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Voice of an Innovator: Sustainability Makes Sense

The founder of a Philadelphia-based design house discusses the company's commitment to social and environmental sustainability.

Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Sarah Van Aken, founder of Philadelphia-based design house SA VA, which has committed to social and environmental sustainability through living wage apparel and sustainable manufacturing processes.

When I launched the clothing company SA VA in 2006, it was because I had a dream of becoming a fashion designer. I never dreamed that becoming a socially sustainable company would be my next goal – but that's what happened. 
In 2008, I looked at our product lifecycle and realized something had to change. We purchased textiles from mills in Europe, air-shipped them to Bangladesh, and then air shipped the garments to the U.S – all in the name of fashion. I knew that I had to transform my business, and I worked with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to open a local manufacturing center, creating 15 American jobs and cutting our carbon footprint in half. We pay living wages, use sustainable and recycled materials, and promote community partnerships. The apparel industry is a big environmental polluter. As SA VA grows, our hope is to create more jobs, build an infrastructure for others to do the same, and help shift demand for sustainable practices in our industry.

Women Sustainable Business Roundtable

CEQ Chair Sutley meets with SA VA founder Sarah Van Aken and other women sustainable business owners from the Greater Philadelphia area to share ideas to advance sustainable business practices across the country. (Photo Credit: SA VA)

Sustainable businesses are not only good for the environment, they are good for our communities. Three times the amount of money spent in local, independent businesses stays in the community that it's spent in. As President Obama has said, we don't have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy – that is a false choice. Sustainable small businesses like ours are proving we can have both. 

Sarah Van Aken is founder of Philadelphia-based design house SA VA