Like many advocates of sustainability, Rachel Preuit’s interest began as a child when she went on a camping trip with her family every summer. Through these trips, she began to appreciate the beauty of nature and develop respect for natural systems and the outdoors. Upon coming to Auburn for college, Rachel started hearing more about global issues of sustainability, and over time was exposed to new aspects of the field. Because of this, she decided to pursue a minor in sustainability, along with her industrial design degree.
In addition to studying sustainability in the classroom, Rachel looked for hands-on opportunities, leading her to an internship with the campus Office of Sustainability. During this time, Rachel examined the parallels between sustainable living and an idea called Leave No Trace, a guideline to enjoy nature in a sustainable way without harming the environment, and she presented her findings on a poster at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education national conference. She also put the concepts into practice through a month-long backpacking trip with the National Outdoor Leadership School. As an intern, Rachel worked to translate the seven principles of Leave No Trace to everyday life. During her time with the office, Rachel also helped develop the Spirit of Sustainability Awards Program at Auburn.
From her many experiences in college, Rachel made the key realization that sustainability can be incorporated into everything. It truly is an interrelated issue and can’t be effectively encapsulated or made better from any single angle. Rachel applied this to her own life by combining her passion for sustainability with her work in industrial design, making her a very marketable job candidate. The different positions within the textile industry where Rachel has worked since graduating from Auburn clearly demonstrates the diversity of careers to which sustainability can be applied.
A major consideration of sustainability in the textile industry, the location of production, is an issue Rachel has experienced from both sides. During her first job, with Melanzana in Colorado, she experienced firsthand working for a company manufacturing fleece clothing from a US mill with all garments being cut and sewn on site. Local production of textiles is more sustainable, in that it reduces pollution emissions and monetary costs from excessive transportation and strengthens the local economy by creating more local jobs. From there, Rachel moved to Seattle where she worked with clothing that was produced overseas. The vast difference in the production process of each company shocked and bothered Rachel. In Seattle, the lack of transparency in where the products were being made motivated her to go back to school to study apparel design and technical aspects with a focus on sustainable apparel.
Rachel went to graduate school at Colorado State University, where she earned a Masters in Apparel and Merchandising. While there, she did a thesis project on slow fashion, or the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments intended for high-quality apparel and longevity. Slow fashion also encourages fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and zero waste throughout the production processes. Rachel recently presented her thesis at the International Textile and Apparel Association Conference, where she won a research award for practices of social responsibility.
Rachel currently works as a product developer at Stio Outdoor Apparel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she combines her interests in clothing design and sustainability. After receiving a sketch of an item from the designer, Rachel figures out construction and fitting of the item through the prototyping stages. She also shows her continued dedication to sustainability in her work sourcing materials for Stio’s clothing. Specifically, she tries to find fabrics made from recycled materials and produced in factories with Bluesign certification. Bluesign certification ensures environmental safety of the manufacturing process by eliminating use of harmful substances. Last spring, Rachel went to a site used by Stio in Hong Kong to check the sustainability conditions of the factory. Stio also operates with sustainability in mind by making quality products that don’t need to be replaced as often.
According to Rachel, people’s complacency in a certain lifestyle and fear of changing their habits are roadblocks to sustainability. In the textile industry, this happens when people are used to paying a certain amount for an item of clothing and a price increase automatically turns them away, even if the price was raised due to use of more sustainably made fabric in the clothing. Rachel explains how clothing made out of the more sustainable materials usually has a higher price tag due to the added expense of organic cotton compared to non-recycled polyester. This price disparity, however, is beginning to even out, pushing more companies to switch their fabric choices.
Rachel also describes an evident lack of consumer awareness regarding how unsustainable the textile industry can be. She compared this to the food industry, in which health and sustainability are more commonly discussed. Because of the direct impact of food on our bodies, people care more about the quality and are willing to pay more for organic options. To bring this awareness to all industries, Rachel encourages people to learn as much as they can about sustainability in different areas. She stresses the importance of figuring out how sustainability relates in your field and starting by incorporating sustainability into what you already know. Rachel’s collegiate and professional experiences show just that. In combining her passion for sustainability with her design work in the textile industry, Rachel uses her career to make the world a more sustainable place.
Post contributed by Kenlzey Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern