NY Fashion Week 1995.
If I were 22 is a collective theme I was invited to write about on LinkedIn to share my experience and some advice with the class of 2014.
Congratulations to all the 2014 Graduates!
As college graduates enter the work force, they step into their professional lives with enthusiasm and a desire to make a mark in the world. The resume and interviewing process can be daunting, yet there are some that are recruited by companies right out of college or have the resources to start their own business. In all instances, working at a company to gain experience and advance one’s knowledge and skill set is beneficial for the future of one’s career and business.
#IfIWere22 again, looking back, I wish I would have focused much more on business. I enjoyed the creative aspects of my field, the experimentation and inspirational processes of design. But that was something that came natural to me. The business end of it, however, is something I have learned along the way.
When I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, I was looking to work for a company that shared my values and had sustainability at the core of its principles. Since my early years at the United Nations International School, I had been immersed in global issues that became ingrained in me. I wanted to work for a company that was sustainable and ethical, ensuring safe working conditions for its workers. Back in the late 80’s environmental sustainability was not built into the ethos of a company, and many used sweatshops. Now, it is not only a trend that is gaining momentum, it’s also a responsibility a company must embrace for its own survival and the protection of the natural world.
At FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) with Julio and Robert when we were just budding designers. Longtime friend and designer Robert Rodriguez to the right.
For the first 4 years after graduating from FIT, I worked for companies where I honed my skills. Some brands were more exciting than others. Yet, I did not find that perfect fit until many years later. So, in 1993 I embarked on creating my line of clothing, specializing in unique handmade garments, made with the utmost concern for the planet and people. This marked the start of my commitment to designing sustainable clothing and products.
In 2002, as I was writing a business plan to take my business to the next level, I chose Patagonia (the outdoor clothing company) as an example of a profitable company that put sustainability at the core of its principles. I was so inspired by what they stood for that I applied for a senior design position and set aside my business plan. Patagonia had a lot to offer. There, I got the chance to develop new sustainable fabrications and design collections that were made with either organic or recycled materials, concentrating on the complete life cycle of the products we developed. This was one of the most exciting things about working there. That and being able to get in the water, if the surf was good. Aside from designing sportswear, I designed swimwear, so taking time to test the suits in the water was part of my job. It was finally the perfect fit: I loved the ocean, sustainability and designing.
But after 6 years in the perfect job, my calling to use my skills in a way that I could address deeper concerns, surfaced again. In 2009, I spent much of that year searching for insight that would lead me to my life’s mission. In 2001, I had worked at Amazon Watch – the NGO dedicated to the protection of the Amazon Basin and its peoples – when I took a hiatus from design, wanting to work in an area that was of much interest to me. The Amazon is vital to the balance of the planet and it continues to be exploited for its resources. I needed to figure out how I could apply design in the context of the Amazon. As extractive projects encroach upon communities, their livelihoods are disrupted. These communities possess wisdom of the natural and spiritual world and artistic traditions.
Asociación Sukû, Cofan Community in Ecuador.
In 2010, I began working with the Cofan in Ecuador. I work mostly with women artisans, promoting their traditional artistry and designing contemporary collections that incorporate their ancestral talents. In 2011, I also began working with the Awajun in Perú and most recently with the Yanesha, also in Peru. The purpose of this work is to help the artisans generate a viable income, right in their communities, through traditional and modern skills, so they can flourish as artisans and communities, as an alternative to the sale of rainforest trees and extractive projects in their territories. Through this work and the brand I created, I am able to blend all of my interests in a creative fashion, as it addresses my love for design, culture and the protection of the planet. It also allows me to work in collaboration with other like-minded entrepreneurs and organizations that are dedicated to creating sustainable solutions.
To all of the graduating class of 2014:
Remember that we are living at a time of shifting systems, it will be beneficial to your personal future, and for the collective, to focus on those things that will sustain us as a planet. Doing business as usual is no longer the answer. We must ensure that every action is consciously chosen to ensure that what we do personally, as a business, as a country, as a planet, is in the best interest of all.
We must strive to use ourselves and all that we know and learn along the way for the benefit of humanity and the world we live in. Sure we can enjoy the financial rewards a profession offers, but we have a higher responsibility as members of society. Every one of us can make a difference.