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Making freedom fashionable



This morning when I walked in I met Richard Stallman, who is one of the icons of my brother and I tried to explain the company to him, the first thing he said, I'll stop you right there, because it's so unrelated to what I do, I don't follow you at all. Let me try again.

Exactly four months ago I found myself on a famous square called Maidan Square in the Ukraine. We travelled to Ukraine as one of the only company in the last couple of months to actually engage with the creative scene in Ukraine. After we found out, I'll tell you a bit more about what we actually do, but we represent emerging fashion designers, we'd be the Napster of fashion.

At that point, at the beginning of the year, we represented eighty eight young talents from the Ukraine, fantastic ready-to-wear and haute couture designers, who were not able to carry out their professions any more, thanks to Western policies. Paypal blocked their accounts; we were not able to pay into their accounts. Visa cards were being blocked. There were different ways of blocking this creative scene; designers would not be able to ship products abroad, and almost sort of a livelihood for a lot of emerging talents, and it didn't really matter if it was fashion or music or anything else, but it was really clear that the Western world found a way to in some way isolate a country or a creative scene for a reason which is not a reason, geo-politics, but we tried to come up with a solution. We flew to Ukraine and we organised a big workshop and we found a way for young talents in Ukraine to start selling their fashion on a direct way, directly out of their studios.

We looked at sustainable fashion, these young designers were able to produce in the Ukraine and after a couple of months, in April, we looked at numbers and were impressed at a sort of unprecedented support from the fashion industry to help these young designers come out from Ukraine but also be able to sell their designs all around the world. In a country with an average monthly salary of around two hundred and fifty euros, we had one of the most successful Ukrainian designers making over twenty six thousand euros just in four months. We had seventeen items or designs per month on average sold per designers, averaging a total of one thousand seven hundred euros per month for these designers.

Another story I would like to tell you about. Two years ago, I was invited to northern Italy and I met some of those iconic entrepreneurs and dynasties in the fashion industry and what they were saying is, we don't have anyone to take over the tradition, the manufacturing, the sustainability that we have in Italy, because we're lacking creativity; we're not able to compete with the fast fashion world. We're not able to compete with the H&Ms and Primarks and so on. Our idea was, I'll just click back to this picture, what we said is, well, why don't we bring the most successful one hundred fashion designers from all around the world to northern Italy to meet these families and see if we can create an open design project, so bringing together designers and the manufacturers; two worlds that do not speak at the moment. If you compare these to the music industry, what we're trying to do here is getting the young artists and connecting directly with those who produce music in a sort of common objective to actually sell their music by passing all middle-men.

The Italian government sponsored to build the first purposely built pavilion, it was a forty five million euro project that we achieved over two years, and we brought one hundred designers from eighty two cities, five continents into this area of northern Italy, and thus bringing to people together who would have not communicated but would have been sitting in the same sector, but seeing also their livelihood being threatened by big fashion companies that are somehow building up their own fashion system.

Why am I telling you about this. The whole project started six years ago with my brother thinking, what can we do to actually help the creators. Our long-term business plan is to expand into music, into contemporary art, but for now, we focus on high end luxury fashion.

We came up with a Drupal based website, an open source website, where every young fashion designer around the world would have the chance to represent and show what they're able to do. With the goal to bypass all expensive middle-men and I'm not going to explain to you the horrible fashion business, but with an aim to actually support the artisans. A young designer from Brighton, allowing him to sell directly to a customer in Australia, grossing the most part of the retail price. At the moment, if you buy something in a shop from a fairly established young designer, they get about five to six per cent of the final price that you pay. Through our system, what we try to do is actually get these designers to independently support their own growth of their own brands, but also build up companies that in the future hopefully as a community will provide a different access and a different fashion system.

The website works very easily; we started with Drupal 5. We then moved onto Drupal 6 and here you see a couple of screen shots of our new Drupal 7 website, but I think what I want to tell you here is more about our business model. On one way we look like any other sort of typical company that could attract VC money, and trust me, I've seen or met any VC around the world, because we provide a free service to our designers, but at the same time, we protect them. The community, we're almost like a lobby. We support each other, we are quite how you say, we're genuine, we have integrity and at the same time, we monetise ourselves by sharing the success. When designers sell through our online shop, we get a profit margin but mostly we work with big corporates around the world who are keen to interact and we heard that before, there's enough people out there who are very interested to support a project like this one, and to support an open design and open source project.

So in the last couple of years we worked with fantastic brands, starting with Ferrari, Vivienne Westwood, we're working with Zara at the moment. And all of these come together to help these designers maybe not feel that alone because they're distributed and they're among us, but also we want to show that bringing creative people and artisans and creators together we can actually act as a community and get quite powerful, and the two initial projects, the reason why I showed them to you, is because I wanted to underline the fact that we live in this age of transformation. There are politics, there are systems in place that do not allow us to carry out the work normally, but we just have to go and create our own systems.

In the Ukraine in crisis, we managed to find out a system to allow designers being paid, even if our governments tried to sort of destabilise this country. In the Italian case, what we tried to do is find a way to make sure this sustainable fashion, this creativity, this artisanship is not being lost, and therefore I feel I think I'm immensely excited to be here, because I think these are two worlds that need to come together and there are examples, you see that open design and open source are coming together, and I think it is a much, much wider story than just this room alone.

Therefore, I think the business model of the future and we discussed this before I think, the business model of the future can be social, it can be synergistic, it can be ethical, and I think most importantly, it can be highly profitable, and this is in our case. You can make money by doing the right thing and therefore we're always open, we need more developers, we need more intelligent people like you guys, because I think changing the world is not an option; it is an obligation at least to try.

Thank you very much.