LONDON, United Kingdom — BoF can exclusively reveal that Miroslava Duma has launched a new venture that funds, connects and develops cutting-edge technologies and sustainable innovation with the aim of transforming the fashion industry. Investment targets will focus on the fields of materials science, biotech, nanotechnology, wearable electronics and high–performance fibres and fabrics.
The new company, Fashion Tech Lab (FTL), forms part of Duma’s rapidly expanding empire which includes Russia-based fashion and lifestyle digital platform Buro 24/7, currently published in 11 international editions, and The Tot, a US-based online shop for mothers and their children, adding yet another layer to her many business interests that span across fashion, media and technology.
The decision to set up FTL follows Duma’s previous investments in tech- and sustainability-focused fashion companies such as ethical fashion brand Reformation, Finery, an online wardrobe-operating system, and RewardStyle, a monetisation service for fashion influencers.
“Millennials and Gen Z, those are the ones who demand sustainability in every single area of their lives,” Duma told BoF, who added that part of her decision to set up FTL was driven by a personal quest to find environmental and sustainable solutions for the fashion industry, something she feels passionately about.
“The fashion and apparel industry is the second-largest polluter in the world… I was shocked [when I found out] and started to think what we could actually do about it,” she continued. “It really had a huge impact on me. And having two kids at home, I was also looking at what I was doing, and I thought: Am I really helping anyone? Am I really making a change?”
The result was FTL, which is split into three arms. “What we are doing, first of all, is socially responsible investing. Then we are connecting technologies with the fashion industry, and third we have an experimental lab, which develops the technology [and applies it to] products or garments that will be innovative and solve customers’ problems – but at the same time will have modern design.”
FTL is what Duma calls a hybrid of a venture capital fund, accelerator and an experimental laboratory, where companies can receive funding, meet with those in the industry and experiment with the latest technologies to accelerate the fashion industries’ efforts to be more innovative and sustainable.
The company’s investment arm has secured at least $50 million to invest in sustainable companies like Diamond Foundry and Orange Fiber, both of which are looking at ways to create sustainable materials that the fashion industry can use like man-made diamonds and fabrics made from orange peelings. FTL has also invested in a start-up based in San Francisco exploring the production of lab-growth leathers.
Last month, Orange Fiber announced a capsule collaboration with Italian fashion house Ferragamo made with fabric from repurposed orange. “It’s anything from dresses to scarves,” said Duma, who launched into great detail about the benefits of the recycled fabric. “It’s a zero-waste situation, no chemicals on your body, no pesticides … With Orange Fiber, the funny thing is they work with the biggest juice producing companies in Italy, so they get that garbage for free. It’s a win-win situation.
“The future of our industry is the garments that will solve customers’ problems,” she continued. “If you think of basically what’s happening in the world and all those amazing companies like Uber, AirBnB, Amazon and many others … it’s because those platforms’ algorithms are solving people’s problems everyday.
"Some of the scientists and engineers we work with at FTL have been hidden away in these venerable institutes and specialist laboratories for decades so their innovations were available exclusively for the defence and space industries -- until now."
FTL is a privately-owned company that generates funding from private and institutional investors and has people like fashion-tech entrepreneur Carmen Busquets, fashion designer and CFDA chairwoman Diane Von Furstenberg and Livia Firth, eco-fashion activist and founder of EcoAge on its advisory board. It has access to a pipeline of more than 1,000 technologies that include wearable electronics, materials science innovations and high-performance fibres and fabrics, around 50 of which it currently plans to invest in.
So far, Duma has built up a team of 15 people, split between five countries including Russia, China, Britain, Italy and the United States. FTL has named Amanda Parkes, a fashion technologist with more than 12 years experience in wearable technology, interaction design, smart materials and fashion innovation, as its chief innovation officer.
“FTL Ventures will fill a void in the current landscape of fashion technology funding and product development,” Parkes told BoF. “Our focus will be on enabling technologies for the future of fashion… There are so many amazing scientific advances being developed in labs and small companies across the globe that can have a transformative effect across all parts of the fashion chain.
“We are convinced that technology does not have to be at odds with sustainability. In fact, quite the opposite — science should be seen as a tool and resource to help transform fashion into a truly 21st century industry,” she added.
Late last year, Duma travelled across the United States, where she met with executives at tech companies including Google, Facebook and Snapchat, to soak up the lessons from its tech sector to apply them to her own portfolio of businesses.
One of Duma’s 2016 projects was the Buro Tech Forward Initiative (BTFI) which is a partnership between the Russian edition of Buro 24/7, Global Venture Alliance, Russia’s Internet Initiatives Development Fund and the Skolkovo Innovation Centre, often dubbed the Silicon Valley of Russia. The initiative supports young tech and innovation specialists to secure investment and realise their digital initiatives in Russia.
Unlike BTFI, the newly launched FTL has a global remit and is a completely independent venture of Duma’s. The agency division of FTL is aimed at helping companies in the global fashion industry like LVMH and Kering to connect with engineers and scientists developing cutting-edge technologies and to integrate these new innovations into the product offer.
“The most important thing for us is to actually get in, get started, and make the industry embrace and collaborate with people in that world. Our main goal is to try and bring those innovations out of laboratories and into to market,” said Duma, who just spoke at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit on investing in sustainable growth.
FTL’s launch was welcomed by Carole Collet, professor at Central St Martins (CSM) and newly appointed director to lead the CSM LVMH Sustainable Innovation programme announced earlier this month.
“There are a number of great recent and new initiatives in this field, and I am glad to see that we are finally gaining a global momentum to transition towards a more sustainable and smart economy,” Collet told BoF.
“Creating and financing opportunities to interface emerging technologies with entrepreneurship and fashion design can be a catalyst for sustainable innovation, but only if sustainability is at the core of the business ambition; it cannot be added as a plug in, or an afterthought,” she added.