By Agata Rita Borracci - Venice *
The creator and manager of the “Ecological Closet” exhibition is Francesca Bonotto, a professor in IUSVE’s Creation and Fashion Lab. Her interest in environmental sustainability stems from an engaged couples course she attended with her husband, Federico Gottardo, at a retreat center run by the Conventual Franciscans in Camposampiero. Francesca’s husband runs the IUSVE student activity center and is the coordinator of the exhibit. Encountering the Franciscan spirit during their marriage preparation went beyond simple theory and was transformed into a style of life shared by the couple. “That course with Federico, who is very attentive to the well-being of the person and life-style”, Francesca explains, “made me more aware of nature and sparked in me a renewed interest in the production chain”.
The discovery of having a debilitating disease then brought Francesca to concentrate particularly on her food choices and food quality. This led the couple toward a style of life in which they choose small, local food producers. The process by which they procure their food was thus more ethical and sustainable.
“Due to the fear and the pain my illness was causing”, Francesca explains, “I discovered that the human being is connected with nature and the world in such a fascinating way. In addition to medical treatment, I combined Christian meditation and other practices aimed at personal well-being. These allowed me to dedicate more time to myself and to spirituality. Too often”, she continues, “we are caught up in the busy-ness of daily life when we should instead train our perception to a more integral and integrated dimension of the person, with its natural rhythms and with life styles more in harmony with the surrounding environment”.
In 2019, at the request of Mariano Diotto, who directed IUSVE’s communication department at that time, Francesca created the radio program ModaPuntoCom (FashionDotCom). Produced by the University’s Cube Radio station, it focuses on the fashion industry’s communication and publicity practices. Driven by the need to report some of the ethical aspects of clothing and footwear, from the very first episodes, Francesca began to highlight that profit was the first priority of the “ready-to-wear” industry, without paying attention to the supply chain or the spiritual dimension that, in her experience, is always a fundamental part of the creative process.
“Step by step”, explains Jasmine Pagliarusco, the program’s director, “ModaPuntoCom delved increasingly into the dimensions of ethics and sustainability, emphasizing virtuous behavior. The professionals we hosted in studio often proved themselves to be witnesses of the values that Laudato si’ suggests to us as the foundations for keeping the bar of consciousness high and reducing the ecological footprint”.
Laudato si’s theme
To date, ModaPuntoCom has aired over seventy episodes, which are available at www.cuberadio.it. By narrating the stories of small entrepreneurial experiences of sustainable and ethical production, the Laudato si’s theme is revealed bit by bit. On her personal blog (www.francescabonotto.it) this Professor of Creative and Fashion Lab has published an in-depth series on companies with high ethical profiles who sustain a circular economy.
From the personal testimony offered by numerous guests on ModaPuntoCom came the idea of setting up an exhibit that would present a model closet as well as a series of panels devoid of clothing but filled with awareness. From socks that need no washing, to clothing bearing labels written in braille and raised patterns, to shoes produced by disadvantaged persons: the items on display are a tactile stimulus for critical thinking, thus creating a point of connection, a bridge with Laudato si’.
“Generally speaking”, Father Nicola Giacopini, IUSVE’s Director, notes, “you wouldn’t think that fashion is that relevant to our common home. Instead, everything is connected: beauty, care for creation, the person, quality of work and workers rights, society and the economy”.
Even in contrast to the throwaway culture, the exhibit’s layout proposes the recycling and reuse of clothing as a transformative practice. On display are also examples of products made with recycled textiles.
The “Ecological Closet” exhibit is part of a three-year training and awareness program that, beginning with the 2019-2020 academic year, focuses attention on Pope Francis’s encyclical On the Care of our Common Home. As the Vice-director of IUSVE’s Integral Ecology and New Styles of Life project Professor Lorenzo Biagi emphasizes: “Laudato si’ has placed us before two important axes: one for academic research which allows us to delve into integral ecology, and the other, to implement new styles of life, which is formative and educational in nature”.
Educational and pastoral implications
The exhibit, which opened in Venice’s Mestre borough in October 2020, will go to IUSVE’s Verona campus next spring. Since its opening, dozens of students and professors have visited the exhibit while respecting anti-Covid regulations. Some of them come from the surrounding area as well.
Giovanna De Martino and Anna Sferruzza, two Psychology students who have been following the exhibit on a weekly basis, confirm the high interest and amazement of their peers. “Many students”, Giovanna offers, “were impressed by the pleasing aesthetics of the items on display, as well as the relative high costs. However, after our explanations regarding the fabrics and the quality of the material used, they understood the sense of paying more and of the responsibility they are called to assume even through what they acquire”.
The way the exhibit was set up provided a tactile and experiential environment, Professor Gottardo adds. “We preferred to allow the visitors to have a live experience rather than just provide information”, he explains. “To be able to touch fabrics made for the blind or to see for yourself the quality of recycled material helps people in a relevant way in the decision making process”.
“We even had the opportunity to share with the visitors the pastoral perspective offered through the exhibit”, explains Arianna Salabrin, a contact person for pastoral services at the university. “I was surprised at the fascination the topic provoked as well as the desire to discuss the gap between the vision contained in Laudato si’ and what the consumer society instead proposes”.
*Cube Radio - Salesian University Institute of Venice and Verona