With the job title of “Design Futurist”, it is hard to not be intrigued by New York’s Natalia Allen. In 2005 (just a year after she graduated from Parsons School of Design), Natalia founded an influential (self-titled) consultancy company, where she specializes in the emerging areas of design and marketing for global clients, such as Quiksilver, Donna Karan-LVMH, Dupont, Philips and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her creative designs and network are considered an essential catalyst between companies with a shared interest in the future of fashion. Her work has received a score of distinctions including the Calvin Klein, Nylon Magazine and Ducati Design Awards, also the coveted Designer of the Year Award, a title she shares with Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, and Badgley Mischka.
As the tipping point of green living looms on the horizon, I had a chat with Natalia about her unique work and how technology and eco-style will factor in to the future of fashion.
How did you first become interested in fashion?
There were two major influencers: 1, My mother grew tired of taking me shopping and never finding anything I liked. My taste was extremely particular at a young age. One birthday she purchased a sewing machine for me. At 15, I began sewing clothes for my family, friends and self. 2, At the second year of University we had to choose a concentration in design. I read that the fashion department was the most successful. Historically, the department produced the best of the industry.
Give folks a bit of insight on what exactly your job entails.
I work with the client to conceptualize the future of their brands. This includes creating a visual story. I then design specific products. The products usually incorporate innovative textiles (waterproof, organic, breathable) and new methods of construction (laser cutting, seam bonding, CAD). I believe technology shall have an increasing level of importance on design, production and management. Using my network, I put together the team to produce the products and help my client take it market. We focus on presentation and branding elements. It is an extremely rewarding process for everyone involved.
What was your first encounter with the world of eco-fashion?
While in England I learned about a shrinking textile industry that once supplied the Army. There were so many non-petroleum based technical materials. There, I began to investigate eco-friendly ways to problem solve.
What drew you to eco-fashion?
I believe in leaving a light footprint. For a client (large fashion company), I researched historical methods of waterproofing and found brilliant natural fabrics which performed very well and did not rely on pertroleum. The further I researched, the more I discovered. I found organic phase change materials, such as waxes, that provided a cost effective and environmentally friendly solution to regulating body temperature.
How do you see eco-fashion, along with technology’s help, being integrated into the future of fashion?
Technology is a tool, when applied to the advancement and application of eco-friendly materials, possibilities are limitless. Generally, I see fashion as continually being influenced by a concern for the environment. I also appreciate that fashion is fickle, and emphasis on eco- friendly materials will shift with the times. It is great that we have such a strong focus on Greener solutions. As a result, consciousness will arise, new spending and demands for eco-friendly fashion will increase.
Why should fashion designers pay more attention to the planet-friendly fibers?
Good design is a treasure in and of itself. I believe that it does not need to be attached to a social cause to be meaningful. However, social cause or not, does good design poison its environment? Today, my answer is no. Therefore, when given an option, I choose the least harmful and most sustainable method possible. Sometimes, it is not as convenient, but there is a great return on such a small investment.
Another note: eco-friendly does not have to mean hemp and bamboo, there are great classic materials that leave a light footprint, age richly and are non toxic. I believe in looking at the entire cycle, from design through development and distribution, there is so much room for improvement, each step is an opportunity for progress. Nothing will happen over night because of the economics, as designers we have the ability to influence what culture buys.
What do you think are some of the most common reasons companies are hesistant to use sustainable/low-impact fabrics? How can those issues be overcome?
a. I believe they are not adopting these fabrics because of stigmas that exist, which infer that eco-friendly materials are less fashionable. Also, alot of designers are not aware of where and how to learn about eco-friendly materials since they are not currently distributed through traditional channels. b, As tastemakers continue to integrate eco-friendly materials into fashion, awareness, presence and spending will increase.
What are some of the current sustainable projects you are working on?
As a design consultant for a high-end fashion label, we are designing a range of men’s wear that focuses on the use of innovative materials that have low impact on the environment. Also, we are building a range of Green design products for a luxury hospitality business.
Why do you thing green fashion doesn’t get as much attention as hybric cars or organic food?
I am not sure that fashion does not receive equal attention. Perhaps it is that the channels of information distribution are less centralized than that of cars or food. In other words, media giants tend to spend more time covering automotive than fashion, the industry is larger. Also, eco-fashion is seen as having a less direct impact on our health.
Are there any areas of the sustainable style market that you think are lacking in options?
Until sustainable becomes common place, the general way, and not a niche segment of the population, there will be room for improvement.