Annie McCourt has progressive experience in both Fashion Design and Marketing Communications and has worked as a sustainability consultant, writer and designer.
After 7 years working at marketing and advertising agencies, Annie’s hands started to itch. She wanted to sew and make things. She went back to school to study fashion design at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. The introduction to sustainable fashion design as a Sophmore suddenly brought purpose, meaning and richness to a field of study that she had begun to think was lacking direction. The introduction to Cradle to Cradle design principles and methodology brought optimism, joy, and the perfect solution. She had found her path.
Now in her dream-job, Annie works at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to share her ultimate passion and helping to bring Cradle to Cradle design principles and certification to the fashion industry.
1. Tell us about your work in the field. How does it embody what sustainable fashion means to you?
I work for the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in San Francisco, CA, on an initiative called Fashion Positive. Fashion Positive is Cradle to Cradle Certified compliant, and aims to bring the circular economy to the fashion industry by working with brands, designers and suppliers.
When I read the book, Cradle to Cradle Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart, I was forever changed. I had read so many articles and books that focused on the negative state of the world and to put it simply: it just wasn’t fun. But when I read Cradle to Cradle, the authors wrote about abundance, optimism and how all materials could be viewed as food for other materials if products were designed with intention. It was stunning. It was an optimistic approach that intuitively seemed true. I had found my path. At this moment, there stopped being a divide between my professional life and my personal life, couldn’t I just live this way all the time? Definitely.
Mr. McDonough and Dr. Braungart gifted the Cradle to Cradle certification program to the the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in 2010. I’ve been working at the Institute since February 2014, and it’s felt like everything I’ve done up until this moment has been important and useful. It’s funny how life works. Never a wasted moment.
I get to work at a place that fully embodies positivity and a holistic solution that I believe can address and fix some truly problematic situations. I get to be a part of that solution: both in the execution of the Fashion Positive Initiative, as well as embodying Cradle to Cradle and its attitude of abundance and positivity in every moment of my life.
2. How did you get involved in sustainable fashion? Where does your passion for it come from?
In 2008 I had already gotten a degree in Marketing Communications and was working at an advertising and design agency in San Francisco—a job I truly loved. But my hands started to itch! Not literally, but they wanted to move. They wanted to make things. They wanted to sew. So I began sewing. At the time I had a love for thrift store clothing so it was a natural step for me to buy thrift store clothes and cut, hem and sew them in a way to make them more current. At the time, this is what sustainable fashion meant to me. Around that time the idea was planted in me head to go back to school to get a degree in Fashion Design. I had always had a deep love for self-expression through fashion, so it seemed to make some sort of sense at the time. I chose California College of the Arts in San Francisco because of the sustainability courses they offered. At the time, though, I was slightly naïve in knowing what that actually meant.
Starting my sophomore year, I began taking classes about sustainable fashion design. Before the actual design classes (the solution), we had to learn about the problem. Led by my now mentor and personal hero, Lynda Grose, my class learned all about the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry. I was slightly surprised by my personal reaction to the subject matter. I was moved. Stunned. Depressed, sad, lonely. It was hard. Lynda gave me constant support throughout this time encouraging me to keep going.
Toward the end of the semester I had enough. I had taken what I had learned too far—and I found it difficult to even walk down the straight. I thought my existence on this earth was negatively impactful no matter what I did. Wouldn’t it be better if I just weren’t here?
Woah. That’s when I had an attitude adjustment. The lens I was viewing the world with had to be refocused … or else. I began to see the beauty, the abundance. I began to look around, be grateful for the air, sky and a rotating planet. Gravity, what a wonderful thing. I didn’t even have to be in the woods or on top of a mountain to appreciate these things—they were right in front of me all the time. And when a scary thought seeped in: I could view the world as if it is one big controversial art project. This new attitude adjustment seemed to work. This new way of looking at the world made me a clear channel to be a part of the solution. That fear … depression … hopelessness … the dark lens I was viewing the world with, well, it only held me back from being an effective contribution to the world. It clogged me up. When I started to stop polluting the world with my bad attitude, I started to freely exude happiness, ideas, solution. This seemed to be the first step.
It’s been 2 years since I’ve been out of school and I still think about my thesis. I created a whole new system of patterning that uses only straight lines and certain degrees of angles. Waste— well, it didn’t even exist. In school I had people telling me that I wouldn’t be able to do a whole collection from this type of patterning … I wouldn’t be able pants or sleeves because the patterns needed to curve, and I only used straight lines. I responded that it was possible, even though I wasn’t really sure how. I just became quiet, let my hands work. Shirts, pants, dress … they revealed themselves in front of me. No problem. We don’t always know ‘how,’ but once we say “can,” it can be a moving and fascinating adventure toward that solution.
3. What do you feel is your impact on the industry?
Loving the world, loving life, it’s contagious. I’m here to do a job. The details of that job keep revealing themselves to me each day. I stand prepared.
4. What do you see as the future of clothing? What do we need to do to get there?
There’s a part of me that believes one day we’ll be ‘forced’ to adhere to certain regulations. Certain materials won’t be available. The truth is, we’re not going to be able to continue on at this rate: polluting rivers, hurting people, animals, the ocean. The world always has a way of balancing itself out. But I look forward to this. Out of limitations comes innovation. What an exciting time to be a part of the fashion industry.
William McDonough sees everything as nutrients for other things. He taught me to imagine acircular economy of fashion and textile materials that can be endlessly cycled into themselves. Instead of materials that are designed for an “end of life,” these materials are designed intentionally to be healthy for all mankind, regenerative and positive. I believe this future is closer than we think.
5. Name 3 things the average person can do to lower their footprint as it relates to their clothes.
Promoting Cradle to Cradle design could mean that we buy as much as we want and that we don’t have to lower our footprint, wear less, buy less, be less. We won’t have to disappear to make a neutral impact on this earth. I’m really glad about that because I really like it here. Promoting Cradle to Cradle design means that we can actually leave a positive legacy … a regenerative one. This sounds a lot more fun to me.
6. What advice do you have for your fellow women trailblazers?
Never say “can’t.” Whenever we say “can’t” that item or task in front of us becomes impossible. The door shuts. Instead say, “I can.” You don’t have to know how to make it happen just yet. Just wait, the whole world will open up in a way you never imagined.
Thank you, Annie, for sharing your wonderful journey with us!
Readers, let me know if there's someone you would like to see featured in the Women in Sustainable Fashion Series! Email me at pliu (at) greeneileen (dot) org.