Introducing our ‘In Conversation’ series with AERA Co-Founder and CEO, Tina Bhojwani. We’re speaking with the movers and makers working to pave a path and shift the effects of climate change.
This month, we invited John Bartlett, Designer and Director of the Fashion Program at Marist College, to discuss his thoughts on the future of fashion and sustainability, and what that means for generations to come.
Share a little bit about your background. You studied fashion, began your career as a designer, and now since 2020, you’re the Director of the Fashion Program at Marist. What led you into education?
After graduating from Harvard University with a B.A. in Sociology, I decided to move to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do but starting to take night classes in fashion design and went on to get a degree in menswear design. I worked for a few brands before launching my own label. Alongside my own company, I worked for other brands like Liz Claiborne, Ghurka and the Bon Ton department stores.
I have always loved speaking to students and jumped at the chance to apply to the role of Director at Marist Fashion when I came across the job listing. I feel that speaking directly to the next generation of designers and merchants is the best way to make an impact. I have learned so much from the students and am optimistic about the future of fashion.
Has going to school for fashion changed since you were a student at FIT? What do you see for the future of the youngest generation in the fashion industry?
I think that the students today are approaching the fashion industry from a very different perspective. They are seeing the industry through a wider lens that includes body positivity, gender identity, sustainability, colonialism and other social justice issues. Students today also have to excel at digital communication and have a better understanding of the global market. I see a fashion industry that continues to evolve and leverage its visibility for social change.
You launched your brand in 1991. How has the fashion industry changed since then?
The industry is in constant motion. When I started my brand, one would call up buyers on the phone, try to make an appointment and then try to get paid. The only game in town was wholesale, There was no e-commerce and designers rarely had their own boutiques or direct to customer opportunities. We sketched by hand and worked very closely in person rather than on Zoom or digitally.
Students today are approaching the fashion industry from a very different perspective. They’re seeing the industry through a wider lens that includes body positivity, gender identity, sustainability, colonialism and other social justice issues.
In 2012, you made history at Fashion Week by having the ‘first ever eco-luxe, 100% cruelty-free’ menswear collection. Can you tell us more - how do you define ‘eco-luxe’? What went into putting together this collection?
I had an awakening in 2010 and embraced a fully vegan lifestyle, form my diet to the clothes and accessories I wore and designed. I eschewed all animal materials and went completely plant based. The collection I created for New York Fashion Week was, I believe, the first openly vegan luxe collection shown for men and it was made entirely of linen. Eco-luxe is a term that, for me, means a high level of design and luxury, but with a focus on sustainable materials and practices. The industry has changed a lot since this collection, and I am thrilled to see more and more Eco-Luxe designs hitting the market.
Living mindfully, with a more sustainable outlook, and changing up your personal habits - it can be a lot harder said than done. What would you say to someone who’s curious, or looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Where to start?
It is progress, not perfection. Every little bit helps. By removing animal products, for example, one can help the environment while also living cruelty free. I read a lot of books about vegan living, from diet to animal agriculture, so in a way it was not hard to evolve my eating and my wardrobe. I continue to connect the dots between my own health the health of the planet and the betterment of animals' lives.