Céline Semaan, founder of Slow Factory.

Green is the new black, so they say. And companies such as Slow Factory, an online-first brand and fashion technology lab that manufactures accessories and apparel, is pioneering new methods for sustainability and in some ways, redefining the word.

Founded by designer, advocate and writer Céline Semaan, Slow Factory is perhaps best known for its high-resolution digital images from NASA that are printed on natural Italian silks. Each piece created by Slow Factory is 100 percent clean, fair trade, supports a partner NGO and is part of a narrative regarding human rights or environmental awareness, the company stated.

Semaan recently launched the “Sustainable Standard,” an annual commitment and certification for brands that verifies the adoption of sustainable production and corporate practices. Brands apply for certification and after approval can feature the Sustainable Standard seal on their products. The launch was announced in February at a conference called “Study Hall,” held by Semaan’s sustainable fashion archive, The Library, a membership organization designed to improve “sustainability literacy” in the fashion industry.

The conference was held in collaboration with MIT Media Lab at the Ace Hotel in New York. Study Hall featured speakers such as Mara Hoffman, Jasmine Aarons of Voz and Leonardo Bonanni, founder and chief executive officer of Sourcemap, to discuss sustainability and human rights, as well as presentations on 3-D printed fur and the future of fashion.

Here, Semaan talks to WWD about Slow Factory’s design process and sustainability in fashion.

WWD: What inspired the partnership with MIT Media Lab?

Céline Semaan: I am an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow. Through my fellowship, I have researched and collaborated with material scientists and deepened my research on consumer behavior, culture  and sustainability as a movement. In that context I found it necessary to bring some of this knowledge to the fashion industry, and we came up with The Library: Study Hall, a series of conferences. The first Study Hall event [was] in collaboration with MIT Media Lab and Ace Hotel. Our goal is to bring transparency, research and development know-how to the industry and blend the boundaries between all discipline in the name of innovation. We want to have meaningful conversations about topics that aren’t discussed enough in this industry and that there is a great need for in order to collectively work together.

Photo courtesy of Slow Factory. Credit: Bruno Zalum for The Library Study Hall  Photo courtesy of Slow Factory

WWD: You stated that your supply chain is 100 percent clean and sustainable. How do you define “100 percent sustainable”?

C.S.: Nothing is 100 percent when we are talking about sustainability, which is why it’s still such a confusing and ambiguous concept in fashion. Transparency is still very hard to achieve in the fashion industry. What we do is research and follow the trail as far as we can and figure out how to build a framework and markers to where implemented change results in effective improvements to the environment. The best way we can make sure we are actually working with sustainable materials and manufacturing is to visit in person and be hands on with every part of the process — something we do as much as we can. This is why we also manufacture locally in New York.

WWD: Would you elaborate on the aspects of Slow Factory’s design process?

C.S.: My design process is anchored in research and observation. I rely a lot on intuition in a context of research, and am inspired by new materials and ways to innovatively introduce them to market. My approach is human-centered and my focus is on the environment. My process relies on finding creative ways to navigate environmental constraints and to meet the end-consumer in their comfort zone as much as possible. There’s also a part of this that is heavily inspired by my love of fashion and my own personal appreciation for clothes and design. I grew up in Lebanese culture, which really teaches you to appreciate classic design and longevity of quality garments, and that’s something I bring to every piece I help design.

WWD: How many collections does Slow Factory offer each year?

C.S.: We aren’t making collections — we are dropping pieces on a monthly schedule basis. We are also integrating conferences as part of our product offering. Study Hall is a series that aims to educate, inspire and train consumers and experts in the industry in adopting sustainable practices. We are also launching a consumer facing certification that will help create a sustainability literacy among customers.

WWD: What does the company’s sourcing process look like?

C.S.: We are creating a solid network of material scientists and new material technologies as well as organic and traditional suppliers to source from. We also partner with NGOs who work with us in identifying sustainable options.

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