New York native Susan Woo is a womenswear designer whose resume boasts stints at Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Derek Lam. Her namesake label blends high design with environmental and social consciousness. From the energy-efficient operations of her line to the eco-friendly fabrics used in her designs, Woo is redefining sustainable fashion. This year, the designer received the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award for Sustainable Design.
What does sustaining the environment mean to you?
It means thinking about where things come from and how they’re made. It’s an appreciation for things that are created out of thoughtfulness.
How do you apply that philosophy to your daily life?
I try to eat and buy organically as much as possible, and to also support smaller vendors, like buying a local brand of chocolate (my favorite is Mast Brothers from Brooklyn). I also think it means to treat yourself well — exercising and taking care of your mind and body. I think about the way I travel and the impact of my actions on the environment.
As the recipient of the Ecco Domani sustainable design award, you received $25,000 toward a fashion presentation. What did the grant allow you to do differently for your presentation this season?
The grant definitely allows me to have a great team to support the collection and show!
Previous winners include John Patrick and Titania Inglis. How would you compare and contrast the appeal of your collection to theirs?
I think we all really give so much thought to the process as much as the end product, and showing everyone how important that is. I think our brand specifically has a really has a great balance of being feminine and edgy, all while having a very ready-to-wear look and quality.
Where do you source fabrics? What’s the most challenging part of keeping it all sustainable?
I source fabrics from the United States, Japan, Italy and South Korea. I really love working with companies that understand the value of high quality organic or sustainably produced materials. The challenge is that people will always criticize importing a yarn or fabric, but the truth is that we do the best that we can. Can all materials be sourced from a 100-mile radius from our office? Not without sacrificing quality. It’s a delicate balance.
What does one need to learn and apply to their work to have a qualified sustainable collection?
You have to have a true belief in the idea that organic or sustainable is better than its alternative. Most people will question the aesthetic or the quality of something sustainable, but the truth is that putting more time into researching fabrics or production will only result in a better quality garment.
Does it bother you to see sustainable lines mixed and matched with non-sustainable pieces?
No, not at all, I love that! It’s the best way to convince people that sustainable fashion can be woven seamlessly into their existing wardrobes.
Do you foresee more sustainable initiatives developing in the retail community?
Definitely. Sustainability has so many positive impacts, not only on the environment. It can save money, it can help industries and employment, and it can create an awareness that helps future generations.
Do you see a day in our fashion future where all designers will be sustainable and a separate category won’t be necessary?
I certainly hope so. I think it will only benefit all designers to really evaluate their design and production processes and improve it in any way they can.
What inspired you to be a designer?
My parents were such a great influence on me. My mother would always ask me about my thoughts on a dress or pants, or what she should wear to an occasion, so I formed my opinions early on. My father is so well dressed and has a knack for interesting color combinations, which I have always admired.
Did you have aspirations of doing anything else?
I can’t imagine being anything other than a designer. That sounds like a boring answer, but I feel lucky to have found a passion and the ability to pursue it as a career.