On April 3 and 4, nearly 1,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college attended FIT’s 13th Annual Sustainable Business and Design Conference, which convened thought leaders across the creative industries for lectures and panel discussions about recent and future breakthroughs for preserving our planet.
This year’s theme was Innovation in Sustainability, and programming focused on cutting-edge research and technology for reducing our environmental impact and taking steps toward healing the earth. For the first time, the FIT Foundation’s Annual Awards Gala was integrated into the conference; it took place April 3 at the American Museum of Natural History.
Again and again, conference presenters stressed that our chance to halt global warming and environmental destruction is running out.
Anastasia Khoo, chief marketing officer of Conservation International, said that current estimates give humans 10 to 12 years to eliminate carbon from the air before global warming reaches a point of no return. She spoke with Francisco Costa, Fashion Design ’90, former creative director of Calvin Klein Collection, about how they work together to sustainably derive unique ingredients from the Amazon rainforest in producing Costa Brazil, his new beauty brand. Purchasing these ingredients provides income for some of the 200 indigenous tribes in the Amazon, and Conservation International is planting 73 million native trees at the headwaters of the Amazon River to speed reforestation.
Michael Beutler, director of sustainability operations at the luxury conglomerate Kering, described the company’s pioneering Environmental Profit and Loss methodology, which puts an economic value on the impact of creating products from leather, wool, gold, and other natural materials. “We’re backing up our business with real analytics and data to make sure we’re taking care of the environment,” he said.
In one of two lectures supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. Christina Agapakis, a biologist, writer, and artist, discussed how genetically modified microbes can help grow crops without fertilizer, dye garments without toxicity, and produce animal proteins from yeast. She acknowledged that GMOs are a contentious topic, especially in the food supply, but felt that transparency in labeling and open conversation could help change minds.
Paul Dillinger, the dynamic vice president and head of global design innovation for Levi Strauss & Co.—one of the biggest names in sustainability today—capped off the conference by sharing some of the company’s experiments in reducing the massive environmental impact of denim production. For example, they are creating a soft, cottony fabric from eco-friendly hemp, sourcing a partially recycled natural fiber called Refibra, and creating clothes entirely from one fiber, buttons and all, to make them easily recyclable. Levi’s is also teaming up with Stacy Flynn, Textile Development and Marketing ’98, to make jeans from Evrnu, a new fiber created from discarded clothing. “There’s no one single solution,” Dillinger said. “Right now there’s just got to be a lot of trials.”
The conference was organized by the president’s Sustainability Council and chaired by council members Ann Cantrell, assistant professor of Fashion Business Management; and Melanie Copple, director of strategic philanthropy; as well as council co-chairs Suzanne McGillicuddy, assistant dean of students; and Karen Pearson, assistant chair of Science and Math.
Cantrell also worked with students from FIT’s Merchandising Society to create a pop-up Style Shop in the Pomerantz Lobby that sold “There Is No Planet B” T-shirts, totes made from the canvas that covers FIT’s screenprinting lab tables, vintage clothing, and eco-friendly candles and other products. Colleen Hill, curator of costume and accessories at The Museum at FIT, created elegant displays through FIT’s lobbies using sustainable student creations.