Two years ago the Belgian designer Bruno Pieters relinquished his eponymous label and stepped down from his role as creative director of Hugo Boss’s diffusion line, Hugo. Why the abrupt exit? For a bit of soul-searching in India.
But this is hardly an Eat Pray Love story. Pieters spent his time in the subcontinent researching the textile industry and its supply chains. He eventually launched a unisex label, Honest By, and in the process developed a new openness in retail, or what he calls “the world’s first 100% transparent company.” Available online only, each Honest By piece comes with a complete cost breakdown. By the time you click Buy, you’ll know the provenance and actual price of each part of the garment, from the fabric to the buttons. Plus, as if it needs mentioning, the line is mindful of the environment, organic where possible, and made under safe and fair working conditions.
To democratize matters even further, Honest By will be guest-designed every three months, while still curated by Pieters. The first guest was Toronto-born Calla Haynes, and this July will see the reveal of the next, a Paris name with more than a decade of experience. It’s a lot to absorb. Fortunately Pieters was on hand to further break it down…
You conceived Honest By during a sabbatical in southern India. Was there a particular moment the idea hit you?
There wasn’t a moment in particular. I think Honest By took me 36 years to create. All the ideas I have are the result of my life. Of course, quotes like Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world” and Einstein’s “If at first the idea doesn’t seem absurd then there is no hope for it” inspired me and made me take the plunge. Honest By is what I wanted as someone who loves fashion, but at the same time is very aware of the consequences that all my purchases have. To me, being honest is the only possibility we have as human beings. I can’t imagine paying for something that isn’t sustainable. I think I’d rather go naked [laughs].
The great Indian guru Osho once said, “The man who created the maxim ‘Honesty is the best policy’ must have been a very cunning man.” How do you decide what’s honest?
If you think about it, lies only exist to be discovered. And the result is always damaging. It’s a waste of time. But I’m very happy you asked that question because, to my surprise, many people are not aware of what they are buying. Nor do they know how prices are calculated. The standard wholesale mark-up for a designer is 2.2%. Ours is 2.0. It’s very low. But the mark-up is something every designer or company decides for themselves. Sometimes it can go up to 5.0 or even higher depending on where the product was made and what a company believes the price should be. There are no rules. The only reason why our clothes are now at the same price point as other luxury brands is because we sell only limited editions. I don’t mean that there were just 1000 made. I mean extreme limited editions, like 10 to 20 pieces. It’s basically like couture.
Is sustainability the future of fashion? Is Honest By revolutionary?
How nice of you to call it fashion and not eco-fashion [laughs]. I don’t understand why some of us see it as two separate things. It’s just fashion. But to answer your question, I hope Honest By won’t be revolutionary for long. I hope it becomes a standard soon. For our customers it isn’t revolutionary anymore, it has become a normality—a way of living and a way of shopping. In the near future I’d love to collaborate with other industries. This concept can be applied to anything and it would be just as great.
To describe your experience in fashion, you once quoted Cristobal Balenciaga as saying “It was a dog’s life.” How would you describe it today?
Honest By reflects a part of my personality today. And I do say a part of my personality because I’m no different from anyone else. There is a Yin and a Yang in me. I am working on something that I believe is important to me now. But I like it when people see my work with Honest By as a “game changer.” Even if I love the game and I am probably the last person who would want to change it. The game, or life, has never been better for most of us today. I wouldn’t want to change that. I prefer to find solutions, so we can all keep playing this game.
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