“At CFDA, sustainability in fashion is a core pillar of our work,” said Steven Kolb. The President and CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who has overseen the implementation of some of the organization's most important initiatives, was speaking after returning from Guatemala with Carmen and the CoutureLab Coalition. Seeking opportunities to link local artisan communities to American fashion brands, he has recounted his experience in a piece penned for the CFDA.
Organized by Pacunam, a non-profit that works to support Mayan culture, Kolb and fellow CFDA members Donna Karan and Naeem Khan, joined Carmen, Livia Firth, Pacunam CEO Marianne Hernández and other coalition supporters on the ten-day trip, which began by a visit to artisans based around Lake Atitlán, a beautiful volcanic lake in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.
As Kolb explained, these artisans are part of collectives formed to preserve the heritage and culture of the region and to create sustainable economic opportunities through their work. He and his CoutureLab Coalition colleagues witnessed the hand spinning of yarn from locally grown organic cotton, and saw, up close, the hand-weaving of colorful garments, their hues cultivated from natural dyes harvested from plants and bark. The group also visited a ceramic studio, and were invited to a presentation from Pintando el Cambio, a non-profit with a goal to paint 850 houses in the town of Santa Catarina Palopó.
Part of the trip was spent at a two-day conference in Guatemala City, where Kolb was joined by CFDA Director of Education Sara Kozlowski. Kicking off with a private tour of the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena, Guatemala’s museum of indigenous dress, the CFDA CEO spoke on stage with Donna Karan about the iconic designer’s work with local artisans in Haiti and at Urban Zen, with Karan offering one of her favorite and most powerful statements: “We must dress to address.”
Kolb, who is an experienced veteran of non-profit organizations, also moderated a panel with Nest Founder and CEO Rebecca Van Bergen, which featured local artisan leaders and funders including Fundacion Pepsico. And Naeem Khan spoke on his experience with craftsmanship in haute couture. The audience also heard from Carolina K. designer Carolina Kleinman and Figue designer Stephanie von Watzdorf about how they built their respective brands, both leading the way with globally-produced businesses.
Rounding off his piece, Kolb recalls the wonderful dinners the group enjoyed, including a traditional Guatemalan meal at the home of design entrepreneurs Rodman Primack and Rudy Weissenberg, as well as a lakefront dinner at the home of Harris Whitbeck. And as was fitting for the final night of the trip, attendees wore traditional Mayan dress for the closing dinner.