Natalia Allen : Weaving Fashion with Sustainability
At 23 years old, Natalia Allen witnessed something she couldn’t close her eyes to. Recently awarded the Parsons’ New School for Design “Designer of the Year” award, Natalia was granted trips into textile factories to bring her design ideas to life. What she saw alarmed her and played on her conscious: heavy metals being used in fabrics; chemically laden clothes, and workers treated unethically. Instead of turning a blind eye, she got real with herself and asked, “How can I apply my creativity to solving the problems?”
Today at 28, she is using the knowledge gleaned from textile factories, scientists and engineers to create sustainable designs, using fabric from non-pesticide sources, and better quality working conditions inside cutting-edge factories. In 2005, she started the company, “Design Futurist: a New York design studio that creates sustainable and innovative clothing and accessories – from concept to completion – for the increasing number of modern companies choosing to go green.”
By any measure, Natalia is a great designer. She is being recognized for her work with many awards and designing for the likes of Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. What sets her apart is her love for innovation and technology. Combining innovation and technology into design has allowed her company to create “truly original and sustainable products” while allowing the company to soar. Hearing her story of constructing and tinkering during design school, with on-looking students watching her with wondering questions, I imagine a female Thomas Edison housed in a New York design school. She wasn’t singly focused in design school nor is she now. Her ability to see things holistically and broad scale also has her in a leadership position within the design industry as an innovator and green designer. She uses this position to speak globally on the importance of green design and on preserving our resources.
Our overuse of chemicals, water and of cotton has Natalia concerned. “Cotton is rising in price and in scarcity. It accounts for 25% of all pesticide use.” She wants consumers to understand the implications of our purchases; and what we are putting in and on our bodies. According to Utne Reader, an average woman’s closet contains over 8,000 chemicals. “Women purchase 70% of all clothing bought; they make over 80% of purchase decisions,” stated Natalia. Women are driving the consumer market; and we must make responsible choices when buying. She said, “The average garment in America is designed to last 3-6 months; we buy, wear, and throw away faster and faster.” This is having a huge effect on our personal health, planetary health, and our economy; according to Natalia the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing annually into landfills.
The more she is learning the more she speaks including podiums across the world: “Known human carcinogens are used to make the clothes we live in, as well as endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins,” states Natalia. Natalia’s recommendations come not just for the health of the planet but for our personal health. Natalia can found revitalizing herself through nature on her surfboard and galvanizing through her blog at: www.designfuturist.com
Practical advice from Natalia of what can we do as responsible fashion consumers:
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
- Check the label. Be mindful of where your clothes come from and what they’re made of.
- When possible look for certified organic fibers and sustainable fibers such as hemp.
- Low-impact or plant based dyes are generally the best option.
- Support local and/or ethical labor.
- Always wash your clothes in cold water before wearing.
- Avoid the clothes dryer when you can. Hang dry is best.
- Take care to buy the best quality you can afford.
- Swap clothes with friends and family for fun.
- Donate unwanted clothing that is in good condition.
- Continue to read about the movement and share news with your friends.
- Enjoy the journey as we all make small changes to improve our health and world.