Life Lessons, Marketing and Branding, Sustainable Design

How does a non-profit accidentally harm its mission?

As an animal lover and owner of an adopted pet, I really admire the mission of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).  However, I have ambivalent feelings about their recent collaboration with Ralph Lauren for Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Apparently someone from Ralph Lauren called Nancy Novograd of “All Tame Animals” to collaborate on an event that promoted the adoption of shelter dogs and this was how The Dog Walk campaign was born. The online campaign featured adoptable dogs in Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2013 Accessories Collection showcase. So here’s why I’m ambivalent…

The Ethical Implications of the ASPCA + Ralph Lauren Corp Awareness Campaign

PROS

  • Increased awareness of the ASPCA mission: the Ralph Lauren Corp is immensely successful (2013 revenue so far is 16.9 billion USD) and has a powerful voice in the marketplace
  • Increased fundraising for the ASPCA: the Ralph Lauren brand exudes luxury, exclusivity, leisure and premium quality
    • This will attract more wealthy donors and “aspirational” donors (people who aspire to be a part of the Ralph Lauren brand tribe)
    • This will lead to more partnerships with “aspirational” brands (brands who aspire to be on the same level as the Ralph Lauren brand)
    • The partnership will make philanthropy look chic, cool and fun
  • Animals will get loving homes and help the ASPCA “rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with many shelters across the country”

CONS

“We believe that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law.” -ASPCA

Inadvertently Promoting Animal Cruelty: Because the Ralph Lauren has such a powerful voice in the market place, they have the power to influence trends. For instance, do we want leather dog bags to become a fashion trend? The bag in question, one among many other leather accessories featured in The Dog Walk campaign, was made in Italy. I’m not sure how the leather industry is regulated in Italy.

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 3.24.10 PM

  • Short-term gain at the cost of the ASPCA’s core values: while the ASPCA will definitely get a huge financial and PR gain from this collaboration, they have also inadvertently condoned a cruel practice that goes against their own mission. Using animal parts in art and fashion is not going to disappear anytime soon, but this does not mean we should stop thinking critically about the issue.

ASPCA Missed an Opportunity

The ASPCA and Ralph Lauren could have showcased premium quality products not made of animal parts. While the ASPCA can’t tell Ralph Lauren Corp to never use leather, they could have collaborated on a leather-free collection.  Obviously the Ralph Lauren company had already created this collection before reaching out, but the ASPCA could have stuck to their values and declined. They could have proposed a beautiful cruel-free collection for the following year. Ralph Lauren certainly has the design talent to pull off a leather-free accessories collection.

No brand partnership is perfect. People and organizations are flawed and filled with moral contradictions.  Furthermore, every one of us has our own ethical line. For years I used to only buy leather shoes, because I rationalized that no part of the cow was wasted and the products lasted longer (saving me money and reducing consumption). Now that I live with an animal and have focused more on creating art that helps protect nature, my ethical line has shifted. I have become almost a vegetarian (I occasionally eat sea food) and I no longer buy leather. (Unfortunately, I cannot afford any new shoes right now, so I have to keep wearing my old leather shoes).

I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this situation. Life is not that clear-cut. As an emerging artist and entrepreneur interested in social responsibility, I find these scenarios extremely useful to study. They help me prepare for the ethical dilemmas awaiting my brand.

PETA’s Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing: Companies That Sell Some Leather and Fur Alternatives

Advertisements
Standard
Commissions, Sustainable Design, Textile Design

I designed lungs for Hank and Cupcakes!

"See Through" Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis for Hank and Cupcakes

“See Through” Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis. Commissioned by the band Hank and Cupcakes for a t-shirt design. (For women.)

I recently completed a collaboration the adrenaline-inducing band called Hank and Cupcakes. You really need to check out their live shows. They’re amazing! The band really liked my lung illustration “I breathe patterns”, which featured a cross-species tapestry of organic patterns encased in the shape of lungs. They asked if I could design a set of lungs for one of their t-shirts. In keeping with my artistic theme of showing an interrelationship among all species, I illustrated lungs composed of seahorses, beetles, octopus tentacles, and polyps. We named the design “See Through,” which is one of the songs off their new ‘Naked’ Album.

T-shirt manufacturer: Alternative Apparel (check out their commitment to social responsibility)

If you’re interested in commissioning an illustration, contact me at Organic.Lyricism@gmail.com!

"See Through" Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis for Hank and Cupcakes

“See Through” Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis. Commissioned by the band Hank and Cupcakes for a t-shirt design. (For men.)

"See Through" Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis for Hank and Cupcakes

“See Through” Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis. Commissioned by the band Hank and Cupcakes for a t-shirt design.

"See Through" Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis for Hank and Cupcakes

“See Through” Lung illustration by Arlene Ellis. Commissioned by the band Hank and Cupcakes for a t-shirt design.

Standard
Conservation Biology, Quotes, Sustainable Design, Work In Progress

How a bad illustration can inspire something deeper

The Cape Perrot Plants an Idea (WIP illustration, Arlene Ellis, 2013)

What you’re seeing above is a fashion illustration gone wrong. I had a completely different vision in my head. Initially I used a vintage fashion illustration to inspire the pose and silhouette.  In this case I was more concerned about drawing the textiles than the construction of the garments.

