Mateja Benedetti had to bide her time before she could pursue her true passion – designing luxury clothing that is not only beautiful but also produced sustainably. “The first organic silks came on the market five years ago,” she says from her atelier in Ljubljana, Slovenia. “And, as more sustainable materials became easier to access, the closer I got to realizing my dream.”
Mateja made her name as a costume designer for theatres and opera houses across Europe and, after winning plaudits for her costumes, she finally launched her eponymous brand in 2017. She makes all her pieces from fabrics such as bamboo, apple skin, organic silk and Piñatex – a natural textile made from pineapple leaf ﬁbre, developed as a sustainable alternative to mass-produced leather and polluting synthetic materials.
“The fashion industry is the third-most polluting industry in the world – the first is meat, then it’s oil,” says Mateja. “Most textiles are made with oil. When you throw synthetic fabrics away they take more than 100 years to degrade and leak out many dangerous chemicals. Even natural materials such as cotton use a lot of water and pesticides. From seed to textile, it takes 8,000 chemicals to produce.”
In addition to opting for the most purely produced and recycled textiles, Mateja likes to tell stories with her collections. By drawing attention to threatened species through her designs and patterns, she hopes to educate and inspire a change of attitude among her customers and beyond. One collection, dedicated to coral reefs, was inspired by marine life in order to create colourful and exquisite masterpieces to match the beauty of various different species of fish. “The animal world is so rich, it’s very inspiring in patterns and stories,” she says. “So I wanted to give people information about what’s happening and to give the animals a voice.” The collection used plant leather and polyester derived from the recycling of plastic bottles. It proved a runaway success, with the designer’s apple-skin couture selected as one of the five finalists at the Green Carpet Awards in La Scala during Milan Fashion Week in 2017.
Her next collection will be dedicated to the octopus, the inspiration for which came from an article she read in National Geographic. Using this as a starting point, Mateja and her team have researched vintage sketches of octopuses that will make up the patterns for her autumn/winter 2019 collection. Aware that eco-fashion has often been more associated with casual natural style than colourful ready-to-wear and haute couture, Mateja channels her passion into flowing, feminine looks that are as smart as they are playful. “I design for women who are self-confident and conscious,” she says. “They create a better future with beauty and style.”
Sustainable fashion is rapidly gaining momentum, with luminaries such as Gisele Bundchen and Livia Firth championing the cause. Even so, Mateja still has to make a case for her chosen fabrics. “I often have to explain why it’s so important to respect nature,” she says, “but once people understand they begin to like the story of the clothes a lot.” What’s more, as every item in her collection is 100 per cent natural, customers soon come to love the comfort that comes with wearing totally organic fabrics. “There are not a lot of natural textiles on the market so when people wear my clothes they don’t want to take them off – they feel like a second skin.”