Fall 2018 Alumni Association Fall Panel: A Conversation On Sustainability

At this point, many fashion professionals are aware that the apparel industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil. Now the question is: how do we come together to make positive change in our industry, both for the good of our planet and to better target conscious consumers? On Thursday, September 20th, the YMA FSF Alumni Association gathered at the beautiful G-III Showroom to discuss this topic of sustainability alongside the most knowledgeable professionals in the industry.

We were fortunate to have Amy Hall (VP Social Consciousness at Eileen Fisher), Marissa Pagnani McGowan (GVP of Corporate Responsibility at PVH), Cara Smyth (Founder of GCNYC Fair Fashion Center), and Wendy Waugh (SVP Manufacturing and Sustainability at Theory) on the panel to discuss this important topic.


With such diverse backgrounds, yet similar interests, we first asked our speakers: What is your definition of sustainability? Both Marissa’s definition of “rethinking and changing the way we do things in a world of finite resources” and Cara’s definition of “making responsible choices for both yourself and the planet” showcased the simplicity of what sustainability means, but also just how broad the topic is. Meanwhile, Amy took a four-faceted approach, defining it as “the ability to live within planetary boundaries, from a financial, environmental, social, and well-being perspective.” Wendy straightforwardly posed the question, “What are we doing as a company that is the right thing to do?”

There were a multitude of subjects that the professionals on our panel discussed regarding sustainability, with the following being the most in depth conversations:

A sustainable mindset must be integrated into every department

As Wendy put it, “You need passion within every area.” She later added, “We have to use the young, passionate people within organizations to make a change.” Cara agreed that the younger generation does tend to have more passion for sustainability because they have had “the privilege of a wealth of knowledge from a young age.”

Customers will buy products that are beautiful

Cara explained how many consumers say they care, but don’t actually change their habits. “A product has to be beautiful and joyful, then people will buy it.” Amy added, “Sustainability is really just icing on the cake for most consumers.” Firstly, attractive clothing and store experiences will get customers to buy product. Marissa explained that “innovative and sustainable store design is something that is very tangible for both media and consumers.”

We must rethink the way we do things to be both sustainable and profitable

Amy discussed how there is more than just the cradle-to-cradle method, in which we reuse clothing and textiles. There is also cradle-to-earth, which would be product that is “not just biodegradable, but actually nutritious for the earth.” Marissa praised the likes of Rent the Runway, noting that “Just rethinking the way you do things can enable ideas that are both sustainable and profitable.” Wendy agreed, stating that often we just need to “Be clever by using our negotiation skills to get reasonable prices on more sustainable textiles from manufacturers.”

Clearly, this was a discussion that could have gone on for hours and hours. But luckily, we have fashion professionals such as these women who are starting the conversation and making change every day within fashion corporations. As consumers and young professionals, we must understand that this positive change can take time, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Written by: Rachel Brosman, FSF Scholarship Class of 2018