Meet Mo and Wesley, Levi Strauss & Co Collaboratory

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Tell us about your business and the work you do.

We are an “experience inspired” outdoor apparel brand based in the Ozark Mountains. We promote a lifestyle of relaxing into the outdoors, not tackling it. I started the company while at the University of Arkansas when I noticed there wasn’t a regional representation of the outdoor culture here.

We produce USA-made, organic, and recycled products that ground the company in sustainability. We are currently growing the brand with outdoor specialty retailers across the U.S. and focusing on lifestyle and some technical products. We are committed to taking strides to make our products more sustainable.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

I’m building Fayettechill to stand the test of time. We have strong ideals and make decisions based on them, not on trends or short-term financial goals. We focus on quality, sustainability, “Made in USA” manufacturing, and building a brand that is different.

I also feel it’s our responsibility, as a company that represents people who love the outdoors, to do our part to set an example in the apparel industry.

How important is water to what you do?

It’s one of many important contributors to a sustainable path. Currently, we use Blue Sign Certified Dye Houses, work to understand alternative materials based on the need and style of the product, and seeking opportunities to up-cycle traditional textiles.
It’s crucial for our designers to know the production processes at every level and work closely with our factories to collaborate on our brand ideals and how to improve processes and find ways to cut down waste.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

I look forward to networking with leaders that have the same mindset around improving how we work and what we create. I am also interested in seeing how anorganization like Levi Strauss & to solve sustainability challenges. Lastly, I look forward to applying the concepts I learn from the Collaboratory and my mentorship into my organization.

What’s your Levi’s® story?
It’s the only brand of pants in my closet. I’m currently traveling the U.S.A. for a year — working – and I have blue, black and white Levi’s® for all occasions and outdoor activities.

Wesley Owiti: CEO and co-founder of Cherehani Africa, a social enterprise focused on women’s empowerment and financial inclusion through sustainable fashion.


Tell us about your organization and the work you do.

‘Cherehani’ is the Swahili name for ‘sewing machine.’ Cherehani Africa is a social enterprise that offers training on fashion and design to less fortunate women in emerging and underserved markets in Africa. Upon their completion of our training, we provide asset financing for tools to help them begin their independent apparel enterprises. After a one-month grace period they then start making affordable monthly repayments for the tools.

At an event on African fashion, my co-founders and I heard a speaker say that the brands that last are the brands that touch lives. We wanted to touch lives through apparel. Africa is blessed with unique designs and way of life and we thought we would tap into the business of tailoring and fashion to create jobs to help fight poverty, unemployment and gender inequality. Today we have helped more than 600 women start their own independent apparel businesses. We are now working on introducing new products and avenues that will help our beneficiaries to expand, diversify and engage in a sustainable approach to business.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

The apparel industry has great influence to drive global conversations. But, great influence calls for great responsibility. It is therefore imperative that players in the industry invest in important steps toward making the world a better place to live in. We need a safe and healthy world for apparel businesses to keep flourishing, and we can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. As an industry we have a chance to write our own positive narrative.

How important is water to what you do?

Our design classes include lessons on safety and the dye process. In the villages where we work, this process is not possible without water. How are they conducting this process? How are they disposing the grey water? These are the questions that make water very important to our entire organization. We are committed to ensuring that our beneficiaries and indeed, other players in the apparel industry, do not pollute our environment by releasing unsafe water into local rivers and streams.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

The fresh water that is available for human use is less than 1 percent of the water on earth; this is the reason we need to use water in a sustainable way. This year’s LS&Co. Collaboratory topic is close to my heart as I see it as a fantastic opportunity for me to continue my research and learn from experts and other fellows about innovative and best approaches to recycling grey water. I also look forward to tailoring a blueprint on ways to reduce an organization’s water footprint, not only for Cherehani Africa but for the other players in the apparel industry in Africa.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

I grew up mostly in the rural parts of Kenya and so I never knew much about apparel brands. We wore what was available. When it was too hot we barely wore anything!

The first time I did learn about an apparel brand was in a marketing class when I was pursuing my first degree at the University of Nairobi. The professor used Levi’s® as an example of a brand that had placed ‘innovation’ and ‘user experience’ at the center of their growth, something that has allowed the company to keep re-inventing itself over the years and maintain its position as a leading global brand. To me, the name has become synonymous with ‘innovation’.

*This story first appeared on Levi-Strauss

Levi’s Takes Water Conservation to the Classroom

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Partnering with children’s book publisher Scholastic and the Project WET Foundation, Levi Strauss & Co. has created an educational program about water preservation reaching approximately 1.5 million American students through classroom-based lessons and a conservation-themed sweepstakes.

Project WET, a foundation that works towards teaching children about water conservation, has worked with Levi’s since 2015 when they first partnered to create a water preservation program to train Levi’s employees.

Scholastic has helped adapt Our Watery World, a program created by the Project WET Foundation with Levi’s for students grades 3–5 to learn how to reduce their water footprint at home and in school.

