#ModicInterview – Matteo Ward

Matteo Ward graduated in International Economics at Bocconi University in 2008 and is today the CEO and co-founder of WRÅD, innovative start-up and design studio dedicated to sustainable innovation and social change, winner of the Best of the Best RedDot Design Award and Green Carpet Challenge Award Finalist. Prior to co-founding WRÅD he pursued a 6-year career with Abercrombie and Fitch where he covered the roles of Senior Manager in Germany and co-chair of the A&F Global Diversity and Inclusion Council. Matteo is a member of Fashion Revolution Italia and Art & Creative Director for the newly launched sustainable hub at the WHITE Milan Trade Show (GIVE A FOKus). He is often called as a public speaker at international forums, including the United Nations (in quality of his role as UN/CEFACT expert), TEDx talk, WIRED Digital Day, Fashion Tech Berlin and Fashion Sustain Berlin.


It is a long time since you started your journey in ethical + sustainable fashion industry. How has everything changed since then and how WRÅD has a positive impact on it?

My personal journey started in 2011 when I was first exposed to the concepts of Diversity and Inclusion while working for Abercrombie and Fitch, where I eventually became Sr. Manager and co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Council. In 2015, after years of gradual reckoning that what I was doing was not necessarily aligned with who I wanted to be in life, I then left A&F to launch WRÅD with friends and partners Silvia Giovanardi and Victor Santiago.  WRÅD was an educational platform first – the goal was to communicate the true environmental and social cost of fashion. And the biggest difference with today’s ecosystem is that back then we literally had to convince stakeholders in Italy that fashion had a negative impact. The concept that a sustainable revolution of the industry was needed was not part of the narrative – there was widespread information asymmetry. Today is a bit better, the concept is talked about extensively and there is a lot of interested from the public. But there is also a lot of confusion and an overly-simplified approach to the concepts of sustainability, so much that education is now needed more than ever. There a dangerous enemy we are fighting called greenwashing. There are is a lot misinformation pushed by corporations that either intentionally or not are creating an alternative truth around the concept of  “sustainable fashion” – a biased approach which is causing more harm than good.

I am happy that in the past 5 years with WRÅD we have worked hard to enable as many people as possible with the truth, activating workshops and educational projects in high school, universities, companies, with partners like Fashion Revolution Italy and a growing team of passionate ambassadors. Pro-bono WRÅD Education reached up to 11,000 students in 2018-2019, distributed our workshops in 102 countries worldwide and activated partnerships with 16 universities.

In 2015 WRAD launched its first educational program and after five years spent in the educational field, this led to the development of School of WRÅD. What is the main mission of it and how other organizations focused on sustainability can contribute for a strategic growth of the school?

The main scope of the School of WRÅD is to scale and amplify our educational activities worldwide, with a focus on delivering content which is both accessible, inclusive and independent. Accessible because education around a concept upon which depends the life of billions of people should not be elitarian. Inclusive because there are still many barriers, linguistic in primis, which prevent millions of students from taking part in the conversation around how to make fashion more sustainable – and such barriers must be taken down as we need everyone to join in and contribute. Independent because unfortunately I have come to witness corruption taking over educational content even in this field and I wanted to protect the integrity of our content. The business model is designed to empower both privates and businesses who decide to invest in the courses by the School of WRÅD to donate, for each course bought, one course for free to a student in underserved ecosystems. It’s a 1-for-1 scheme but with educational content.

What are the main problems you see in the fashion sector today? How these problems affect our environment and what are the daily actions that we must do?

The industry has a triple negative impact today on the environment, society and humans. Fashion systems are engineered to take positive inputs from the three dimensions above mentioned  and return negative outputs which are profitable, in the short-run, only for a few stakeholders.

The main problems continue to be lack of transparency, lack of systemic thinking when dealing with sustainable development and lack of a real sense of urgency when it comes to global challenges such as circularity or living wages in manufacturing countries. We continue to act as if it is sustainable to keep on producing clothing at this pace. But we must face the elephant in the room: nobody needs more clothing or, better, the role of clothing in society going forward will have to be redefined (and with it, the industry around it). How can we justify the on-going exploitation of limited resources that are essential for life to create non-essential items which are, in addition, polluting, causing health issues, exacerbating social injustices and are impossible to recycle?  As consumers our weapons continue to be awareness, rational thinking when purchasing, supporting alternative business models such as renting, swapping.. But for paradigmatic change to happen we urgently need the synergic and serious intervention of governments, financial institutions and, of course, the private sector.

WRÅD’s R&D program carries through projects dedicated to the creation of its own proprietary innovative technologies, but how exactly WRÅD can consult and support third parties in their own journey for sustainable innovation worldwide?

When we partner with a client, we first try to understand how its outputs could, eventually, become of service to address specific needs of humanity beyond the product. If there is full alignment in values and there is potential for a partnership then we proceed in finding a path forward for a synergic project.  Sometimes using our proprietary technologies is enough and fitting. Some other times we may come to believe a different route to be better. In this case we support our partners with the strategic definition of such path for sustainable development, with a correlated communication plan, and with options to innovate their offering leveraging on the extensive network of partners working in the fields of R&D for sustainability and circularity which we have built through the years.

Considering the pandemic situation worldwide, how do you see the panorama of sustainable fashion weeks and trade fairs currently?

The pandemic has forced the industry to fast track something that was very much needed: a redefinition of how fashion weeks and trade shows are handled. It is still work in progress, we have not fully grasped in my opinion how this part of the business will look like in the future nor have we found an effective balance between digital opportunities and the true needs of brands and retailers. But this challenging time did succeed in getting all of us to re-think priorities and re-value what truly matters, both physically and spiritually, in the panorama of fashion weeks where, notoriously, too many economic, natural, and mental resources were allocated and often wasted in very dumb things. And I don’t believe you can walk back from it now.

How did you start GIVE A FOK-us project in collaboration with WHITE SHOW and how sustainable brands can be involved?

GIVE A FOK-us was an opportunity kindly given to us by Max Bizzi and his WHITE-team at the beginning of 2019, with a very short notice and a simple brief: we had to build a cultural destination to bridge the gap between the culture of sustainability and all of the buyers, brands and industry leaders that walk through WHITE each season. We had never taken on such a challenge, the task was bigger than all of us put together, but the purpose of the project was too inspiring and relevant for us to allow fear to fill in our brain with second thoughts. So we said yes and that edition of February 2019 became the first step in a collaborative journey that, season after season, allows us to fulfill our purpose more and more everyday. I am happy to have embarked on this project, it has been a humbling, learning opportunity for us all. I love the dialogues it creates, the partnerships it nurtures, the inclusive and accessible DNA, and the opportunities it continues to unlock for everyone involved. GIVE A FOK-us and WSM White in January 2020 hosted 80 responsible brands, 20 innovative startups, 15 workshops dedicated to sustainability, an accelerator challenge, 5 special educational areas and a museum exhibit (a piece of Sustainable Thinking by Museo Salvatore Ferragamo) thanks to the collaboration with the Fondazione Salvatore Ferragamo.

Brands who wish to apply should use the contact info on the website www.wsm-white.com.

Imagine that you must write a letter to your FUTURE SELF. What would you write?

Dear future Matteo, I am working my ass off to make sure you can be proud of the person you have become, so don’t be too hard on me lol!!! I know you will never be fully satisfied, I never am today – so not sure if that will change at some point in the future. But I hope our collective work continues to give us hope and optimism for what will will come after us.

An interview by Mira Postolache