June 30, 2021

From Bucharest to Milan to Paris, Maria Sas is shaking up the fashion industry by making it possible for style to be sustainable and circular.

From Bucharest to Milan to Paris, Maria Sas is shaking up the fashion industry by making it possible for style to be sustainable and circular.

Let’s say you're working as a fashion designer, and you need a bit more research on how you can make your clothing, accessories, and brand more sustainable. Where could you turn to?

Well Romanian startup founder, Maria Sas, has taken her design skills, entrepreneurial vision, and creativity to create Sustainibli - the first action-oriented community centered web platform for students and professionals within the fashion industry. Aside from making it possible for fashion to be sustainable and circular, the platform has a robust database of sustainable driven manufacturers and companies, resources, and community.

I sat down with founder Maria Sas as we discussed her venturesome background and fearless dream to shake up the fashion industry. Hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

In this episode of Innovators Can Laugh, I sat down with Maria Sas, founder of Sustainibli. We discussed her experience studying in Milan and Paris, working as a fashion designer, and working to launch the first action-oriented community centered web platform for students and professionals within the fashion industry.


Maria. Hey, welcome to the show. You look fantastic. I thought we start off with talking about someone you admire in the fashion industry. What fashion designer, alive or dead, would you be super nervous? Oh I think I'd be a cliche in saying Coco Chanel. But you can't, that woman was absolutely fantastic and I think I would be nervous to meet her because during her day in time, she.

So revolutionary and that how she perceived the fashion world and every, all her efforts in the changes she made to bring out the Sheikh menace in European fashion. And to really she really transformed the industry in the sense of modernizing it. And I think that's what I'm also about.

I'm about. Innovation and I'm about bringing relevance to this industry and the modern day context of 2021. I think there's a biography about her either on Netflix or Amazon prime. Have you seen it yet? Yeah, I have. And I've also read the book before before seeing the documentary. And it was, what do you think about the show?

Would you recommend it? Is it binge-worthy. I think it's a movie and I think the there's a new show out with Halston on Netflix, I do recommend it. I do recommend it by the way, Coco Chanel is the movie and I recommend both Halston is binge-worthy. I think there are a lot of great lessons in regards to the toxicity within.

I think that's common in any industry at light, when you reach a certain level, you have temptations and you have low, that pressure to keep up the good work, to keep up the standard.  Holston's based in he started in the sixties, but the shows around the seventies, the eighties.

Yeah. I saw the preview for it and the music pulled me in, I think there was like music in the background with Duran and some other.  Eighties bands. And that was the music that my dad used to play. And so I grew up with it and I was like, I want to watch this show.

And I think it was just the music that really pulled me in because I'm not too big on fashion. Okay. So you have Coco Chanel, you have Halston who are some other favorite fashion designers that you admire and you went to meet if they were alive or dead? 

So I'd have to say Stella McCartney, because she's a big sustainability advocate and one of her first fashion shows, Are centered around sustainable practices material. She invests a lot in this area in textile innovation. And one of her first fashion shows. She had a, and there was Anna Wintour who was editing Vogue Anna Wintour got up and left.

Wow, a good sign. She kept going and today she's one of the most celebrated advocates in sustainability. The Karen group bought her company. And it's doing really well and they're really up in the game, because they started a few years back. So w that to me is the lesson to, if you believe in something, no matter what there are some exceptions you shouldn't base your principles.

The success of what you do just on one individual, even if it's, somebody you look up to Anna Wintour. Yeah. I know she's a big tennis fan. She's a big Roger Federer fan. And that's why I know who she is. Because I've read articles about this famous woman in fashion, and then obviously Meryl Streep played her in the, was the, what was it?

But there was I'm the devil advocate. I don't know what the deal was. Advocate is. I don't know why, but the devil that's what I was thinking of. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, so we're going to get into the sustainable fashion in just a second. Let's rewind a little bit. , tell me a little bit about your childhood.

Where did you grow up? Did you have a favorite toy or hobby when you were a kid? Yeah, so I grew up in Bucharest, Romania. I attended an international school. My parents split up when I was really young, I was three and I find that both of their worlds were very different. In the sense that with my father, I spent the holidays and we traveled a lot.

So in those travels, I got to experience this kind of artistic scenery, because. Oh, very much appreciates the arts. And from a very young age I started painting. I started sculpting and from way back I wanted to work in design. So he's the one  who pushed you toward some of these things like, like painting and sculpturing, it was the big influence was coming from him.

I think from both in the sense that my mom right now she's a jewelry designer, but that happened eight years ago. It didn't happen during my childhood. But in the sense, it, my dad never pushed me. It was. It was just they're inviting. And I always had that like independent kind of approach, but I so had the freedom to embrace what I wanted to do and have that honesty with myself and my family.

