This Croton Designer Is on a Mission to Make Fashion Sustainable
The Manhattanville graduate works toward a more eco-friendly industry, one fabric swatch at a time.
Andrea Kennedy / Photo provided by Manhattanville College
Fashion is a beautiful thing. Yet, it’s also rife with waste and pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 16.2 million tons of textiles were produced in 2014. In that same year, a whopping 10.4 million tons of textile waste went to landfills, while 2.6 million tons were recycled.
The statistics are depressing, to be sure. But Andrea Kennedy tries not to get too caught up in the numbers. Instead, Kennedy, a recent graduate of Manhattanville College’s Masters in Education for Sustainability program, makes it her goal to focus on the positives. The Croton-on-Hudson resident, who teaches at LIM College in Manhattan and runs Fashiondex, an online and in-print resource for industry professionals, sat down with us to discuss her latest eco-friendly projects and what she thinks about the state of the business today.
Congrats on your degree! How did you get into fashion in the first place?
I went to school for fashion. I went first to Drexel and left after three years and finished at Parsons School of Design in New York. I had great jobs throughout my career in both designer price points and modest price points (Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Anne Taylor, etc). Once my kids were born I switched from full timing to freelancing and continued to work for big brands. I founded Fashiondex in 1994, so while I was designing, I also owned a fashion resource company. I worked on that at nights and on weekends. That company is on its 24th year.
So you moved from designing to teaching and running Fashiondex?
At this point I am no longer designing. I was until five years ago when I started moving to more teaching. I had already been running workshops for designers and teachers. I really do love educating the next generation of designers so they can change the way we are designing, producing, and distributing garments.
What inspired you to start Fashiondex?
My own Rolodex. I had taken out the A, B, C, Ds and changed them to cotton, silk, buttons, beads, shoulder pads, etc. When I met someone who sold that, I would file him or her. Wherever I worked, [the Rolodex] was always stolen. I was telling my friend at work and she said, “you should sell it,” so I did. I made the first batch of 100 with some friends and got a booth at a trade show and sold actual Rolodexes. Now there are over 20 books and indexes.
Local Loft at Texworld / Photo by Andrea Kennedy
When did you become interested in sustainability?
I actually got into it 20 years ago. While I was designing, I did see a lot of waste, often of discarded raw materials. So much was dumped or incinerated or discarded in one way or another. I thought it was so wasteful. Back then, though, I only thought of the economics of sustainability.
About 12 years ago, I realized the environmental effects. I started a slow fashion camp in Croton-on-Hudson for teenagers and middle schoolers and ran that for eight years. We were rinsing indigo dye and I watched it go down the streets and into the sewer and I thought, “This is probably going into the Hudson River. If we’re just doing this with 12 campers, imagine what they’re doing in factories.’”
I live in Croton-on-Hudson. I love the Hudson Valley, the Hudson River, the trees. All of those are constant reminders of what we need to protect. This is a shared home. We all breathe the same air and our industry needs to tread gently. We’re approaching sustainability in fashion all wrong. We can’t just put one Band-Aid in one place.
Is that why you founded the Fashion and Sustainability Summit (held at LIM College in May 2018)?
It is. There’s so much focus on the statistics, that fashion is the second biggest polluting industry after oil. It’s numbing people and we’re not able to make changes. We need to stop giving everyone these negative facts and start offering solutions, teaching tangible practices, and sharing strategies that work. We need to measure success in other ways than the bottom line.
At the Summit, we were sold out with a waiting list. I got contacted to produce one in Los Angeles, so on October 4 we will have a sustainable fashion forum at the California Market Center in L.A.
Where do you think the industry is in regard to waste today?
It’s getting better, but very slowly. It is true that we’re buying more and we’re keeping our garments less. To ask the consumer to buy less isn’t realistic. People in fashion need to become positive agents of change.
What do you have on your plate now?
Fashiondex coproduced and I organized the Local Loft at Texworld, a biannual show at the Javits Center. It’s a locally based sourcing pavilion at a global international sourcing show. We’re going to do it again in January.
Project two is the sustainability forum in L.A. Then I’m continuing to teach at LIM and am working on the next edition of The Fashion Designer’s Sustainable Sourcebook.