Natalia Allen, a native New Yorker and founder of Design Futurist, is equal parts fashion designer, entrepreneur, and innovator. Instead of taking the traditional route of most young designers, she started her own business. Allen designs innovative clothing and products that help her clients improve and expand their lines around sustainability. She specializes in smart textiles, sustainable design, luxury products, and performance apparel, and her roster of clients includes Calvin Klein Collection, Donna Karan, Procter & Gamble, DuPont, Philips, BT, Quiksilver, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
While still a student at Parsons the New School for Design, Allen was creating her own path. “I was just frustrated; I thought college was a huge disappointment,” says Allen. “I had to do backbends to get into university and to afford it; then by year two, I was bored out of my mind. So I decided to take on a second track within the social science department.” She was also reading a lot of literature about smart textiles and technology.
Not only did she read up on the subjects, she contacted the experts cited in the articles and asked them if they would be interested in collaborating on projects together. Many of these experts were from blue chip firms such as DuPont and Philips. “It was a low-risk proposition for them, yet very exciting for me,” says Allen. “I did that over three or four years and by the end of that time, I had my first CV with blue chip firms. And more important than that was the expertise I gained. I had collaborated with electrical engineers and Russian scientists. The education itself was incredible.” After gaining this experience and knowledge, Allen clearly saw that the future of fashion would incorporate design, sustainability, and technology.
In 2004, the 21-year-old graduated and received the “designer of the year” award, a prestigious honor Parsons had previously bestowed upon Marc Jacobs and Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the pair of designers behind Proenza Schouler. After graduation, most design students accept positions at established design houses. Allen was sure the conventional design graduate route was not for her, but she wasn’t entirely sure how to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of her.
A professor at Parsons explained that what she was doing with sustainable textiles was very unique and there wasn’t necessarily anyone in that space for her to apprentice under. “The big design houses were maybe discussing this idea of sustainability and technology, but there wasn’t anyone, specifically at the luxury level, who had championed it,” says Allen. She decided to incorporate her own company and work as a consultant. By 2005, Design Futurist was up and running, and one of her first clients was Donna Karan.
The next step for Design Futurist is for Allen to produce her own sustainable clothing line. “I have had the good fortune of working at an extremely senior level, usually with the CEO, creative director, or design director,” says Allen. “But there is a limitation sometimes because of company culture or things that are outside of our control that affect the outcome of the projects. That has inspired me to take on the role of being my own design director and producing my own innovative, sustainable line of clothing.”
Allen also is becoming a force that reaches beyond fashion. In 2009, she was invited to participate in the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. She served beside Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. “I spoke to the forum about design sustainability and the power of design,” says Allen. “We have the potential as designers to design objects that are beneficial to human civilization in its production and consumption.”
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at email@example.com