In these trips that you took as a child with your father, were there any memorable trips, any specific cities that you remember or you thought, oh, wow, this is amazing. I would love to live here one day. Oh yeah, I guess so. I wouldn't like to live in Morocco necessarily, but it, I felt like in an Indiana Jones movie, in the bazaars and the bazaars, the colors.

Yeah. Sure. It's all the smells. Yeah, it's pretty great. And other than that France and, I spent a lot of time in the south of France. And it's that dreamy and it's very relaxed, you have the seaside and French, which I love. I find it beautiful and I think it really did have an influence on me and how I ended up studying at ESMO in Paris.

Yeah, the south of France. I totally agree with you. It's very majestic. It doesn't seem real. It seems like you're in a LA land and the people who are from there and lived there are just not in reality. But definitely worth visiting. And I'll probably never live there. I think just to open a bank account, I think you, you need it. Million dollars in your bank account, just to probably that, if you want that LA experience, you need you need a good solid bank account. I wouldn't live there. I wouldn't, but it, it has had a remarkable influence on Who I am and what I've done until now.

Okay. So very young, you, you had this this motivation or passion to pursue fashion. Why did you choose Milan to to go study for your bachelor's? I chose Milan because I got Unconditional at  and Florence, I got different unconditionally. Then it was quite, tricky to choose because, and as probably, but maybe the audience doesn't conditional offer means regardless of your grades that you get at the end of, your  high school graduation.

So I basically, I had so many options to choose. So where do I go? I'm in, so you could have chosen Florence. Yes, I could have chosen Florence, but I'm a big city girl. That's why I left to Paris after Milan.

Obviously you like France. Italy is wonderful. The people. the atmosphere the food, but the decision to leave was based on our, my education and the fact that in my, from my perspective and from what I heard that as mod was a better technical school. So to me, it was super important to be hands-on and  technically  able to understand the garments and do them, myself, the founder of, of the university in Paris.

The first pattern makers. And he was one of the first pattern makers that standardized the patterns into sizes. And it being one of the the oldest universities, fashion universities in France, That's, we've been to  I applied on a whim to transfer and I was like, if I get it, I do.

If I don't, it's still fantastic, but I did so no. Did you speak French? Yes. Yes I did. Okay. Okay. So the transition wouldn't have been too difficult. You spoke French. Is that something that you learned in school? Yes I did. But it's different once you live in France, once you go, they said, oh, it's a, it's an English program, but we spoke most of the,

it was English between, Between the pupils, but not not the professor, not the professors. Yeah. Okay. So was it, did it become a reality where you  more hands-on when it came to making the patterns, tell us more about that. What was that experience like? What were you learning?

What w what were you actually doing in the university? Oh, absolutely. It was completely hands-on. So I get there in the second year and we have a  competition and I have to relearn everything in terms of pattern because in Italy we had standard blocks. We didn't have to change them.

That alter them that much. Definitely far more technical. And as an experience, a learning experience in garment construction. And I had to.  The teachers were really, the professors were really rigorous and really, French style. But it was great. I had to, design, this capsule collection for those  competition.

And I did, and I got selected. I was one of the students that got selected to have a team to get a team like from our class, each student that got selected, there were three in our class. Use the other students as a team members to create the project. Okay. So that was my first one of my first fashion leadership projects and it was great.

I had a great team. We had a lot of fun and I still have the letter from the head of  from  who asked me where I got my textile, one of the silk. Detailings because she liked it so much. So I had to, send her a sample with the address and she sent me a thank you.

Okay. So were, was this huge school, how many students are in this school? It sounds like it's very prestige and there's not too many. It's growing because they do have the business campus now as well. So per year we were around 100, or a bit more. That depends on the. The specialization you chose.

Like for example, we were in woman's where there was a children's wear and there's a knitwear and lingerie. But the thing is they have a system such that from the first year to the second year, not everybody makes it from the second year to the third year. Yeah.

I mean it's to get into this first year is not that hard, but they're very select because they do have a lot of candidates. But to get from the first year to the second year, it's not easy. Wow. It sounds like it, this elite military school, like they just try to weed you out. I have three. On how do you call them three absences on motivated absences?

Because if we had more, you wouldn't get through the year, like you can't pass the year with more than three and motivated. Yeah. Now you said that the French instructors that they were very rigorous, what were some of the pet peaves that they had in regards to the students and how they taught? We had individual sessions to go through the collection and they would set a time and then they'd be like, no, it's not, you're not today.

