NEW YORK — “It’s how you should be working.” That’s Katie deGuzman, one half of the K/ller Collection design duo, on approaching jewelry with sustainability in mind. DeGuzman was speaking at The Modern restaurant on Wednesday, where she and her design partner, Michael Miller, were crowned winners of this year’s Eco-Fashion Challenge presented by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Lexus. Recalling the duo’s beginnings, Miller added, “Our overarching goal was to have everything be made in New York, made in the U.S., by the two of us, and have a small footprint and control every aspect of it.”
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The strategy worked as far as the challenge was concerned: the two picked up a check of $75,000. Runners-up Tara St James of Study NY and Yael Aflalo of Reformation will receive $5,000 each.
This was the fifth edition of the competition, and the luncheon was attended by Coco Rocha, Amber Valletta, Bethann Hardison, Julie Gilhart and Monique Péan, among others.
Maria Cornejo, who is on the contest’s selection committee, admitted that she doesn’t consider herself the poster child for sustainability, “but I do try really hard,” she told the crowd. “At the end of the day, sustainability, unless it’s interesting, doesn’t have a future. It’s our job as designers to make a great product so we broaden the specter and the clientele for sustainable products.”
Sustainability is a key element in Lexus’ messaging, or, as the car maker’s engagement marketing manager Andrea Lim put it, it’s “the cornerstone of our brand. We are a responsible company that believes that we have to do our part to contribute to social, environmental change. We have the most hybrids on the planet and know other industries are equally committed to championing the change. We are all on the road together towards creating a better world.”
The eco-challenge’s other finalists were Amour Vert, Blair Lauren Brown, Brother Vellies and Laura Siegel. CFDA executive director Lisa Smilor called this year’s finalists a “very strong, very committed group. We look for them to be both socially and ecologically responsible, and we want to see that from sourcing through design and production.”
The plan is to build on the initiative for next year, with a more comprehensive program and more significant prizes. “Some people say ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic’ and they think, ‘but it’s not luxury or stylish.’ These kids blow that away,” Smilor said.