Sean Schmidt is cofounder and executive director of the Sustainable Style Foundation.

Monday, 3 Nov 2003


It’s an exciting time here at the Sustainable Style Foundation. Senior Stylist Rebecca Luke and I are gearing up for a trip to Los Angeles where we will attend the 13th annual Environmental Media Association (EMA) Awards ceremony and help style and produce a gala reception at the Business for Social Responsibility Annual Conference. We’re also in the throes of helping to organize the “I Buy Different” student scavenger hunt at Seattle’s Northgate Mall in partnership with World Wildlife Fund, the Center for a New American Dream, and Sustainable Seattle. Whew. For a nonprofit that’s only six months old, we sure are busy.

It’s actually been a really great ride and a dream come true for me, as SSF combines two of my favorite things: sustainability and style. With a degree in conservation biology from the University of Washington, I should be out in the woods doing fieldwork. I’ve certainly done my fair share, ranging from studies of salamanders and squirrels in the Northwest to snow leopards in India. But for some reason, Nordstrom kept offering me great jobs and I ended up spending 14 years in the “fashion specialty retail” industry. It was in my last job as sustainable business and development coordinator for Nordstrom that I learned about all of the incredible innovations that were happening in all of the different “style industries.” Things like organic cotton, green building, organic foods, eco-friendly travel, and the phasing out of PVC in apparel. And that was just in one company!

That’s what SSF is all about. We want to show that you don’t have to give up looking fabulous and living well in order to do good. There are so many incredible things going on in fashion, food, interior design, architecture, travel, music, etc. Even I’m surprised by the amount and breadth of efforts going on. Did you know that Gibson has been using sustainably harvested wood in its guitars? Rock on!

Consumption is a huge part of the many social and environmental challenges facing society. So how can “style” help the situation? Good question, because no matter what, people do still need to buy things. The trick is to buy less stuff and to buy better stuff. True “style” — the essence of style — is not about conformity and buying all the latest trendy items. Style is about expressing yourself through the clothes you wear, the way you decorate your house, the car you drive, the places you choose to go on vacation, etc. So whether that’s Def Leppard T-shirts or Donna Karan, Goodwill couches or Knoll chairs, chances are there’s a more sustainable way of expressing your personal style.

So we’re off to L.A. tomorrow. We’ll be driving a Toyota Prius, checking out organic restaurants, searching for vintage modern furnishings, and I’m sure Rebecca will have a shopping spree at the Paper Bag Princess, a store that specializes in really cool vintage designer clothing. Should be quite an adventure.