Named the “most connected digital entrepreneur in fashion” by Vogue, Miroslava Duma is the founder of several ventures, a digital start-up investor, and an entrepreneur. Here, Positive Luxury sits down with Miroslava, or ‘Mira’ as she is affectionately known, to discuss the future of fashion and all things positive living – including Future Tech Lab, her latest venture set on bringing sustainable innovation to the fashion industry and beyond.
You’re cited as a “force of the fashion industry” with an incredible lifestyle media empire that’s rapidly expanding. Could you tell us how you started?
I actually graduated with a Masters in International Business and Administration—my father had big plans for me! But I had always been interested in the fashion industry and, at that time, specifically fashion media.
I started as an unpaid intern at Conde Nast and felt lucky to get a chance and opportunity to meet people, learn the ropes from the inside, and be a part of the world I was fascinated with. My first big job in fashion was as Special Projects Director for Harper’s Bazaar. I loved that world of print media, but quickly started to realise that the future was digital.
I really wanted to create a digital resource that would focus on contemporary culture: art, architecture, fashion, technologies, lifestyle, beauty, cinema, music, health, travel. That’s how Buro247 was born. We set out to create one destination that had the trust and curation of these big legacy brands, with the pace and vitality of social media. There are now 11 versions of Buro247 globally with as many more in the pipeline.
What has inspired your focus on sustainable fashion? Was it a particular person or event?
I was born in Siberia where natural oil and gas capacity is one of the largest in the country, so I have always been acutely aware of how big of a pollutant that industry is. What I did not know until recently (and what came as a huge wake-up call for me) is that the $3T fashion and apparel industry is, in fact, the second largest polluter after oil.
Nearly 10 percent of global carbon emissions can be attributed to fashion. The realisation was a big shock, which sparked the idea to launch Future Tech Lab (FTL) to help transform the fashion ecosystem into a technologically advanced, renewable, environmentally friendly and socially responsible industry. By changing the DNA of the fashion industry to become more sustainable, we believe these changes will permeate other industries.
I realised that I was a part of an industry so conflicted and full of contrasts, and wanted to think of a way to create change within it. FTL bridges textiles and technology to help bring new sustainable and game-changing innovation out of labs, studios and garages, and into the hands of consumers.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges the fashion industry is facing today when it comes to being sustainable?
The biggest challenge we are facing today is changing the collective industry mindset, which is why we see FTL as more of a movement, aimed at empowering and accelerating the fashion and apparel industry to transition to a more innovative and sustainable future. These changes will not happen overnight, but the process is well underway.
FTL is a hybrid venture that’s part investment fund, accelerator and experimental laboratory. Could you tell us more about how these all come together and what the main goal is?
FTL has a multi-pillar structure, facilitating investments in technology and socially responsible projects, acting as an agency/incubator aimed at connecting cutting-edge technologies with the fashion and apparel industry. Another pillar is the Experimental Lab—we’ll be able to say more about that soon.
FTL’s goal is the creation and discovery of future technology and materials for the fashion and apparel industry. We help engineers and scientists all over the world develop their ideas in fields like material science, biotechnology and nanotechnology, smart textiles, and wearable tech. By combining technology and fashion design – two worlds that are so far removed from each other right now – we’ll facilitate the production of unique products. Our team is scattered around the globe and is constantly looking for new projects in 160 countries all over the world, including Russia, the US, Europe, and Asia.
I’ve been investing in projects that focus on technology and ecological solutions (like Reformation) for quite some time. I also co-founded a unique platform called The Tot, where you can find eco-friendly products for children, free from toxins or chemicals of any kind.
We’re seeing an increase in development of biotech, nanotechnologies, tech textiles, and wearable tech. Can you tell us how that will impact the luxury industry?
A lot of luxury fashion is built on this idea of handmade being superior. But right now consumers are starting to care more about how the goods are being produced. And this is not about whether the product is handmade or 3D printed, but if the production is responsible and the materials are sustainable.
Millennials are the first generation to be really interested in sustainability and understanding how things are made, alongside the social, economic and environmental impact of their production. Our children, Generation Z, will take what sustainability and eco-innovations mean for the planet even more seriously. In the near future, progress will make it possible to produce 100-percent sustainable products – for example, bags and car seats – from cow’s skin grown in laboratories without any harm to the environment or animals.
We have already invested in a very promising San Francisco-based company in this area.
How is tech revolutionising the fashion industry? Where do you think the future of tech is heading?
The fashion and apparel industry is generally quite conservative. Not much has changed over the past century! Certain brands experiment with fashion shows, constantly aiming to make them more entertaining, innovative and impressive, but at the same time, only a few of them are experimenting with new materials and technologies – and this doesn’t only apply to the fashion industry!
Many of these solutions lie within developments made over 50 years ago, led by research labs all over the world. FTL is focused on helping to get these solutions out of labs and to the consumer through products that are sustainable, beautiful, and manufactured efficiently at scale.
I truly believe in the importance of creativity and aesthetics within fashion, and maintaining this despite any new added functionality. Fashion is a language of personal expression, of individuality, beauty, and aesthetics. None of this should be compromised to incorporate technology and sustainability because, at the most basic level, if something isn’t beautiful, no one will want to wear it.
What are the sustainable innovations you are most excited about?
I’ve seen many inspiring ideas and projects ever since the inception of FTL. One of our first portfolio companies was Diamond Foundry, a San Francisco-based lab that was founded just four years ago and has already attracted $100 million worth of investment – including from Leonardo DiCaprio. Diamond Foundry can grow diamonds up to 15 carats from a microscopic layer of a natural diamond in a plasma reactor in just a few weeks. Their resulting diamonds’ atomic compositions are the same as that of a natural diamond, but without any ethical issues surrounding the diamond mining industry.
Another one of our portfolio companies, San Francisco-based VitroLabs is successfully growing the world’s first truly luxury cultured leather. They are able to produce ethical leather from the cells of cow, crocodile, ostrich, and other animals. The traditional process of turning skin into leather requires huge amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, plus various oils and dyes that are hazardous for humans. VitroLabs will be the answer to clean and ethically sound leather production, revolutionising the future of leather and fur for the luxury industry.
There are so many other innovations out there – all united by their unique problem solving capabilities – for which FTL is scouting the world.
Who are your favourite sustainable brands or heroes?
Kering has already made significant sustainability improvements across its business and is quickly reducing its footprint. It has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2025, paying particular attention to traceability, animal and social welfare, and chemical use.
Its next phase is implementing a 360-degree approach within the entire supply chain over the next 10 years to reduce its environmental impact, which is huge!
Among the brands I respect for what they do are Patagonia, Reformation, Stella McCartney, Vrai & Oro, and Gabriela Hearst.
If you enjoyed this interview with Miroslava Duma, you might also like to read In Conversation with Vestiaire Collective and Pandora Sykes: Talking Fashion Love and Career Achievements.