Grassroots Gone Global

What Miroslava Duma’s high-tech venture means for fashion

If you follow the crowd of the fashion week front rows, chances are Miroslava Duma is well on your radar. But the apple of Tommy Ton’s lens is so much more than meets the street-styled eye. At only 32 years old, Duma is the Russian It-girl-cum-fashion editor-cum-digital entrepreneur changing the fashion industry with considerable force. Five years ago, she founded a digital project, Buro 24/7, identifying a gap in the market for a platform that covers fashion, lifestyle, art and film. Since then, her media empire has expanded to 11 countries across four continents. And Duma has not stopped there.

Recently, Business of Fashion announced the launch of her new endeavor under the name of Fashion Tech Lab (FTL). Part fashion incubator and part venture capital fund, FTL will help new technologies and sustainable innovations connect, collaborate and create products and brands to evolve the fashion industry. Duma’s concern with the damaging effects of the fashion industry on the environment influenced her focus on reducing fashion’s social and environmental footprint. The venture will focus on biotech, nanotechnologies, tech textiles and wearable tech.

After a year of researching and visiting tech giants around the world, Duma has been able to identify the need for investment in fashion, in a socially responsible way. What does it mean for the industry? For starters, smaller brands intimidated by the saturated market might now have a chance with the FTL backing.

FTL has secured at least $50 million to invest in companies that develop new technologies, attracting scientists and innovation specialists from around the world. Technology and fashion should not be at odds with each other, and that is what Duma’s venture promises to change.

Although Duma has done her homework, there are only a number of companies who successfully marry tech and fashion, and they are still relatively unknown. Among her first prospective investments is Orange Fiber, a company that makes fibers from the peels of, you guessed it – oranges, and Diamond Foundry, a producer of man-made gems. But even with FTL investment, the challenge still remains for these small tech brands to garner mass-market appeal.

The biggest obstacle facing fashion tech is the cost. Sustainable practice doesn’t come cheap; and in an industry led by fast-fashion giants with high-street prices and luxury conglomerates who survive on the sales of leather goods, sparing the environment is rarely top priority. The luxury sector still makes the majority of revenues from their accessories and handbags, a trade mostly dependent on leather. Production, from cattle ranching to factory emissions, requires vast amounts of natural resources. It is far from sustainable, but it brings in the cash.

It is possible that ventures like FTL developed by people like Duma (with over 1.5m followers on Instagram) can shake up the old ways and make the big luxury giants move faster? The fashion industry is indeed one of the biggest polluters on the planet, and revolutions come from small steps in the right direction. Duma’s new venture is a sign of a change in the industry: putting her best (Prada clad) foot forward.

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