Cotton Diaries, founders
Marzia Lanfranchi
Cotton Diaries, founders

Deep Dive

Marzia Lanfranchi was promoting sustainable fashion years before she founded Cotton Diaries. Since 2013, she has served as a consultant for a range of businesses, from fiber supplier Lenzing Group and Gucci parent Kering to Candiani Denim and the West African Cotton Coalition. Over the years, she has also held longer positions, including as the responsible sourcing coordinator for the U.K. retailer FatFace and as a fabric development assistant with Burberry.

Then, in October 2017, Lanfranchi founded Cotton Diaries, an organization on a mission “to transform the way we grow, make, source and use cotton.” To accomplish this, she doesn’t just consult with brands and suppliers looking to identify problems in their supply chain, but also helps amplify the stories of the people and projects that are “doing cotton better” through articles, interviews and profiles.

In addition to her work with Cotton Diaries and as an independent consultant, Lanfranchi also serves as the intelligence director for Transformers Foundation. The self-described “unified voice representing the denim industry and its ideas for positive change” focuses its efforts on the sharing of best practices, encouraging sustainable progress, challenging unclear marketing or claims and celebrating the “best in class and innovation.” In addition to providing free education on the denim industry to students and consumers around the globe, the organization also hosts industry events and publishes an annual report and independent research.

What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?

Like most sustainability geeks would say: the most sustainable denim [are] the ones you already own. As for the consumers who are looking for a new pair, I would say that they should wake up to the reality that there is not (yet) such a thing as sustainable denim and they should not believe that some brands produce such products.

‘Sustainable’ is a very ambiguous term and there is not a baseline definition for it and rules to market it. Therefore, if I were a consumer I would better trust brands that disclose their environmental and social impact honestly and don't call themselves sustainable—or worst, ‘100 percent sustainable.’ Or if they are talking about sustainable denim, they contextualize and are specific about what they mean by it and have ambitious targets and have shown progress against them and reported publicly their progress and their shortcomings year on year.

What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?

In the paper released last year for Transformers Foundation, “Ending Unethical Brand and Retailer Behavior: The Denim Supply Chain Speaks Up”—which I co-authored—we spoke about resetting the power imbalance between supply chain and brands. One of the key suggestions that I am particularly fond of is: Establish long-term relationships with suppliers and factories. A long-term relationship and repeat orders not only improve the quality of the product, but it’s also a crucial component of a safe and fair workplace, along with any brand’s plan to achieve transparency, traceability, and sustainability targets.

Alongside the paper, we released a sort of ‘code of conduct’ for brands called the Eight Ethical Principles for Purchasing of Jeans and Denim—applicable, I would say, to all products. They consist of values that affirm ethical and sustainable relationships with. For example, empathy, respect, loyalty and accountability. The principles should be the foundations of any relationship if we want it to succeed.

Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?

I’ve only liked skinny jeans when I was a teenager. I liked their comfort and showing off my non-existent curves. I had yet to realize the impact of stretch on the environment and the impossible biodegradability of them. I am not against the style for others, but my personal taste evolution, coupled with environmental concerns, makes me prefer straight leg or boyfriend jeans made of 100 percent cotton, mostly vintage. I think that if skinny jeans are not over, they need to evolve.

How can denim retail improve?

Less and better-quality products with a repair and end-of-life recollection service as a minimum. Also, my utopian dream is that we all implement a transparent costing system so that the customers understand where the margins end up.

How many pairs of jeans do you own?

Probably in the teens, mostly vintage and some secondhand. I wouldn’t say I am a big contributor to this business. I probably wear only five pairs in total and I keep the rest in case I change taste and I fall in love with my old pairs again or in case I want to donate to someone who would look better than me in them—that is actually so fulfilling.

Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?

It’s a pair of vintage Lee’s from the’80s—high-waisted straight leg jeans with a dark wash. I picked them at a vintage market in Milano, Senigallia, and I’ve had them since I was 19. They make my butt look round and the waist very tight. The only problem is that, since they have zero stretch, if I have a full pizza, I have to undo a button.