Technology has become an extension of us. We flirt with it. We use, and at times misuse it. We are intrigued by it and we thrive on it. What is inspiring is that there are a few who collaborate with it to change lives and solve problems. Miroslava Duma is one such very important individual, who is using it to its full potential and in doing so making the second-largest pollutant industry in the world—fashion—responsible and sustainable.
She is a catalyst between fashion and sustainable innovation.
Not only is she the founder of several innovative ventures, a digital entrepreneur and philanthropist, she’s an active investor across a range of promising businesses including digital media, technology and responsible fashion. Miroslava is also the Founder and CEO of Future Tech Lab [FTL]—a hybrid investment company that is attempting to bridge the gap between fashion, sustainability and technology.
Let’s start from the very beginning— tell us a little about where you grew up, how your growing up years influenced who you are now.
I was born in and spent my earliest years in Siberia in Russia, one of the coldest regions in the world, but also one of the richest in terms of natural oil and gas capacity. Growing up, I have always been acutely aware of how big a pollutant that industry is—it was so obvious and so visible. So you could say that my formative years helped shape my current passion and business in many ways—I understand what the impact of pollution on the environment looks and feels like from a very young age. So the realisation that the industry I had chosen for myself to be a part of—the $3T fashion and apparel industry, is actually the world’s second largest source of pollution [with nearly 10% percent of global carbon emissions attributed to fashion], sparked the idea to launch Future Tech Lab to help transform the fashion eco-system into a technologically advanced, renewable, environmentally friendly and socially responsible industry.
“We help engineers and scientists all over the world develop their ideas in fields like material science, bio- and nanotechnology, smart fabrics and wearable tech. Our team is based all over the world— China & USA to France & Israel.”
So how did your interest in fashion start —what was the initial thought and vision?
I have always been interested in fashion, so forging a career associated with it was natural to me back then, actually much to the disappointment of my parents, who had always hoped I would become a lawyer!
I earned my stripes in the industry from working as a samples assistant at Vogue to writing to styling and producing big fashion shoots and special projects at Harper’s Bazaar to freelance fashion journalism and eventually founding the Buro 24/7 media network, which I recently exited from.
With that said, my background in fashion and digital journalism had exposed me to the two areas in a very complementing way, so it now feels like fate and so natural for me to have developed my career further in the field of fashion innovation. I believe that technology and innovation will drive the fashion and apparel industry towards a groundbreaking transformation, and this is what FTL has set out to do.
What has influenced and continues to inspire the force that you are, today?
As an entrepreneur, I support and look up to many inspiring people that I am so proud to call my friends, colleagues and partners. From having the most incredible advisory board at Future Tech Lab that includes Diane Von Furstenberg, Carmen Busquets and Laura Arrillaga Andreessen, to our own stellar core team. We all have a clear and ambitious vision for the future at FTL and it is incredibly rewarding and motivating to be pushing forward transformative changes together with the industry’s brightest minds. I feel very lucky.
Can you tell us about Future Tech Lab?
Future Tech Lab is a company that bridges fashion and technology to lead the transition of the fashion and apparel industries towards a more sustainable future. We work with the most promising startups that have the potential to pioneer and champion the positive impact of innovation in science and technology. We help these engineers and scientists all over the world develop their ideas in fields like material science, bio- and nanotechnology, smart fabrics and wearable tech. By combining two worlds that are far removed from each other right now—science/technology and fashion/design—we promote the inception and production of unique products. Our team is based all over the world and spends much of their time sourcing and scouting for the next breakthrough across the globe—from China and USA to France and Israel.
You are making fashion responsible—can you give us a few examples of how you are doing this?
FTL has been working with some of the most inspiring and innovative companies, who all share the same vision to create global change. Our portfolio company, Diamond Foundry, creates one-of- a-kind pure diamonds in a laboratory in San Francisco, which are anatomically identical to mined diamonds, but morally pure as well! There is Bolt Threads who make spider silk which is stronger than steel and lighter than a cloud [among other performance based fibers]. We are also working with Vitrolabs, a company producing cruelty-free leather and fur quite literally in a petri dish! We really believe that these pioneering companies are among many others that will lead the change to transition of the fashion and apparel industry towards a more responsible future.
