Fashion and Sustainability Lecture – Mass College of Art and Design


he word sustainability has been thrown around a lot, especially in the fashion industry. So what does it actually mean? StartUp FASHION recently attended Jennifer Varekamp’s “Fashion and Sustainability” lecture at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and got a glimpse into what’s current in this popular design concept.

Freiderike Von Wedel-Parlow

Sustainability is considered a category, encompassing everything that helps the fashion industry thrive in a positive way. This includes upcycling, being green or eco-friendly, DIY, etc. These practices are steadily gaining popularity in the fashion industry, and with good reason.  As consumer demand rises, designers react.

Something else designers are considering is their “social fingerprint.” This is similar to a carbon footprint, but deals with ethics rather than the environment. It refers to a company’s social impact, including fair wages, good working conditions, and overall benefit to the community. All of these concepts are important for designers to consider during their creative practice.  And as time moves forward, we are realizing that more and more of them are.

Varekamp went on to introduce several innovative designers and companies for whom sustainability is the top priority:

Inti Knitwear

These aren’t grandma’s sweaters (they aren’t chain label sweaters either). Inti is very much it’s own label,  employing local seamstresses, knitters and craftspeople. Nothing is sourced.  Unlike most companies, this one’s objective is to downsize rather than expand as personal touch in the products is extremely important.

If that’s not enough, Inti donates the remaining garments from past collections as well as ones with minor defects to the ‘People in Need’ foundation. Not only is nothing wasted, the community benefits as well. The sweaters themselves are soft, beautiful works of art.

Hess Natur

Inspired by the birth of his son, Heinz Hess founded HessNatur in 1976. Hess believed in the pure and organic, and wanted to provide the baby with that lifestyle despite the lack of options at the time. His medium: clothing and textiles.

Hess initiated multiple organic cotton farming projects and began working with partners to produce organic linen, silk and wool. By 2002, HessNatur had also set the standard for humane labor conditions and 75% of production is now done locally in Europe. The collections themselves are stunning- and not just for babies.  There are men’s and women’s wear lines in addition to children’s, featuring  dresses, sweaters, and even organic chinos.

Freiderike Von Wedel-Parlow

Von Wedel-Parlow has taken the concept of “no waste” to the extreme with her latest collection, Project No1. The garments are created using the entirety of the fabric. The textiles are cut into strips, eliminating pattern scraps that would be otherwise thrown away. These strips are knit, sewn, looped and layered into pieces so chic the recycling aspect could seem secondary.

The fabrics themselves are organic materials, colored by hand with plant dyes that produce vibrant hues. A perfect combination of form and function, Von Wedel Parlow’s project is definitely pushing the future of fashion in the right direction.

At the end of the presentation, Varekamp remarked that in the future, the word sustainability should not even exist; that aspect of design should be a given. While we’re certainly not there yet, we are on our way and these talented designers are helping us get there.