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Some of the most exciting and inventive work in the design world is focused on sustainability. Below, Lydia Baird shares how she and a peer developed the muslin textile composing system on FIT’s campus.

You and Willa Tsokanis ’16 established a textile composting system at FIT. How did you come up with the idea?

I started as a Fashion Design student, and I was very aware of how much muslin was being thrown out. In my textile fibers class, I learned that cotton is biodegradable. The idea just came to me.

Why is composting textiles important?
If we turn fabric into compost, we’re not only keeping it out of the landfill, we’re turning it into a valuable product that we spread on FIT’s natural dye garden and other green spaces on campus. If textile composting becomes a common practice in the industry, it could also address the problem of soil erosion, which is going to be a catastrophe on the scale of global warming. If our soil turns to desert, we can’t grow crops.
Can other fabrics besides muslin be composted?

Any cotton fabric can be composted, but a poly cotton wouldn’t fully decompose. I’m doing research with Professor Ajoy Sarkar, and we’re focusing on denim next. We’ll take three types of store-bought jeans, one 100 percent cotton, one with 1 percent spandex, and one eco-friendly denim that’s naturally dyed. We’re sending the results to a lab that will test for toxic chemicals, carbon/nitrogen ratios, salt levels, and nutrients in the soil.

What’s next for the compost project?

I’ve connected with the composting facility on Governor’s Island, and they’ve agreed to do a pilot this spring, two or three times as big as what we did on campus. Expanding textile composting is going to require municipalities to get involved, not just industry.

What did this project teach you?

I’m beginning to understand the connection between chemistry and fashion. I remember taking my first science class at Middlebury College when I was 18. We had to come up with a lab question based on something around us. It was the most dumbfounding thing to me—my education hadn’t taught me to be curious. To realize that science can be creative caused a huge shift in my life.

You already had a career in costume design. What was that like?
I was a shopper for The Amazing Spider-Man 2The Blacklist on NBC, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver on HBO—I would pick things up around the city to help realize the costume designer’s vision. I was also doing independent design work. For an Anne Hathaway film called Song One, we had to costume a nomadic Berber tribe wedding. We ended staying up until 3 in the morning, draping and re-draping 40 women. It was a great cultural education.


Interested in learning more about sustainability design and innovations? On April 12, visit FIT for the 10th Annual Sustainable Business and Design Conference: Creativity and Sustainability. It’s free and open to the public. Learn more about the event at fitnyc.edu/sustainabilityconference.

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