“I believe the future of fashion is inevitably connected with technology and science— devices will continue to integrate into our clothing and clothes will be functional, providing us with services and augmenting our capabilities.”
There are two sides of technology
a) Technology is having an overwhelmingly positive impact on the world and our lives—how do you see it impacting fashion today and in the years to come?
We have been actively exploring global opportunities to work and co-invest with innovative, technology-driven businesses. For example, we are also actively working with some interesting companies to develop new materials and dye-ing techniques, fiber batteries, among others! Future Tech Lab is a forward thinking, open-minded young company, and we focus on collaborating to help us to bridge fashion and technology, ultimately designing a better future for the industry.
b)Technology is stripping people of their jobs. There is too much information out there for everyone to access. People’s lives are no longer private. The pressure of keeping up is taxing physically as well as mentally—keeping all these factors in mind do you think we live in scary times, and where are we headed?
It really comes down to the individual and what balance looks like. Technology, including social media has many positive applications. It has the power to connect, help discover new talent, build safe spaces for conversation, create professional opportunities, spread important messages out to the world, and change the state of our world for the better. For many creatives, learning about what’s happening in the world of arts and culture, the ability to share their work on social media, and gaining exposure presented them with opportunities to secure paid gigs to become independ- ent professionals. Not to mention giving them the opportunity to leverage technology to actually produce their art. This is just one example!
Your views on social media.
Social media was initially designed to provide infinite opportunities for people to connect, learn, build and grow, but is now leaving most of us feeling more isolated than ever before. The ugly truth is that it is destroying core foundations of how societies work, interact and function. We barely spend any time looking at anything but our phones these days. At the same time, you have to be very aware of the power of social media as a communications platform, especially for millennials and Gen Z. I only really use Instagram to talk about things that I care about, support friends and partners, highlight my own projects and support causes that I truly believe in, from women’s rights to environmental issues, among other things.
So I guess it really depends on how you use social media and more importantly, how consumed you are by it, how much you let it into your life. I very much enjoy a healthy social media detox once in a while, especially when working on a new project.
You have spoken on various platforms and been part of varied conversations at seminars, colleges etc. How has the mindset of the millennials and Gen Z evolved when it comes to fashion, ever since you stepped into the industry?
By 2020, millennials will be the most numerous demographic in the global workforce, so all businesses [FTL included] must cater to their preferences. These consumers now care more about how fashion is being produced. And this is not about whether the bag is handmade or 3D printed, but if the production process and the materials are sustainable. Millennials are the first generation that is really interested in sustainability and understanding how things are made; what the social, economic and environmental impact of the production is. In fact, a third of millennials actually say they are more likely to buy from companies that are mindful of social responsibilities. Our children, the Generation Z, will take eco-innovations even more seriously.
“By 2020, millennials will be the most numerous demographic in the global workforce, so all businesses [FTL included] must cater to their preferences. These consumers now care more about how fashion is being produced. And this is not about whether the bag is handmade or 3D printed, but if the production process and the materials are sustainable.”
Lines are blurring between art, design, technology, fashion and so on...what are your views on the world moving towards being a hybrid collective?
In our case it’s a sort of symbiosis of everything, because we work in the realm of the fashion industry but are trying to add modern technology and experiment with completely new methods of material production. We help make innovation accessible for any person in the world. The only way to achieve this synergy is by making the unlikely connection between scientists and engineers and design talents, to co-develop revolutionary projects. I believe the future in general and of fashion specifically is inevitably connected with technology and science—devices will continue to integrate into our clothing and clothes will be functional, providing us with services and augmenting our capabilities—e.g. helping those with disabilities, controlling body temperature etc.
What your plans for the future?
More and more people are starting to think about the future of the planet and are prepared to invest both their time and their money into it. Leaps in development of bio and nanotech, robotics, AI, quantum computing, gene sequencing are a real testament to that...My dream is to take truly problem-solving developments like these, scale and eventually open-source them to the world to help drive positive change globally. I dream big!
Text Shruti Kapur Malhotra