"100% Transparency": Designer Bruno Pieters on His Mission to Create Organic, Sustainable, Ethical Clothing

From the Honest by Bruno Pieters campaign
(Courtesy Honest by)

Would consumers buy the clothes they wear if they knew exactly where they came from? Sweatshop labor, use of toxic materials, animal cruelty, and startling carbon footprints are just a few of the unethical practices taking place within the fashion industry. Following a stint as creative director of Hugo by Hugo Boss, Belgian designer Bruno Pieters took a two-year sabbatical and travelled to India. There, he saw a sign with the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The words inspired Pieters to start a revolution in the fashion world with Honest by, what he considers to be the world’s first 100 percent transparent fashion company. The products are currently only available at honestby.com, and each item description offers a precise breakdown of exactly where the garment comes from. Prospective buyers can see just how many people worked on each piece from conception to production, the time spent creating it, its carbon footprint, its cost, and the provenance and sustainability of all materials used.

Each garment is produced in limited editions, and the brand doesn’t adhere to the regular spring/summer and fall/winter production schedules of the fashion industry. In addition to Pieters, Honest by will have rotating designers. Calla, whose collection debuted on April 5, was the first to join the fold.

Rather than following the unwritten rules of the fashion world, the company seeks to make consumers aware of the choices they are making. ARTINFO interviewed Pieters by email to learn more about Honest by, sustainable clothing production, and why he got tired of making cocktail dresses and high heels.

What practices frustrated you in the fashion industry before you started Honest by?

There was nothing that frustrated me. I love fashion, I believe there is no right or wrong in the world, only choices made. Of course every one of those choices has consequences. It’s up to each and everyone one of us to decide if we want to be responsible for those consequences.

Why did you feel the need to create Honest by?

Honest by is something I wanted as a customer. I love life and respect it, and when I shop I want to be sure that I don’t buy anything that caused harm to anyone or anything. And to have that certainty, I think one needs 100 percent transparency. At the same time I think transparency has always been essential to luxury. Because we don’t just buy a product, we buy the story and the know-how. It’s a guarantee of quality. Heritage and reputation are synonyms for the word “past” to me. I like to know what the brand I’m buying is doing now.

How did you discover the eco-friendly, sustainable materials you use?

We did one year of research to find sustainable luxury fabrics. It wasn’t always easy because the suppliers we used to work with didn’t work with organic materials. Also there are a lot of fabrics and supplies out there that are labeled “organic” but they aren’t – the laws vary from country to country. In the end we decided to work with certified fabrics. The best we found is called GOTS. Suppliers with a GOTS certificate work, in our opinion, in the most sustainable way.

Tell me about the clothes.

The collection I designed for Honest by is both for men and women, winter and summer. I describe them as “Neo-classic hybrids.” I think I was tired of doing cocktail dresses with high heels. I think it’s a very old idea of luxury. The look I wanted to show now is more casual and spontaneous.

Why do you think it is important that consumers know where their clothes are coming from?

I don't know if it’s important, I just wanted to give everyone the opportunity to be aware of what they are buying. If you don’t want to think about these things, that’s fine with me, but in case you do, all the information is available on our Web site. We want to give our customers the best service possible.

You are the founder, curator, designer, and CEO. How do you balance wearing so many hats?

I have never worked so hard in my entire life, but somehow it’s more fun than ever before.

Is it a lot more time consuming to break down every aspect and cost of production for the consumer?

Yes, it demands a lot of preparation and research. I’m creating a world I want to live in, so it’s worth the effort. I love John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” when he says, “You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...” I truly believe that I’m not the only one who wants to live in that world.

What are the challenges in producing garments that are transparent and sustainable?

Producing a garment is always challenging. To do it in a transparent and sustainable way is just much more rewarding to me and maybe even easier because we have nothing to hide. What takes more time is the research, that’s all.

Can you give us a hint about upcoming designers who are going to create for Honest by?

We have a new guest designer every three months planned for 2012. In between, we’ll also do other collaborations. We’ve just launched Honest by Calla this month. I love Calla because her work is so fresh and innovative – I think she was the perfect choice to launch our collaborations.


Click on the slide show to see clothing from the Honest by Bruno Pieters campaign.