When it comes to luxury fashion and interior design, the topic of sustainability is unavoidable. That was apparent at the recent New York Fashion Week, which featured a panel discussion on the long-term luxury of sustainability. Shawn David Nelson from Lovesac, Laura Hodges from Laura Hodges Studio, Abrima Erwiah from Studio 189 as well as model and activist Olivia Ponton, shared their personal approach to sustainability. “At Lovesac, our products are designed to last for a lifetime, and
e, and our offerings can evolve with customer needs. You can keep changing covers, fabrics, etc, and sustainability is very much part of our brand ethos,” Nelson explained. Hodges also chimed in by saying that her work at her interior design firm revolves around creating environmentally responsible design paradigms that are in keeping with her client’s homes. “When we get the opportunity to design a client’s home, it’s one of the first things we think about. Do we actually have to get rid of everything in the whole house?,” Hodges said. According to her, there is always a place for vintage pieces, and elements that can last a lifetime in home designs. She is always mindful of the carbon footprint and overall impact of her designs on the environment. It’s all about impact For Erwiah, sustainability is a natural part of her work at Studio 189, a social enterprise that builds sustainable fashion and artisanal businesses. “I wasn’t looking for sustainability. It’s just part of my heritage. I’m half West African and half American, and I think the community that I come from, it’s just part of what we do. It’s a consequence of the work that we are doing,” she explained. She feels that it is her responsibility to figure out how the industry can create a space that is more equitable, so the global population doesn’t have to pay the price for the excesses and waste of a select few. “If the word for that is sustainability, then that’s what it is. But for me, it’s humanity first. It’s about people first. It’s about giving a voice to people. We have to amplify these voices and let them do it themselves, so they can take control of their communities,” she added. Sustainability in design Erwiah’s social enterprise is based in Ghana, but it was inspired by European artisans. She realised from a very early stage that it was imperative to find a way to keep the language of design alive in this space. “I was very fascinated by the fact that these artisans could pass down their technical designs from generation to generation, and keep their crafts alive, while innovating around that. At the same time, in Ghana, we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years too,” Erwiah said.. In her mind, it’s all about partnerships and understanding how things are made. From the cotton spinners right down to the community of artisans, it’s about reinventing the supply chain. That was the motto behind her setting up a factory in Ghana. “I work with a lot of artisans, and I work with a lot of communities too, and I try to innovate around it to make products that are accessible yet feel modern,” she noted. Immersive sofas Lovesac’s sofas typically have around a 15-year life cycle, and Nelson reveals that its latest product innovation “Stealthtech” is perhaps one the best use cases of sustainability done right. For the uninitiated, it’s basically speakers from Harman Kardon that are integrated into sofa sets and offer 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound for immersive 4D experiences. The audio is optimised for the sofa sets based on their fabric type, density and colour for consistent quality, and there are even wireless chargers seamlessly integrated into the armrests. “We have integrated this new technology into 15-year-old sofas because everything that we do is reverse compatible,” Nelson said. Nelson is a firm believer that sustainability should not only be designed into products, but also the business model, in order to ensure products can be supported for decades. “In the future, when you achieve mass scale for production, the work can be done by robots, and this is how you can leverage modern technology and achieve real scale,’ he noted. Exploring misconceptions Erwiah feels that sustainability is being oversimplified these days, and that a lot of people are simply cut out of the conversation, especially when it comes to the education and technology aspect. “A lot of it is biassed, a lot of people within the industry are cut out, and it’s time we merged these conversations into a more elevated one which takes into account a lot more variables. It’s not simple, but it starts with a higher understanding of the issues and being human from the start,” she said. For Hodges, an equally important step is correcting the misconception that sustainability is synonymous with poor design. “In my world, a lot of people think it’s kind of like eating your vegetables, when it comes to sustainability. They feel it’s not going to look good or the style will be compromised,” she added. Hodges’ approach to sustainability in design revolves around non-toxic and natural materials and retaining as many of the original fixtures as possible, and trying to innovate around them. “A lot of my ideas for sustainability came from my grandparents, who were very thrifty, and I don’t think for one second that they considered themselves to be sustainable, but they didn’t really throw away very much,” she noted. She also believes that small steps, like hanging the clothes to dry instead of using a dryer, can go a long way, and that we need to take these steps collectively to build a more sustainable future. Maintaining a focus At the end of the day, Nelson feels that the design community is too hung up on recycled materials and the conversations around it. In his opinion, it’s time for companies to go beyond this and make truly lasting products too. “At Lovesac, we have a design for life ethos, that is all about making highly sustainable products that are not just about using recycled materials, but making products that truly last a lifetime,” he said. As far as he is concerned, “good design is sustainable”, a sentiment that is echoed by the rest of the panellists as well. Erwiah summed up the session by saying that for sustainability to have a greater impact, there has to be more of a focus on education. “It’s all about empowering communities, so that they can do it themselves, and not taking a top-down approach as that method only supports a small group of people,” she concluded.