Prada’s Nylon: A Symbol of Consciousness

In 1913, ‘Fratelli Prada’,  as it was known then, lived in the streets of  Milan selling animal goods and imported English steamer trunks and handbags. In 2019, you’ll find a Prada store in the galleria of Abu Dhabi to Ginza in Tokyo. Prada is a name synonymous with fashion, thanks to the wealth of pop culture references. 

However, it would be a mistake to think of Prada as just a name. When Miuccia Prada took over her family business, she grew it into the Prada we now know — a constant purveyor of the ‘new’ and original — a real neophiliac. Prada is a reflection of the zeitgeist. “Just ‘clothes’ is boring. We need more passion, more humanity,” she told Vogue during her Spring 2015 menswear collection. For Miuccia, it’s about dissecting society and ideas rather than manufacturing clothes and style. The result of such an approach is that Prada is a leader in the fashion industry. 

Family plays a pivotal role in the business of Prada. In 1977, Miuccia met Patrizio Bertelli, an Italian man who had begun his own leather goods business at the age of 24. He joined the Prada company and it was on his advice that Miuccia discontinued importing goods and to work on the existing products. With him handling the business side of Prada, Miuccia was able to concentrate and focus on her creative process. Their partnership was clearly effective as they got married in 1987. 

It was their son and successor to Prada, Lorenzo Bertelli, who pushed Prada into a sustainable direction through a modern rendition of Prada’s famed nylon bags. When Miuccia released her bags made out of black military spec nylon that was used as coverings for steamer trunks by her grandfather, the bags were hard to sell due to the lack of advertising and the hefty price tag that accompanied it. Miuccia had told the New Yorker that she wanted to mix “the industrial way of doing things with the patrimonio of the past, with the artisanal tradition.” Eventually, this juxtaposition became her first commercial hit as her ‘wrong-chic’ collection swept through the fashion industry in the mid-90s. Appearing season after season and decades later, Prada’s signature nylon is a fashion staple.

And Lorenzo’s spin to it puts sustainability, a pressing topic of discussion and issue to solve within the industry, in the forefront of Prada’s values and goals. Prada has committed to substituting their entire nylon supply chain of 700, 000 linear metres a year with a sustainable version of nylon by 2021. Partnering with Aquafil, the ‘Re-Nylon’ collection features iconic silhouettes such as the tote bag and backpacks in Econyl, a synthetic fabric made out of  recycled ocean plastic, fishing nets and textile industry waste. All of them are equipped with Prada’s triangular logo that many eyes would be familiar with. 

The process of manufacturing garments contributes the largest to fashion’s sustainability issue as it’s the most polluting part of fashion’s supply chain. Prada’s idea is a good carbon footprint-reducing initiative as it would reduce the industry’s reliance on resource-intensive production methods used to make new fabrics. Lorenzo told Business of Fashion that it would be a “massive reduction of nylon” with a “big impact in terms of sustainability”. For him, a part of being a good entrepreneur is considering the social cost. In May this year, Prada announced that it would discontinue its use of fur, joining the ranks of Chanel and Gucci. Collectively, these efforts signify Prada’s stance as a responsible business and the Re-Nylon collection is their contribution to the fashion industry with a more sustainable future, using pre-existing resources instead of creating new fibres. 

As part of the Re-Nylon collection launch, Prada released a series of videos in collaboration with National Geographic. Viewers are taken into the inner workings of the factories and facilities, showcasing Prada’s cutting-edge processes. As consumers, we cannot be inactive in our pursuit of a greener future. With this, Prada is transparent with the way they make clothes. The ball shifts to the consumer’s court — where we have a role to play — in being conscious with our purchasing power.