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.

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  • 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

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Illustration, Kindness Chronicles, Life Lessons, Quotes

George Saunders’ speech reminds us to be kind

Last week, George Saunders’ convocation speech to Syracuse University graduates went viral. He didn’t espouse the usual advice (e.g. follow your dreams), instead he focused on an often overlooked trait in the business world: kindness. I’ve been musing about his wise words for the past few days and decided to share some of my thoughts.

"George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates"

George Saunders gave a wonderful convocation speech to the graduates of Syracuse University

Sometimes it’s hard to be kind. It’s hard to endure the shallow insights of an egotistical corporate PowerPoint-bullshit-artist and not tell him to go rehabilitate his soul. Being conscientious isn’t usually compatible with having corporate ambitions. Obviously not every corporate employee lacks a soul; some of the most conscientious people I know work for corporations. What is disturbing though, is that being kind, honest, generous, fair, and introspective may win you love from peers, but won’t lead you to the executive suites. It seems those rungs on the corporate ladder are mostly rewarded to the servile, arrogant, narcissistic, abrasive, selfish, manipulative, and/or shallow characters. Now you may ask, where does competence come into play? Well, it depends on the goal you are competent at achieving.

George Sunder's Quote on regrets, photo by Arlene Ellis

An excerpt from George Saunders wonderful convocation speech to the graduates of Syracuse University (http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates)

If the corporations’ goal is to create profit for profit’s sake, then how an employee helps meet that goal is not that important. Who cares if Bob is known for berating and backstabbing his coworkers? Do the clients love him? Yes. Will the clients give us more business because of Bob? Well, yes. Are we getting richer because of Bob? Yes. Well then, he’s staying! There are those who may argue, “Well, without profits people will have no jobs, be forced to live on the streets, and have to sell their organs to help pay their light bills!” I guess that scenario could happen, so Bob should just keep being a jerk—or more accurately a charitable jerk.

George Sunder's Quote on why we're not kind, photo by Arlene Ellis

An excerpt from George Saunders wonderful convocation speech to the graduates of Syracuse University (http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates)

Here’s something to consider, we have a limited amount of moments on earth, why not try being kinder now? Yes profits are essential for jobs, but can a little be sacrificed for the sake of integrity and compassion? Most of us wouldn’t want our wrath to be the last experience someone endured moments before death; nor would we want to experience someone’s wrath right before dying.

By the way, I’m writing this primarily to my present and future self, but I think lessons are more powerful when shared. I’m certainly not a role model for kindness. I’ve said hurtful things in moments of anger and exhaustion, or during that wonderfully hormonal time of the month. I’ve also felt very guilty about saying hurtful things and I’ve decided to hold myself more accountable. I’m learning how to take preventive measures, how to measure the consequences of my words before releasing them.

Mother Teresa quote about kindness, photo by Arlene Ellis

More and more I am believing in the power of kindness. When I was younger I endured frequent bouts of depression stemming from internalizing traumas. I used to blame some of my abrasive behaviors on those traumas. But we’ve all experienced various degrees of pain and it doesn’t justify being mean. I’ve often rationalized that I was only rude to bullies, but honestly I was sometimes short with loved ones. Yet my loved ones still forgave me and were still kind to me. It was their compassion that rescued me from despair.

Mark Epstein quote about trauma, photo by Arlene Ellis

Excerpt from the Opinion page of the New York Times, “The Trauma of Being Alive.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/opinion/sunday/the-trauma-of-being-alive.html

Several days ago I reconnected with a professor who wrote to me that she cried when she reviewed a Christmas card I made for her ten years ago. I didn’t remember the card and asked her to email me a copy. I was curious to read the voice of my 20-year-old self. After reading it, I realized the archival quality of kind gestures. I discovered that a simple card, made in a  moment of gratefulness, would still be moving someone’s heart ten years later. Try to be kind today.

Handmade Christmas Card from 2002 (Arlene Ellis)

The front and back of a handmade Christmas card I gave my professor in 2002. Apparently I was into quotes back then too!

Handmade Christmas Card from 2002 (Arlene Ellis)

The inside of a handmade Christmas card I gave my professor in 2002. Apparently I was into quotes back then too!

Apparently, I wrote her a poem too. Oh the poetic days of my early twenties 🙂

Poem from 2003 (Written by Arlene Ellis)

It’s cool to see that even back then I was into textiles inspired by biology.

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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.

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