Today’s hip and chic youth want to be proud of what they wear – not only because they know they look cool and trendy, but also because their choice of fashion harms the environment as little as possible.
Vilma Piironen, co-founder of Cuitu and a woman in her early twenties, has noticed the change in her circle of friends.
“A lot of young people don’t want to support cheap, low-quality fashion brands. Yet they do want to look good and follow trends,” she explains. “However, sometimes there just aren’t that many options to choose from.”
This is what Cuitu is set to be part of changing. The company, founded earlier this year by Piironen and three of her fellow students of different fields at the University of Turku, is seeking to make use of and commercialise sustainable and green materials that can be used for fashion items designed by Cuitu to meet demands of fashionistas.
The materials are sourced from innovative partners. For example, this spring, Cuitu got a chance to build a mentorship with technology company Spinnova, whose award-winning innovation produces textile-ready fibre from cellulose without any harmful chemicals.
Serving the trendy
Innovations like that of Spinnova are at the heart of Cuitu’s philosophy: to utilise waste streams, side products and materials sourced in an eco-friendly manner. Piironen and the team believe that this will be of increasing interest to consumers and, thus, fashion brands.
“We acknowledge that the mass production of fashion can’t keep going the way it’s going now, with several collections each year and changing fads that make their way to consumers through cheap fast fashion,” Piironen explains. “However, trend-conscious people will always want to stay on top of things. We’re not trying to make people stop buying, but rather our aim is to help them to be trendy by choosing materials that can be reused and recycled.”
The idea was born in early 2019, and the founders spent the summer participating in an accelerator programme. Next, their aim is to produce a pilot collection of unisex bags, and, come 2020, an entire collection of Cuitu items designed by Evi Oivanen, one of the founders.
“Our designs will be pretty minimalistic, but we’ll spice them up with things like structures and other elements, inspired by the materials we use,” Piironen notes. “We also want to be unisex, particularly with our accessories.”
The setting is international from the word go, and Piironen is confident that the idea will appeal to people particularly in Europe and Asia.
Scouting for innovations
Right now, Cuitu is keen to test the limits of materials such as Tencel, a fibre made from wood pulp. Piironen and the team see that there’s plenty more where Tencel came from, too.
Scouting for new material innovations makes up a big chunk of the team’s daily work. They collaborate with, for example, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, which is known for its ground-breaking work across industries, to find ways to manufacture fashion in less resource-intensive ways.
Piironen points out that many innovations remain in R&D labs or are developed further solely with industries like packaging instead of fashion design.
“What’s not being considered as much as it should is the fact that the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters globally, and, with the middle classes growing in countries like Brazil, Mexico and China, we simply can’t go on producing plastic-based materials or cotton at the current pace,” she says.
Thus, on top of being a fashion brand, Cuitu wants to eventually become a promoter for companies and organisations that can innovate and develop new materials. This way, Piironen says, Cuitu will become a major player in changing the way the entire industry works – for the better of consumers, the environment, and thus us all.