The Fashion Institute of Technology put on its 17th annual sustainability conference this week billing everyone from Amber Valletta and “Fashionopolis” author Dana Thomas to brands like Credo Beauty, Woolmark and Another Tomorrow.
Themed “Ideas at Work,” the event was held at FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre on Tuesday and Wednesday and spanned topics from the power of animators to spark climate action, circular designers to reboot fashion and eco-journalists and green influencers to demand change.
The conference’s tone, visible by the predominant cohort in attendance, is rooted in Gen Z. “FIT generation,” in brand storyteller and creative architect Cliff Medney’s words, is thinking differently. “If you can bring the COP [what he called ‘clarity of purpose’] principle, you can bring change.”
Here, a few highlights for hiring managers to watch closely to ensure creativity, purpose and innovation lead.
Given the rise of artificial intelligence and tools such as ChatGBT, it’s no wonder the university is tuning up its digital offerings. One such project, which was the subject of a panel conversation, was FIT’s “Earth Things First,” an experimental campaign incubated from FIT’s DTech Lab.
“[Earth Things First] demonstrates how we’re using technology and creativity in a service of purpose,” said Michael Ferraro, the executive director of the FIT DTech Lab, in a Tuesday conversation. Using an app called Membit — an eponymous innovation by early AR adopter and Membit Inc. founder Jay Van Buren, who also spoke on the panel — users can traverse campus and see “virtual statues” dedicated to FIT’s climate-aware faculty. One statue is dedicated to current FIT professor Theanne Schiros, shown standing proudly in plain clothes (and not toiling in her lab coat on innovations such as “Werewool”) in a web of giant mauve roses.
Other spotlighted efforts included an initiative called Natureneeds.help or “Nature Needs Help” by director Sebastian Ramn. The digital initiative aims to connect non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, with creatives who want to make a difference.
Designers With Intention
In a separate circular conversation, Fashionphile’s founder Sarah Davis was joined by zero-waste design hub Decode MFG’s founder Danielle Elsener and design assistant and recent FIT graduate, Monica Palucci.
Palucci spoke of the necessity to stay grounded, as fashion risks going off track completely if it doesn’t halve emissions by 2030. “I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the world of fashion and lose your intention with sustainability.” She also said there needs to be “more education on designing for a diverse range of sizes,” given that the average American woman is likely between sizes 16 and 18, higher than previously thought, per a 2016 study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.
Resale pioneer Davis, along with others on the bill, spoke to the need to curb overproduction and design (and shop) for quality, which fits into circular fashion’s reigning ethos.
Interesting crossroads were being discussed at the event, including the ripe opportunity for musicians to wield meaningful — merch?
“Right now, I think what we’re seeing in social media and culture is, that yes, celebrities are becoming irrelevant in some ways, but musicians have become more politically empowered and charged to say, ‘I have a large platform, I have a lot of resources, what can I do?’” said eco-influencer Isaias Hernandez, behind “Queer Brown Vegan,” in a conversation with FIT and Anna Sacks, who runs “The Trash Walker.”
Hernandez called attention to a venture launched Tuesday called The Citizen-T Project, meant to serve a white space where artists and conferences can source merchandise from used goods. Given that smaller artists can make up to 75 percent of their income from merch, per Rolling Stone, and that millions of T-shirts are sold each year at shows — it adds up.
Capturing the essence of “FIT generation,” Hernandez reiterated, “When they asked me to join the company, I said, ‘Look, I’m not interested in joining a company that’s producing new clothing.’”