Alumni Impact Story: Laura Wright ’15, Jefferson’s MS in Sustainable Design Program

Alumni Impact Story: Laura Wright ’15, Jefferson’s MS in Sustainable Design Program

Snapshot
Laura Wright believes in bringing sustainability to all aspects of your life, and in bringing all aspects of yourself to your work. She is a Senior Associate & Industry Analyst at Sustrana LLC., a startup which has developed an online platform to help make strategic sustainability accessible to businesses of all sizes. She is also currently designing for Sardine Clothing, an upcycled apparel company, and works at Stillpoint Yoga Studio.

MSSD Thesis Title: Optimizing the Lifetime of Textiles and Apparel through Upcycling
Job Title: Senior Associate and Industry Analyst at Sustrana LLC., Designer at Sardine Clothing
Website: http://www.sustrana.com/ http://sardineclothing.com/

MSSD Background

Why did you come to the MSSD Program?
I was a textile designer, working for a large textile company in North Carolina that was all US-based manufacturing. I used to be able to design my fabric, then travel 20 minutes down the road and see my designs coming off the loom. When I moved to Pennsylvania and got a job here, all our manufacturing was done in China. I no longer felt that connection to the fabric that was being produced or the people who were producing it. That peaked my interest in sustainability- seeing where the textile industry was heading. I found the MSSD program and as soon as I met Rob, I was sold; he’s one of the greatest people I know. He’s so passionate about what he does, and that came across even in the short open house meeting.

What Stood out for you in the Program?
One thing that stood out to me was that our class of students was so diverse, but uniform in our desire to improve the world; that made it exciting. It gave us a tight connection as a team. I was taken aback by how different it felt from other programs.

How has it helped you achieve your goals?
I definitely feel like the program gave me more depth and background knowledge, and even more passion for the subject. I found that people appreciate a base of knowledge that’s broad, especially an organization like Sustrana which aims to serve so many different industries.
It can be really difficult to pursue sustainability in big industries, and the textile industry has particular challenges in managing hundreds of suppliers who are overseas. I was able to narrow my focus on this issue during my thesis project, which I used to connect with Maryanne Petrus-Gilbert, creator of Sardine Clothing; now we work together.

Alumni Impact

The following questions are structured around the Integral Framework, which the MSSD Program uses to guide the design process. The framework allows us to explore a topic fully through the lenses of Experience, Culture, Performance, and Systems.

Experience

How has your work helped create positive experience for people?
In my work with Sustrana, we’re trying to educate and help people reach the bigger ideas of sustainability. Working through the platform, people are learning about sustainability, how it relates to their industry, and how to create a strategy to manage it. We are changing their experience of sustainability, making it accessible, and helping them become a part of the movement that’s solving these issues.

In what ways does your work beautify?
With my textile designs, and work with Sardine Clothing, of course the product is meant to be attractive and beautiful, but it’s also a way for people to gain understanding from buying the product and then taking that out into the world. The understanding they gain has a lot to do with questioning the idea of waste- seeing it as something that is still beautiful and has value that can be repurposed.

Cultural/ Equity

What kinds of initiatives have you started to build a culture of sustainability?
With the Sustrana platform, we focus on equal parts environmental, governmental, and social issues. People often hear “sustainability” and think of environmental issues, but social equity plays an equally important role. The biggest sustainability issues I see is in the textile industry, for example, are in the supply chain. A lot of products are produced in other countries where there are  issues regarding worker’s rights, fair pay, and equity in gender roles. There are also a lot of NGOs that are on the ground in those countries, ready to help the big companies engage with the community and have a positive impact. I do believe that developing company values around sustainability through a platform like Sustrana can make a big difference. 

Metrics

Here are a few numbers we collected that help us measure the impact of Laura’s design interventions so far.

2000+ T-shirts & cashmere upcycled annually

Identified sustainability issues for 80 industries

Goal: Sustainability strategies for 1000 orgs by 2020

Systems and Processes

How has your work challenged the systems you’re a part of?
We’re creating an entirely new platform to manage sustainability. There a lot of systems for data modeling, to see how much energy you’re using, for example. But our system is more geared towards an organization developing program to tackle sustainability program all the way from education, to goals, to strategies, to project management.   

Sardine Clothing challenges the textile systems because it’s very difficult to make products from waste.The whole way we see product development is upended with this type of business. It challenges that process, and the notion of waste.

Final Thoughts:

I would say to students to keep an open mind about the direction you’re heading. As you learn about sustainability, your direction in life may change based on what you learn. Taking into account all the parts of yourself, and all the parts of what you’re interested in is really important; it allows you to ultimately integrate sustainability into all aspects of your life. I used to have a typical 8-5  career, but now I have found a way to live and work, integrating my passions,  and have an impact on the world around me.