Miroslava Duma’s Future Tech Lab is Connecting Fashion and Technology For the Benefit of the Environment. The venture capital fund is linking promising sustainable technologies with an industry in dire need of an environmental makeover: fashion.
Hailing from Surgut, Russia, Miroslava Duma is an active investor and philanthropist with a multi-faceted involvement in sustainable innovation. Dubbed “the most connected digital entrepreneur in fashion” by Vogue, her flagship enterprise project is as the founder and CEO of Future Tech Lab, a hybrid investment company, multinational accelerator, experimental laboratory and philanthropic organisation.
Founded in 2015, its focus is on using science and technological innovation to transform the $3 trillion fashion industry by improving the industry’s social and environmental footprints. As well as developing its own science, FTL funds and connects projects and brands with environmentally responsible new technologies in order to transform and disrupt the fashion ecosystem.
Raised in Siberia, a region exploited for its natural resources, Duma grew up with the notion that “there was nothing worse for planet earth than the oil industry.” After graduating from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations with a masters in International Business, Duma was appointed special projects director at the Russian edition of Harper’s Bazaar, going on to work with a number of major Russian fashion titles including Tatler, Forbes woman, L’Officiel and Vogue. However, as reported by Business of Fashion, Duma soon decided to break into the digital journalism field independently, and founded Buro 24/7 — a global digital magazine, breaking stories from the worlds of fashion, culture, beauty, media, lifestyle and events.
"Duma felt an impulse to “work towards a groundbreaking transformation for the fashion industry,”…
As she developed her journalistic career and made headway in high-fashion circles, Duma felt an impulse to “work towards a groundbreaking transformation for the fashion industry,” after discovering her industry’s impact was second only to the detrimental oil industry she had grown up alongside.
She explained to the UN Environment Programme that her background in fashion and digital journalism meant she saw the fashion and technology industries as complementary to one another — and Future Tech Lab was born. With it, Duma is bridging the gap between fashion, sustainability and technology, for the betterment of the environment, seeing the project as helping to bring about “the fourth industrial revolution.”
FTL is split into three pillars: socially responsible investing, an agency to connect technologies with the fashion industry, and an experimental lab which develops and applies the technology to innovative products; “we source and channel capital to incubate and expand innovative products, technologies, business models and brands.”
The following statistics highlight where Future Tech Lab’s innovative work can make a difference:
Globally, 80% of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfill (Global Fashion Agenda, 2017)
In a typical 5kg wash load of polyester garments, around 6 million microfibres will be released (Italian National Research Council, 2017)
Worldwide, 60% of our clothing is made up of plastic (Vox, 2019)
We are now producing around 150bn items of clothing globally per year (Global Compost Project, 2015)
Since the 1960s, textile waste has increased 811% in the US (Environmental Protection Agency)
“This is a sustainable revolution, and it is coming anyway, with or without us,” announced Duma and Stella McCartney at a Future Tech Lab event in 2017. FTL investment specifically targets the fields of “materials science, biotech, nanotechnology, wearable electronics and high-performance fibres and fabrics,” Business of Fashion reports, in order to make waves in fashion innovation.
For example, in China, the venture has partnered with companies developing yarn from coffee grounds, natural dye developers, and companies creating fibres from blended wase oyster shell. FTL’s diverse portfolio of brands include rapidly growing ethical fashion brand Reformation, as well as Worn Again, a textile recycling technology which separates and recaptures PET fibres, and EVRNU, which recycles post-consumer cotton textile waste into a premium, renewable fibre with reduced emissions and water use. The venture has been aptly described by the Financial Times as a “global sci-fi fashion forum.”
Demonstrating an authentic awareness of the current fashion landscape, Duma explained to BoF that “Millennials and Gen Z are the ones who demand sustainability in every single area of their lives,” and added that she was compelled to set up FTL by a personal mission to seek out sustainable, environmental solutions in fashion design and manufacture.
Upon learning that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, Duma took a step back and considered if her work at that time was having a positive impact, asking “Am I really helping anyone? Am I really making a change?” This epiphany came as she was viewing a high-fashion collection, describing a feeling of detachment, “I was looking at the people there whose facial expressions suggest they think they are saving people’s lives, and I thought ‘what am I doing here?”
“I was looking at the people there whose facial expressions suggest they think they are saving people’s lives, and I thought ‘what am I doing here?”
Until 2016, ‘Mira’ was known within fashion circles only as the founder of luxury fashion platform Buro 24/7 and childrenswear brand The Tot. She also featured heavily in street-style photography and on the glittering front row of luxury shows including Valentino, Prada and Louis Vuitton.
Her metamorphosis into a fashion technology pioneer has come at a time when consumers and scientists are crying out for a solution to fashion’s devastating ecological impacts. Encouragingly, Duma’s work is making real headway as in 2018, the World Economic Forum awarded her the title of Young Global Leader.