Highlights of FIT’s 2023 Sustainability Conference

Dr. Karen Pearson sitting with Rachel Kibbe in club chairs on stage
Dr. Karen Pearson (left) spoke with Monica Ebert, business development manager of The Woolmark Company, about the sustainable possibilities of merino wool. Photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio.

FIT’s 17th Annual Sustainable Business and Design Conference took place March 28 and 29 in the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre, in person for the first time since 2019. The theme was Ideas at Work, to emphasize the way sustainability innovation is translating into action.

The conference opened with a conversation between noted author and podcaster Dana Thomas and Maxine Bédat, founder and director of New Standard Institute, a “think-and-do tank” to drive accountability in the fashion industry. They spoke about the lack of regulations and hard data about the environmental impact of fashion brands.

“One of the reasons that none of these figures really exist in a scientific peer-reviewed way is that brands want to hide them,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to be seen as doing these bad things.”

Ngozi Okaro,Nicole Finigan Ndzibah, and Lesley Ware sitting in club chairs in a row
In a panel about inclusivity in sustainability, Nicole Finigan Ndzibah, executive director of the Social Justice Center at FIT (center), spoke with Ngozi Okaro (left) and Lesley Ware (right). Photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio.

Other panels focused on sustainable beauty packaging, the role of social media in communicating sustainable goals, and the ethics of jewelry design.

Thomas returned to close the conference with Amber Valetta, a model, actress, and activist who is also FIT’s Sustainability Ambassador. (Read a related WWD interview with Valletta here.) They spoke about their journeys toward becoming communicators for climate change, waste reduction, and human rights.

“My team works really hard at asking the tough questions, working with brands, and talking with clients to see how we can support their sustainability goals,” Valletta said. “We’re cheerleading them on to think differently, and then asking the hard questions when they start really wanting to talk.”

Amber Valletta holding a microphone sitting down
Amber Valletta spoke about her work in helping brands become more sustainable. Photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio.

Afterward, Professor Karen Pearson, chair of FIT’s Sustainability Council, and President Joyce F. Brown presented the Changemaker Award to four faculty members who were instrumental in creating FIT’s culture of sustainability: Robert Vassalotti, Grazyna Pilatowicz, Nomi Kleinman, and Sandy Krasovec.

“Thank you for honoring us together,” Pilatowicz said, “because it was work done together.” Kleinman said her work on the Sustainability Council “really taught me what a strong grassroots effort can accomplish.”

“I’m really in awe of your dedication and commitment to FIT, and I appreciate all of your efforts that support the college’s work on sustainability,” Dr. Brown said, in closing. “It takes a village, and we really did create a sustainable village that lives on.”

The conference was planned by the FIT Sustainability Council and was co-chaired by Colleen Hill, curator of Costume and Accessories at The Museum at FIT, and Andrea Diodati, assistant professor of Fashion Design. A recording is available to FIT faculty, staff, students, and other attendees with a code sent via email. Day one of the conference is here, and day two can be viewed here.

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