Design student Preston Sanchez’s mission was to make a product that uses only recycled materials or leftovers from a local factory in Los Angeles.
At first he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. “I thought about it. And then I decided it would be really cool to make a recycled denim sweatshirt or sweater,” he said.
Four prototypes later, Sanchez has produced a denim sweatshirt that is actually comfortable because the material is so soft from constant use. “When I got it back I was super excited,” he said. “My vision came true even though there were some small adjustments.”
From his mission, he learned this: sustainability must be at the forefront of design. “You can’t design something without thinking about this process,” he explained.
Sanchez was one of eight students enrolled in a relatively new class called “EcoMadeinLA: Introduction to Circular Entrepreneurship” at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California.
The course was created by Adjunct Professor Mateo Neri, who received a $30,000 grant from VentureWell, a Massachusetts nonprofit that funds and trains faculty and students to create socially beneficial businesses. The grant was used to pay for costs and materials for students to manufacture their products.
Neri normally teaches an “Introduction to Entrepreneurship”, but he saw the need for a course that combines entrepreneurship with sustainability because it is the future. “I wanted to avoid all the problems we have in the supply chain by buying fabric from Asia and manufacturing it in Europe. It’s better to use local resources and it’s more sustainable,” Neri said.
To meet the demand for more designers trained in sustainable practices, fashion schools are offering master’s degrees, certificates, and minors in sustainable fashion, or running special courses on upcycling, upcycling, and using off-cuts. cutting room floor like the one at ArtCenter.
LA has earned a reputation as a center of sustainable fashion innovation, with Saitex dubbing itself “the cleanest denim factory in the world”, opening in 2021 and producing clothes for Frame and Everlane, among others, as well as pioneering local brands such as Reformation and Christy Dawn helping to make carbon offsetting cool.
In Neri’s class, students worked with local factories to use recycled materials or leftovers to create products such as a sweatshirt, tote bag or even a sofa.
Product design student Anna Lee Joy said she took the course because she wanted to design something that would last. “We buy so many things that aren’t meant to last and go straight to landfill,” she said.
For her tote bag, backpack, pouches, and a surfboard bag, she used airbag material left on the cutting room floor. “The airbag material lasts, according to the automotive industry, at least 10 to 15 years. But it really doesn’t wear out,” she said.
Joy worked with David Garcia of D&D Leather Goods, an entrepreneur from Los Angeles. Garcia said he’s never worked with air bags, but turned old blankets into bags. “A lot of my customers, around 60-70%, want sustainable products now,” he said.
Student Jess Ziman focused on the furniture, creating a 70-inch-wide sofa made from leftover airbag material, old denim, shredded plastic bags and foam scraps. From her leftovers after making the sofa, she crocheted baskets.
Sustainability is important to Ziman because she worked in restaurants and saw huge amounts of food thrown away every night. “It’s something that I found frustrating,” she said.
For her, sustainability is not only about materials, but also about manufacturing. “The whole process is really important to me,” she explained. “If you’re not adding to the world and doing something to improve our space, then why do it?”
But there were challenges. She worked with Elizabeth Rodriguez-Buluk, who owns a custom furniture factory and store in Los Angeles. “We spent a lot of time on it,” admitted Rodriguez-Buluk.
Ziman has learned that making a product that lasts can be difficult. “There is so much extra work and extra cost and labor. You’re looking for material that you have to be really creative with,” she said. “I also learned that sustainability isn’t about being perfect. But if you pass 85%, you have an impact on the world.
Now that class is over, students showcase their wares on Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. at a pop-up store at 584 Mateo Street in Los Angeles’ trendy arts district.