Paul Dillinger's passion for sustainability is tremendous. As the Head of Global Product Innovation for Levi Strauss & Co., he's been an integral partner with the company's Social and Environmental Sustainability Group to direct front-end methods for applied sustainability in the design process.
Paul is a seasoned rag tradesman. Before joining Levi's, he worked as a fashion designer and brand development specialist for 16 years at a variety of houses in New York, including Calvin Klein and DKNY.
He is the first Fulbright scholar in fashion design, researching the influence of emerging luxury markets on high-fashion design directions and commercialization, in Milan. He served as a designer-in-residence for the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the first fashion designer to earn a First Movers Fellowship at The Aspen Institute.
We had a fantastic time working with him on our Wellthread collection. So fantastic, in fact, that we came up with what we call "Paulisms" - a level of honesty that breaks from industry standard. We found ourselves missing those "Paulisms", so John decided to give him a call.
JM - Paul, you’re a former teacher as well as the Head of Global Innovation for Levi’s. Can you demystify Levi’s® Wellthread™ in plain speak for our Outerknown audience? Educate us in a simple way . . . what is Wellthread?
P.D. - Well, that’s a stupid request. There’s NOTHING simple about this shit. These are incredibly complex problems created by a series of thoughtless, rote behaviors endemic to the fashion industry. But if I have to dumb it down for you, it goes like this: Whenever you have a choice to make, DO THE RIGHT THING . . . and then also CLEAN UP YOUR MESS!
JM - How 'bout the academic answer?
PD - WELLTHREAD is a wholistic, systems-based design methodology that attempts to mitigate adverse environmental impact at each phase of the product life cycle; creating quality apparel that is timeless and relevant without creating waste, pollution or negative social impact.
JM – Yes, these are the Paulisms we love! Tell it to us like it is. So let’s get positive. . . . What are a few facts that you are most proud of with the Levi’s Wellthread and Outerknown collaboration?
PD - We’ve proven that being stubborn and disciplined can be productive. It’s really difficult to execute a cradle-to-cradle inspired single fiber strategy, and a lot of stakeholders in our value chain have tried to get us to compromise on our “purist” approach. I’m glad we stuck to our principles and designed product for genuine industrial circularity.
JM – Can you talk to us about the importance of circular design to the future of our industry? Or just the health of our planet in general?
PD - Circular design is super-important and really fucking hard. It’s like doing math homework: Nobody wants to do it, but it has to get done.
JM – In a business centered around manufacturing like ours, how do we get people internally to change the process, especially when sustainability is a much harder way?
PD - Let me put it like this: When you were in college, how much of an annoying asshole did your roommate have to be to get you to wash the dirty dishes you left in the kitchen sink? Think about it. . . . You have to become exactly that annoying — and persistent and determined — if you want to influence behavior and affect change throughout the entire supply change and across the entire life-cycle of the garment. You’re not doing this work to make friends.
JM – Ok Paul, last question for you. You refer to our ponchos as “Surf Blouses.” What is missing in the Outerknown world? What would you like to see us make to go with our “Surf Blouses”???
PD - Dude — I’m looking at your website right now and I can’t find a single Surf Blouse . . . so how ‘bout you stop asking me so many questions and start making some more of those surf blouses you know I like?