Live Blogging OG09: When Sustainable Design and Business Converge

Posted on 07. Nov, 2009 by in Design & Culture, Events


These are styles from Lauren Pierce. One of the most inspirational stories I heard today was about Lauren Pierce, one of the lines carried at Barney’s. Lauren Pierce designs gorgeous, high-fashion clothing that would impress the most jaded fashionista. What sets it apart is that the textiles are hand-printed by a women’s cooperative in the Congo, thus creating income through traditional arts. In the ecofabulous lounge I discovered three other amazing eco designers not yet known to the world at large, currently represented by Vie Bungalow PR.

Zem Joaquin, founder of, reminds us that the most sustainable thing is to re-use. She’s partnering with E-Bay to promote awareness of the gems that can be found in vintage clothing. She then passes the mic to Julie Gilhart, Fashion Director for Barney’s, because what good is press without sales? Sustainable fashion isn’t exactly sustainable if it’s not being sold somewhere. Julie Gilhart has been dragging the world of high fashion into sustainability through her commitment as the buyer for the leading US retailer in designer fashion.

Julie’s sea change moment began when she discovered it costs $1million to produce a 20-minute fashion show. She thought about how many people could be fed for $1million. Then two more things happened- Al Gore’s film became a call to action, and Julie heard the Dali Lama speak. He said you should forgive, have compassion, create beauty, and preserve culture. She thought “I could do that in my job.” She went on to talk her CEO into doing a “green holiday” theme that year and has since continued to expand Barney’s commitment to what she calls simply “consciousness”- an awareness of what you’re buying, where it cam from, the history of it. Julie has worked with some of Barney’s top-selling designers to inspire them to develop sustainable pieces. Barney’s customers expect a high level of design, and within that constraint, Barney’s uses 3-tier pricing: In the casual price point she mentioned Loomstate (who also have a line at Target), for mid-level- Phillip Lim , and at the high-end- Stella McCartney. But these aren’t the only designers doing sustainability at Barney’s. Julie also found she needed to create energy around it. So she initiated denim and t-shirt recycling programs, among many other collaborations with the designers they carry.

“Our most important goal, widest reach, is to change perception, the way people think.” –Julie Gilhart, SVP & Fashion Director, Barney’s NY

Mission One Electric Motorcycle

Next, Yves Behar, founder offuseproject, shows a video of Mission One breaking the electric motorcycle land speed record- and describes the sound of it reaching top speed as the new sound of sexy. I wholeheartedly agree with that, although I do love the sound of my ICE Japanese Supersport. However, this may very well be the only panel ever to feature two of my greatest passions- fast motorcycles and high fashion. The Mission One is also featured in the Neiman Marcus catalog, so it’s not that much of a stretch.

Yves then shifts to an awesome video for PACT underwear, where a cute eco-conscious boy and girl in a drab office find their clothing fall away as they do small things to save the planet. Then they run off into a forest in their gorgeous Forest Ethics undies. It’s adorable. The WearPACT commercial was laugh out loud funny. Like an expert author, it guides the viewer, and is not heavy-handed, it’s entertaining. Showing people taking sustainable action – watering plants, cutting plastic – then running off together into the wilderness in their underwear. Visual language is perfect because everyone gets it. The ad suggests a venue for people to get back to our natures through nature.

Yves’ studio fuseproject works with a number of other innovative startups, including One Laptop Per Child, Y Water, and others committed to redefining their industries. In expressing the popularity of OLPC, Yves explained that the only program the incumbent and incoming presidents of Uruguay agree on is OLPC. Yves said he is going to work in the “golden years” of his career for the next 10-15 years to prove people wrong who say that green has to be expensive and ugly.

My question to Julie- How do you convince customers it’s worth paying a little more for eco fashion, since it does cost more to produce?

Julie: I tried, but found that consumers perceived it to be inferior, they expect it to cost less, even though it does cost more to produce. Consumers assumed they were going to have to sacrifice something for sustainability, as has been the problem with sustainability messaging in the past decade. Our customers didn’t understand that the quality of eco clothing is at least as good as anything else we offer. So I stopped talking about it. What we sell has to be a great design, and for us it’s actually better if we don’t push the sustainability message.

She went on to discuss how she’s working with the head of PPR to develop consciousness in his companies. PPR owns many of the greatest fashion brands- Stella McCartney, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and Puma, to name a few. Even though it’s been under the radar, PPR has done some very conscious things, including producing the film Home. He cares about the environment. PPR owns a lot of businesses that have found the ability to save money through sustainability.

Next question: Did you come across designers that weren’t open to it?

Julie: We came across many, but found we cannot push them.

thanks to Gaia Dempsey for help in this article.

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2 Responses to “Live Blogging OG09: When Sustainable Design and Business Converge”

  1. Some Like it

    08. Nov, 2009

    Yay! It CAN be done. Being stylish and green at the same time. I am so inspired that Lauren Pierce’s textiles are handpainted by a co-op group of women.

  2. [...] Realizing that its customers come from all financial walks of life, Barneys has long held a three-tier pricing policy. Believing that Barneys should use sustainable and organic fabrics, such as organic cotton and recycled denim, top-selling designers in all three categories have maintained their high level of design while incorporating sustainability. In the casual price point is the Lookstate line, which is also carried in a separate line at Target. At the mid-level is Phillip Lim, and at the high-end, Stella McCartney. The list of sustainability-minded stylists are expected to expand rapidly, according to [...]

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