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LCFxKering Award – meet Neliana Fuenmayor, last year’s winner for Stella McCartney

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9780500544747crop
© Anja Niemi The Taxidermist, 2103, Starlets series
Written by
loukia
Published date
17 October 2016

Last month we caught up with MA Fashion Innovation and Entrepreneurship graduate Neliana Fuenmayor, winner of last year’s LCFxKering Award for Stella McCartney. As part of her prize, Neliana won a three month internship at the brand and we met with her to discuss her time there, what she has been up to since, and what her hopes are for the future.

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About her LCFxKering proposal…

My winning proposal for Stella McCartney was based on a omni-channel strategy to communicate the sustainable angles of the companies’ products and activities. My topic of research is ‘transparency in fashion’ so the Kering Award was a fantastic way for me to test whether my research was relevant to the luxury group. At the moment transparency is quite new as a topic in our industry, so it was great to see how this partnership between LCF and Kering embraced my proposal.

I did my research based on luxury brands and what their demographic are looking for – quality, craftsmanship, and essentially sustainability in luxury. I took the iconic Stella McCartney logo and decided to distill the key sustainable angles that you get on Stella’s online product description as shown below, in a way that would be visually-friendly for the customer to get an overview of the product composition.

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As part of my primary research I found out that many customers thought their Elyse shoes were made out of real leather, which is a great thing as they look the same, but it has been a huge effort and process for the brand —as a vegetarian company — to come out with a beautiful sustainable product, and for it to not be acknowledged as one, in my opinion.

Stella do so much as a brand that is worth sharing—they have set sustainable goals such as being a ‘zero deforestation’ company by 2017, this is translated by sourcing their viscose from certified Swedish forests. They have released a series of films educating their customer about this natural fibre made literally out of trees — a fun example of sustainable communications.

About her internship at Stella McCartney…

My main focus during the internship was to work on the Kering award from the CSR department in collaboration with the graphic team, to develop my proposal for sustainable communications. They wanted to create a new info-graphic symbol that could encompass the whole ethos of what Stella McCartney’s sustainable angle.

I also worked closely with the CSR team on other projects they had going such as helping to create a visual traceability map of some of their raw materials, like the Swedish viscose, research on sustainable communications, and other projects that are still happening within the brand.

I really enjoyed my time at Stella — I learnt a great deal being inside the company and understanding how they operate and I also got to know really lovely people from other departments too.

Her advice to this year’s winners of the LCFxKering Award…

This year the Award prize structure is different – there is one winner for the monetary prize and another one for the internship. I would tell to the prize winner to use the funds to keep developing their research further if possible – I used mine to pay off part of my BA student loan, but what is more important take this opportunity to further your network and give a voice to your vision. The Kering Award is a great platform to showcase your work and make new contacts – for me, this experience helped me to get people to notice my area of research and to share my vision for a more transparent and sustainable fashion industry.

For the person who gets the internship I would say, find out as much you can, ask loads of questions and keep learning from others around you. While you’re at the brand try spending half your time working on your project and push for it to happen as much as possible, but then the other half you should spend learning from the other projects that are going on at the company. Meet as many people from other departments as you can – ‘work hard and be nice’.

For the 2017 cohort of applicants I would say keep innovating, keep pushing boundaries and bring your ideas to the spotlight, its not easy to bare your vision but it pays off if you keep going. It’s about the process, learning from the mistakes and celebrating small victories. Have fun!

What she’s been up to since, and what she’s working on now…

As part of my MA I worked on a business model to set a consultancy called ‘A Transparent Company’. I launched it during the LCF MA2016 exhibition to explore other brands that wish to push their sustainability communications further, as well as offering services such as sustainability sourcing, brand strategy and delivering workshops.

I have been a speaker on a number of panels and talks such as SUSS ‘Sustainable September’, which launched last month as an effort to empower consumer to make better purchasing decisions and live a more sustainable lifestyle in every sense of the word — this resonates greatly with how I see life and work co-existing. I was honoured to share the discussions with Tamsin LeJeune founder of Ethical Fashion Forum, Carry Somers co-founder of Fashion Revolution and Cyndi Rhoades from Worn-again for the first set of talks.

I have been consulting tech company Provenance on their fashion operations, as I am an enthusiast of the innovative and disruptive of technology they work with: blockchain. There are a series of fashion brands that are interested in exploring how this technology could help gain more trust within their supply chains. Basically, blockchain is an open ledger that allows people from a supply chain to trust each other without knowing each other, making brands more confident about the information they are getting from their suppliers.

It’s a relief to see that brands are looking at new technology, and understanding that they need to make more robust systems to be able to trust their own claims in order to one day have customer facing information confidently. It’s been an interesting journey seeing that it is happening more but it is a long term journey and for me, being the futurist that I am, I need to be patient with the process!

I am a guest lecturer at LCF for both BA and MA courses too. This has allowed me to share my research and vision with students from different courses. It’s great to see that there are more students interested in transparency in fashion and I have been able to contribute to their research.

What’s next …

My hope is that in the near future fashion brands will start applying new traceability technologies such as blockchain in their supply chains. Although tech is not my area of expertise, through my work with Provenance I’m keen to help brands create communication strategies to make the process as seamless as possible, and consequently become ‘a transparent company’.

I think new legislation such as the modern slavery bill can help fashion brands to embrace transparent communications strategies and technologies sooner rather than later. Other industries such as the food and beverage industry, are ahead of the game. If fashion is about newness, I believe it should take care of other relevant ‘trends’ that can make the apparel sector part of the solution and not the problem.

I have also been getting interest from the American market interestingly enough, as there seem to be more funding for innovation and ‘disruptive ideas’ — San Francisco based fashion brands like Everlane are embracing ’radical transparency’. Since Brexit even though nothing has changed technically, the air seems to be a bit uncertain and since we are living in a ‘glo-cal’ world thanks to the internet and new ways of working remotely, is worth looking into other horizons.