Or Other than that, they were going through every detail, but they meant they grew up in a system. They grew up in. Of a different fashion era where things were very different and very, particular like a lot of rules, a lot of a lot of things that had to be done a specific way. Gotcha. Okay.  So while you're there, were you thinking of your next move after university? So what happened. I'm always thinking about my next move. When I was in Italy, I was like, Paris, I wouldn't fit in 10.

I was like, yeah I really wanted to live. I really wanted to work there. I was said, this is going to be my life for the next year. And then I got a job offer for an internship as a brand manager. I wasn't a brand manager then at an internship at a showroom, a multi-brand showroom in Copenhagen, and I just graduated.

So I was like, they're like, we'll pay for your flight. And then I'm like, yeah, I'm in. Okay. I'm coming. Have you ever thought about going to Denmark before, or I never visit dad visited Denmark. I never I never thought about it. Yeah. I had a friend who was like, oh, I want to go to Denmark.

And I was like, oh, it's kinda cold there. No one, you go to explore a place with no preconceptions, just, so open Hey, let's do this. Let's see. What's what that's one year. Best surprised. The best surprises come from situations like that. And here I was in Copenhagen. It was great.

It was a great experience. I ended up moving there. I got a full-time position as a brand manager in a multibrand showroom. And we were representing specific Italian brands in the Scandinavian region. Okay. And it was great, and I had to train a new team. So I got a lot of experience that really has helped informing me as an entrepreneur.

Okay. Now what happened during this time that sparked the idea of  creating a platform. Where students and professionals could collaborate, especially around the idea of sustainability. Did that occur when you were in Denmark or , did that happen later on? It started off there, but then it's a process, a journey.

So that's where the seed was planted. And then I came back to Romania. In this whole process and trying to understand where I positioned myself in this industry. Because a lot of people are like why don't you start a brand? Why don't you do that? You're so talented. You're you could do great things.

And I told them that that's not enough for me. I don't want to just make clothes just to make them. And Nina Simone said that art is synonymous to innovation and. That's something very important to me. Like how can I add add on value to what are through what I do. And that's where I sat for a long time.

Like constantly questioning myself and the industry. To research more on sustainability reading the global fashion agenda reports, McKinsey reports talking to my friends who work in the industry who are designers for big companies, big names and in this whole process of researching. And when I came back, I worked in Aqua control at the DaCosta.

So I started working with textile producers and making databases and ordering textiles and centralizing stock. That's when it really started. But it didn't come to me until last year. The idea and yeah. Then, the flower just bloomed on it's oh wait, it's that, and that of that.

Okay. That's what's missing, let's do this. And like for example, I would love like from a design perspective, a designer's perspective, I would think. To be able to team up with a, another designer or with a brand and come up with something better, an innovative solution, like Adidas partnered up with Allbirds and they created the it's going to be launched in 2022.

And does a sneaker design with the minimum carbon footprint. So it's going to be from their collection from Adidas's because they're the predominating brand and this and correct me if I'm wrong, but Allbirds makes a shoe that is a hundred percent. Some recycled material cycle. Yeah. Yeah.

So basically Adidas, who is a direct competitor, directly competing with Allbirds, decided to partner up because they're like, we have a big production scheme. You have a great resources, you have the technology and get together and make something and create something better. So it's all about adding value.

It's all about I get this question a lot, there are a lot of textile producers that don't produce sustainable fabrics. And I said yeah, but if more designers opted for that For organic cotton or recycled the dual blends, cotton, poly blends.

And if more people needed that then of course would change. And through this platform, that's what we're going to do. We have the community the community tool where you can address these questions where you can communicate with bronze as students or as professionals within the industry.

Let's talk about the platform because the way I see it is that it helps facilitate the communication between. Like you said textile makers and designers. Is that the main strengths of the platform, the ability to facilitate the communication between different parties or does it do more?

It does more and it's not focused just on the link between textile, producers and designers. It's also focused on designers with designers and designers with manufacturing. But more than that more than community. We have a news feed with proprietary articles, infographics, and we'll be launching a podcast in a month.

So that's really exciting and will also be included in the newsfeed area. So we're focused on communication as well as education. And then we have the we have the community, of course, but we also have the Essbase, which is the sustainability database where we have textile producers and companies who are working in this regards enlisted.

And we have we currently have 400, enlisted, Companies as well as textiles Maria, are these companies from all over Europe or is the footprint bigger than that or the world all over the world, but with main focus on either ethics fair wages everything in terms of sustainability.

And our users can browse through these different areas, can save this information. And the cherry on top is the area where you can create research forwards with these informations. Because if you're interested in changing your cotton supplier, but you want to research more options and you want to compare them.

