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Inside the ethical fashion influencer world with Sustainable Man

Dan Pontarlier
Dan Pontarlier
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We had a chat with fashion influencer Sustainable Man, an expert in his field with over 26k followers on Instagram. Sustainable Man, real name Dan Pontarlier, opened up to us about his route into sustainability and answered some all important questions on how to be a more conscientious shopper and what the fashion industry can do, as a whole, to improve their sustainable reputation.

Tell us a little bit about the earlier years of your life.

Even though I live in Paris now, I was born in Barcelona and lived there for a long time until I started to travel and move around. I started a degree in chemistry, but later I changed into tourism because I was mastering several languages and had a passion for heritage and culture.

When I was finishing my tourism degree, after an Erasmus in Paris, I worked as a receptionist in a hotel and liked the atmosphere – and for that reason, I started a Master’s degree in hotel management.

When did your initial interest in sustainability first come about?

I wanted to apply for a PhD but I was lacking the necessary credits, so I joined another sustainability-focused master's program to make them up. In all honesty, I did this just to be able to apply for the PhD, but the new master's ended up having a great impact on me and I thought: 'I want to dedicate myself to sustainability'. I left the hotel where I was working and decided to embark on a new path. That was when the Barcelona Hotel Association took an interest in me and I was appointed to be their lead in Corporate Social Responsibility. Working with them, I developed a strategic plan for sustainability for the years 2017-2019, something that had a great, positive impact and that I'm really proud of.

You are (or have been) involved in a lot of projects across different industries. Which ones are you most active in these days?

I'm more active in the hospitality and fashion industries nowadays, but I also teach some specialisation courses in several business schools. I'm a consultant in sustainability and marketing, helping companies reach their sustainability and communication goals and a referee for the academic journal ‘Turismo y Sociedad’, from the University Externado of Colombia.

When did you decide to become a sustainability influencer and what exactly does the job entail?

After working for a while in sustainability management for hospitality, I really learnt the importance of sustainability in all facets of daily life. I realised that, in Europe, the world of sustainable fashion had both communication and promotion shortcomings. So I thought that, if we are influencers, we must influence with commitment. After seeing the reaction of the brands and the people who followed me on these issues, I decided to launch and dedicate part of my time to this - and that's how I founded the blog Sustainable man.

Mainly, I share fashion brands that I love and communicate the advantages of #WearingFair, which is the hashtag I created for people to use whenever they take a picture wearing sustainable clothes. I'm starting to post more about events regarding sustainable fashion, and also research that I undertake in tourism regarding sustainability, as it's my general area of expertise.

Fashion influencers tend to be women. How difficult was it to become a fashion influencer as a man?

The truth, in my case, is that it was not very difficult. I'm specialised in marketing and I have knowledge of social networks. I knew at what times I should use certain hashtags, how to get more reach, which profiles to communicate to...etc. Thanks to that knowledge, I did not need to know anyone in particular or contact any agency for help. The other thing that is so important to be a successful influencer, is that your content has to be good and relatable. People will only follow you when they identify with you somehow. Like me, I'm just a regular man that wants to give visibility to all the possible ways of being sustainable.

Sustainable fashion is your passion. What are some of the hottest sustainable fashion brands for men and women at the moment? Which countries are pioneering the way for ethical fashion?

Personally, I love Christopher Raeburn - he is like my favourite designer! But there are some other cool brands like Ecoalf (leading the Spanish market), KnowledgeCotton Apparel, grünbag, Recolution, WeNorwegians, Grape Menswear, Better World Fashion... mostly in the north of Europe, that I like a lot too! Even though my style is more classic, I always like to break that stiffness with an extravagant piece. Fashion is art. Fashion designers are artists of life and movement, and being sustainable while creating art is something remarkable.

What, in your opinion, does the fashion industry need to do to move forward and become more sustainable, fair and transparent? And how likely is it to happen?

In my opinion, the first thing the fashion industry should do is a self-assessment of their current situation regarding the Sustainable Development Goals that we have been talking about a lot lately. They need to think about which aspects they are not fulfilling and the goals they are not reaching in terms of being consistently sustainable. This should start with the founder, manager or whoever else is responsible for the direction of the organization. It is them who should be committed first to sustainability, and lead by example. Whenever I have worked with hotels and fashion brands that were willing to change, that was the first statement I made and, by the end, they all agreed on the importance of it.

After that has been agreed, they should develop a REAL Corporate Social Responsibility Plan, in order to commit to continuous improvement in the development of sustainability in their company, and establish goals to be achieved in the short and long terms.

Just being ethical, fair, and questioning whether everything is in accordance with the three spheres of sustainability, is enough to maintain that spirit and keep moving towards those objectives.

Thanks to the improvement of consumer habits, and the commitment that we are starting to around consumption and sustainability, I don't think we are very far away. I am hopeful that the day will come where, internationally, all companies will have to publicly report on all their actions. At least I hope so!

What are some of the steps that people should take to become more conscientious fashion consumers?

People have to start asking themselves questions when buying. That's where it all starts: if we reflect on how much we are paying for items, we can see what other people are earning for manufacturing the clothing. If we were all able to see that a shirt with a value of €5 comes from an unethical chain of development, then we would seriously consider whether or not to buy it.

The problem, I find, is the lack of communication about sustainability, the fact that in some countries it is a taboo word, and that in other countries it is an ignored word. Sustainability and its concepts is something that should be taught to children from an early age, so that they can lead the way in the future.

What are the things shoppers should always remember to do to make their purchases more ethical/sustainable?

It would be great to remember the implications that everything has nowadays. These being the exploitation of farm animals, deforestation, skinning animals alive for fashion or for culinary reasons and so on. What I would recommend is to pass judgement over the evolution of the product you are buying, from the raw material to what you have in your hand, and think of the implications that it might have on the environment. And of course, to always look on the Internet for magazines like Living It, where you can improve your knowledge day by day with reading sustainable content. Thank you for that!

Words: Maria Stambler