The Cape Perrot Plants an Idea (Sketch, Arlene Ellis, 2013)

Half-way through the drawing I thought to use a bird’s head instead of a human head, so I googled “parrots, National Geographic.” One of the first results was a National Geographic article about the endangered green and gold Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Cape parrots are endemic to South Africa and are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss. They usually eat yellowwood fruits but because the yellowwood forests are being cut down for agriculture the birds no longer have a steady food supply and are becoming malnourished, which makes them more susceptible to infections.

After I read the National Geographic article I replaced the human head with a Cape parrot head. Then I infused the textile with elements of the parrot’s life: the colors of its feathers, the shapes of the yellowwood fruit, the color of  vasculature to hint at infection and finally the color of the sky. Still not satisfied with the illustration I tried to salvage it digitally. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out well :).

dali-quote

So why am I explaining all this? I’m terrible at maintaining journals or even sketchbooks because I’m my own worst critic. When drawing or writing for myself, I can’t help but rip apart everything I’ve created (not literally). However, because my blog is public it offers an audience and weirdly enough I feel more compelled to create for an audience than just for myself. In the end though, the main audience member I’m speaking to is my future self. The future me who will have accomplished her dream of becoming a successful fashion designer. The future me who will ask, “How did I get here?” She will look back on these posts and chuckle about how seriously I took myself and my mistakes.

After I finished this fashion illustration, I watched a video of conservation biologists Steve Boyes discuss his dedication to saving the Cape parrot. I was so moved by the plight of these beautiful birds, that I realized I wanted to help them. Yes the first illustration the birds inspired was crap, but it has inspired me to dig deeper.

“Just two weeks ago, I was in the Okavango Delta…but when you’ve come to this place it’s not a wilderness area anymore. We’ve changed it too much. We’ve lost too much of it. And now we must give back.” -Steve Boyes

The main reason I started Organic Lyricism is to instill an appreciation of the natural world in other people. I was growing frustrated by how so many of us take from nature but don’t care to protect it. People like Steve Boyes inspire me to keep making mistakes because there is a greater goal beyond satisfying my ego. If I can harness my talent to create something that people will buy to help protect a species like the Cape parrot, then I’ll keep taking risks.

By the way, if you’re interested in art designed to give back then I invite you to check out my limited edition posters. I hope you have a great day!

Standard
Sustainable Design

Nike’s Three Barriers to Sustainable Design

Yesterday I fundamentally changed my perspective on sustainable design. This shift happened during the Ethical fashion 1 class I’m taking at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Our professor showed us a video of the General Manager for Nike’s Considered team, Lorrie Vogel, succinctly discuss the barriers involved in sustainable product design. Vogel emphasized that reducing our “footprint” won’t get us to the green economy; instead we have to focus on how to affordably create products that can be reclaimed and recycled (closed-loop products). What I found fascinating was when Vogel laid out the brutal reality of creating a closed-loop product:

Nike’s Three Barriers to Creating Closed-loop Products

Nike-T-Shirt

The two largest textile materials Nike uses are polyester and cotton, both of which use scarce natural resources. Polyester uses petroleum and cotton uses way too much water and landmass. The company is trying to figure out how to reduce the environmental impact of producing these products

1. Don’t know yet how to create low-impact materials

The two largest textile materials Nike uses are polyester and cotton, both of which use scarce natural resources. Polyester uses petroleum and cotton uses way too much water and landmass.

How much water does Nike need to create one cotton t-shirt?

700 gallons (a hot tub 5 feet around and 4.5 feet deep is filled with 500 gallons)

This calculation was based on the amount of water required to grow, dye and finish one t-shirt.

How much landmass does Nike need to grow one cotton t-shirt?

1,1000 square feet of cotton

According to Vogel, 60 percent of Nike’s impact is embedded into their materials (water, wastes, toxins, and energy).

Design Question: what will be the new low-impact material?

2. It’s too expensive to manufacture recycled textiles

In 2008 Nike debuted their lightest and fastest swift suit at the Beijing Olympics. The suit was made out of recycled polyester. Yet it was 20-30% more expensive to make than using virgin polyester.

Design question: how do we cost-effectively recycle?

3. Materials cannot be clearly identified

Nike-Almost-Recyclable-Shoe

Vogel cited and example in which a Nike designer created a shoe that can be easily disassembled, to make the shoe easier to recycle.

Vogel cited and example in which a Nike designer created a shoe that can be easily disassembled, to make the shoe easier to recycle. However, when Vogel took the shoe to one of the top recyclers they told her it would be too expensive to recycle. The shoe would be grinded into a million pieces then would have to be manually sorted, mechanically sorted, water density sorted, air sorted, optically sorted, and so on.

Design question: how can we clearly identify materials to reduce the sorting process in recycling?

The good news is that these barriers don’t seem insurmountable. And we really don’t have much of a choice but to figure this out, especially when you consider what Vogel asked the audience to consider:

If it takes 700 gallons of water and 1,100 of land mass to create one cotton t-shirt, then multiply that by the number of cotton t-shirts on the planet. Think of all the materials used in all the consumer products in the world. The planet cannot sustain it, especially when you consider there will be 1/3 more people in the world by 2050.

Standard