Consisting of three in-classroom lessons, the program gives students a deeper understanding of how their daily actions affect the limited resources of the planet. The lesson plan also teaches students how much water is used every day by common appliances.

“Water is one of the planet’s most precious resources, and it’s going to take more than just one company or individual to ensure its future. The Our Watery World program will help shape the future generations to not only be aware of water’s scarcity, but their role in changing it,” said Levi’s Sustainability VP Michael Kobori.

In addition to distributing the lesson plan, students will have the opportunity to submit their water saving solutions for the Conserve Water at Your School Sweepstakes. Supported by Levi’s, the students who provide the best idea for conserving water at their school will receive a $10,000 grant to enact their proposal.

*This story first appeared on Rivet and Jeans

Under New Direction, Parsons Puts Sustainability First

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By Kati Chitrakorn

Set to join Parsons as the new dean of fashion, Burak Cakmak speaks to BoF about his vision for one of world’s most distinguished creative incubators.


NEW YORK, United States — Parsons School of Design at the New School is known the world over as the former academic home of Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui and Alexander Wang. This month, the New York-based design school is welcoming a major new addition to its faculty: Burak Cakmak, who joins as dean of fashion.

Selected from 200 applicants by the executive dean of Parsons, Joel Towers, this is Cakmak’s first foray into academia. Succeeding Simon Collins, who stepped down in December after a six year career, Cakmak will be responsible for overseeing a number of courses: the BFA in Fashion Design, AAS degree programs in Fashion Design and Fashion Marketing, and the MFA in Fashion Design and Society.

Cakmak’s career in the fashion industry began at Gap Inc. in 2000, where he served as the senior manager of social responsibility for eight years. Cakmak moved to London in 2008, where he was hired to spearhead sustainability strategies for Kering’s luxury brands, including Gucci, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta, as the first director of corporate sustainability. Most recently, Cakmak was vice president of corporate responsibility at the Swarovski Group, where he implemented best practice industry standards across the business.

Given Cakmak’s 15-year-strong background in sustainable design, one of the key initiatives he is bringing to the school is a focus on sustainability.

“When I was at Gap Inc., it was the largest specialty retailer in the world. Because of that, there was pressure from the rest of the world for us to act responsibly. We had to think about how we were managing suppliers and look beyond boundaries in design and production that we normally control,” says Cakmak. “Then, I was hired at Kering to implement the concept [of sustainability] in their businesses. I understood how sustainability worked for a global fast fashion retailer, but at Kering, I had to re-think about what it meant for the luxury business.”

There’s a recognised need for sustainability. You can’t make excuses like ‘It’s not within my control,’ or ‘I didn’t know about it.’

It is Cakmak’s real world learning (“I went from factory to factory to understand how things were produced, what the issues were and figuring out how we could deal with that,” he says) that has informed his knowledge on the complexities of the business, which he intends to apply to his leadership at Parsons.

“There’s a recognised need for sustainability, especially if you’re a large business. We’re at a point where there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t make excuses like ‘It’s not within my control,’ or ‘I didn’t know about it.’ There’s an expectation for all businesses to own up to their responsibilities and they have to go beyond that,” says Cakmak. “What has been positively surprising to me is how much Parsons cares about the topic of sustainability. They try to implement this across the board and in every part of their education.”

It’s a topic that the students are keen to enrich their knowledge on, too. In a survey of more than 4,000 students conducted as part of BoF’s inaugural Global Fashion School Rankings, only 44 percent were satisfied with the standards of education on sustainability offered by fashion institutions. At Parsons, only 41 percent of students and alumni reported that they were satisfied.

Cakmak is set to address this growing need. “It’s a new set of rules that the industry operates in, so it’s important for design students to understand the challenges they will face as they grow, especially once they start producing more than a few hundred pieces,” he says.

Among the qualities Cakmak hopes to impress upon his students is the virtue of diplomacy and how it can be used to affect smart decision-making. “Diplomacy plays a key role in being able to draw up ideas and values. As a leader, you have to be able to convey a message that is aligned with people’s interests and objectives. Even if they’re not fully aligned, it’s about making sure it’s as much of a priority as other priorities, so that things can move forward.”

“I’ve begun speaking to several schools on how we can work together to better define fashion education on a global level,” continues Cakmak. “I’m looking beyond just creating a product. It’s about your overall influence on society and how we can work together to address some of the ongoing challenges today.”

According to Cakmak, it’s important to instil virtuous values in his students given that they have the potential to affect change, whether that means taking a role at a large company or starting their own business. “Graduates play a key role in driving the fashion business. They have the biggest opportunity to do things differently, because, unlike large companies and brands, they’re not constrained by their existing environments,” he says. “This is when we are able to really influence a designer, because once they get into the industry, it’s harder to make those changes.”

What do you think constitutes a high quality, rewarding fashion education? To view the full Special Report on the State of Fashion Education, including the first Global Fashion School Rankings, click here.

**This story first appeared on Business of Fashion here.

Read another story on the same subject here.