You can bookmark them. And then in our research boards, you can drag and drop and compared them. And if you don't have time to do that, then you can do it later. And you can use information on to validate why you want to make these changes from the newsfeed article. And this is why I think it's a good idea for us to do this.

And these are our options. Okay. So you had this idea that started a year ago. You've got the platform, which I think is in beta version. Is that correct? Yeah, we haven't launched yet. We're preparing to launch this year. And we have a lot of. Very exciting partnerships piling up for the community. So different complimentary services or brands that are going on board and being like, yeah, we want to see how this will work.

We want to help you grow and us grow. How did you find the people with the skills you needed to create, to build the plant? Oh, this it just happened. What can I say? No, I think it's not that simple. I'm an optimist, but I guess that's helped you have to try, you have to talk to people, you have to weigh out your options. And then, I found some, a full stack developer who. I understood the concept and was as passionate about, innovation and tech.

And of course I had some help that came from previous experiences working in the industry. So I've had. A few collaborators who I've had the pleasure of working with beforehand. And we took it day by day. And we built on it step-by-step and a lot of people are very surprised when I tell them that we started last August.

And they're like, oh, and I'm like, oh it seems like a lot of time for me, I guess the momentum was really good. And right now we're currently going to send our teams. So it's going to be great. I can't wait. What's your long-term vision for success? So my longterm vision for sustainably is a community, a very active community in solutioning, various sets of.

Concerns within the fashion industry in terms of sustainability and we're currently putting up targets for how many. Co solutions will bloom out of this platform. But the long-term game will definitely be about creating this circular mechanism, this platform that professionals within the industry always feel like they count on all, always feel like something good can be learned or connected through.

And for the second phase of the project, we want to launch learn to also have modular courses on the platform. So that , will be really exciting, that's in the future. We can't wait to launch and we can't wait for for it to be  of use. That's the most important.

Right now let's talk about life outside of sustainably. What hobbies do you enjoy? I think I read somewhere that you actually used to be a ski instructor. Yeah. I'm still a ski instructor. I've been doing it for four years. I love it. I love children. It's great. You have so much to learn from them.

I do that that's true. Sometimes I think.

My son had it first ski lesson, I think in February. And I don't know how to ski and I didn't plan on learning, but once I saw him and as much fun as he was having, I now want to take lessons. So next winter, that's something that I plan on. You know what we're doing next winter, Eric.

It's okay. We'll go with your son. It's going to be the three of us. If your wife wants to come, she can join. She does. She does. She doesn't ski, but I think she wants to learn. Oh, that's awesome. We're going to be a big gang, the crew. Okay. Maria, another question for you. If you were famous for something else, what would you be famous for?

Oh, writing, right? Yeah. Okay. Writing long content, like stories or.

Yeah. Favorite Arthur's. Can you tell us, can you tell me he's a Japanese contemporary Japanese, so writer. Okay. Oh, what else? Oh, the classics. They're all good. Emily Dickinson. I really like her. It's a tough one. Yeah. Okay. This is this is a bit different. I'm a big Harry Potter fan.

I like a lot of classical literature. Yeah. I love a 19th century an 18th century. I really liked Jane Austin as well. It's a bit of not a bit of everything, but I'm very particular.

But yeah famous, I don't think I. Too, I don't expose myself that much in that sense, but I would love for it to, to spark up some, because I think that's the most important thing. It just popped up, what would you be famous for? I love to write and I haven't had that much time to be as creative in that area.

Awesome. Last question for you. If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would you live? Would you go back to France or Italy or somewhere else? No, somewhere else. Let's do this. Where am I going? Oh, that's a tough one. Cause there's so many great places.

I'd love to live by the sea. Somewhere. Oh no. Like I was thinking more. I was thinking more like Barcelona or or California. Yeah. Yeah. Me too. Me too. I can't pinpoint where in California. So that's why I was like, California. There's so many beautiful places along the coast, Del Mar San Diego, really Santa Barbara.

It's a difficult, I tell people who've never been to the states. They got to do two trips and obviously the first is New York city. And while they're there, they can visit Washington DC. But then obviously the second place they need to go to is California. Yeah. I agree with you completely. I've been to the first one.

Fantastic. Okay. Maria, thank you so much for being on innovators can laugh. Where can people learn more about you and sustainabli? So you can learn about sustainabli on sustainabli.com. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram sustainably with an eye. And you can definitely reach out to me on LinkedIn, Maria sas.

I'm there anytime. Not anytime I'm joking, but Eric, thank you for having me. It was a pleasure talking to you and see you. And I won't forget next winter. We all know what we're going to do. Hopefully my knees will hold up and I can I won't be falling down the mountain.

All right. And for everyone listening until next week, this is Eric melchor saying goodbye and la revedere.