfless giving, and about life outside our materialistic culture.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The French director Fabien Baron always told me to trust my gut in creativity, in business and in life. I worked with Fabien for many years and I credit him for helping me start my career.
Please complete the sentence: I could not live without…
…living near water. I grew up near the beach, and now I live near the Hudson River in New York City. For some reason, I’m more comfortable near water. A friend recently gave me a great book called Blue Mind by Wallace Nichols; it’s about how living near water can make you happier and healthier. I wholeheartedly agree.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Matthieu Ricard, the French Buddhist monk and author who abandoned his career in molecular genetics to practice Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and Bhutan.
Sustainability and consumption are two words you will hardly find in the same sentence. Which brands do you think are both good quality and doing their bit for people and the planet?
Great appreciation and respect has to go to the ground-breaking work of the larger and established ethical brands like Stella McCartney and Maiyet, and also to the smaller brands like Amour Vert, KowTow and Svilu. But the alarming reality of the fashion industry is that the brands acting irresponsibly greatly outweigh the brands taking responsible steps. The goal of our organisation is to inspire all brands to take responsible steps, and include responsibility in all the decisions they make.
Do you support a charity or cause?
Yes, Médecins sans Frontières and Amnesty International.
What is your most treasured luxury item?
The bamboo forest in the backyard garden of my New York apartment. The full grown trees came from Oregon. It’s my little bit of sanity in this crazy city.
What steps do you take to make your life more positive?
When you’re focused on helping the people affected by an industry’s irresponsibility, it’s natural to restructure your life with positive things. For instance, all the bulbs in my home and office are LED and I ride my bike to meetings. This is shocking to some New Yorkers – but how is travelling to and from a meeting about sustainability in a taxi even an option?