The how-to of intelligent design built with sustainability

At the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference, I had the pleasure of attending the “Sustainability Design Workshop” hosted by Amelia Williams.  

Amelia began as a designer, preceded to become a design educator, and now provides consulting to the industry.   She spent a decade at the CCA (California College of Arts) chairing the fashion program.  In addition, she spent a few years on the Textile Exchange advisory board.   Amelia is now a member of the re/GENERATE board, educating and mentoring industry designers in sustainability; at the same time training emerging talents to connect with their passions, beliefs, and values.

Amelia reviewed the roles and responsibilities of designers, who are the first to conceptualize or create a product.   She discussed some of her challenges and experiences as a designer, with examples of how difficult it was for her to go sustainable early in her career.   Today, the sustainability movement in the fashion industry encourages her.     

In order to explore a fashion designer’s workflow and how they make sustainable design choices, Amelia utilized a panel of professionals and designers:

The Panel

From left to right the panelists are:

  • Karen Stewart Brown has a depth of experience, expertise, and believes in the concept of farm to form.    She created her own brand “Stewart Brown”, and is currently the catalog and brand design director for Garnet Hill.  
  • Dana Davis, VP of Sustainability, Product, and Business Strategy for Mara Hoffman Brands.   In the last few years, the brand has committed to sustainable practices.  
  • Domenica Leibowitz is the author of the “Guide to Sustainable Strategies” published by the CFDA (Council of Fashion of America).  In the guide she explores how to get started on your sustainability mission; brings together the community and offers boot camps. “More sustainability practices lead to more money”.  

Panel Interactive

Everyone on the panel believes that designers are the innovators.    Each person in the panel shares with us their vision and story.  

Domenica talked about the importance of the company culture and believes you need top-down support by establishing SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) with an abundance of resources.   She believes most of the sustainable options are obvious. The next few years of sustainability evolution is looking very positive.

Annie explored whether we take on the responsibility or we don’t; really exploring whose responsibility it is?  She has researched the deep meaning and creativity in a systems-based design model using the assets that you already have.   Making sustainable garments is the goal.

Dana believes in “outside of the box” thinking.  She likes the renewal workshop business model that takes back older products and recreates new styles. By asking different questions with the hope of continuously moving forward,  Dana would like consumers to reanalyze why they purchase?  

Karen commented about the need for constant juggling of roles and responsibilities.  Bosses need to give creative room and freedom so that everyone involved can maximize their best talents.

Table Discussion

For this presentation attendees sat at tables with up to eight participants and three different topics: Circularity, Social Impact, and re/Build.   Each table focused on one of the objectives.

As a group, people would discuss the table objective with different scenarios that were presented throughout the presentation.  They would utilize flow charts, SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) cards, and worksheets that were on the table for everyone to share.  

The re/GENERATE agency shared specific materials for the workshop.  Furthermore, UNSDG’s (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) were used as a guide for training designers with empathetic creative engagement.

It was engaging and interactive with all participants at the table, sharing their insights and personal wish lists of what they would like to achieve.  

The Future

As a group, the panelists proceeded to discuss circularity over linear business models, exploring mechanical solutions before resorting to chemical alternatives.  

Many things have to be considered before choosing the various components in the making of apparel, footwear, and accessories.   The future is about specialized design collections, re-design, re-work, and re-sold products.  

It is possible that we need to explore new techniques or revisit older procedures, which use less energy in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

Their needs to more conversations about the world we share and our various roles and responsibilities.  We need to take charge of sustainability and make it our mission.

The fashion industry needs to focus on circularity and zero waste, giving back to the planet we care about.  

Designers need to care. 


Author: Jeffrey Clark

A management professional with 25 years global experience working with fortune 500 and speciality brands, specializing in lean manufacturing, product, supply chain management, procurement, sourcing, and operations. Proven proactive leadership, vision, creative, and successful strategic business skills to drive revenue and profit growth in highly competitive domestic and global markets. A strong relationship builder, functions effectively as an integral member of a cohesive senior executive team. Proven ability to source, identify and capitalize on emerging trends and niche market opportunities.