Research Project Outline- Heidi Korsavong




DECEMBER 3, 2012

Research Question:

How do U.S. made textiles for interiors employ sustainability in their production?  How can we support more local textile artisans to adopt sustainable practices?

Literature Review:

Stieg, Cathy 2006. “The Sustainability Gap,” Journal of Interior Design Vol. 32, Number 1 pg. 7-21

This article addresses the gap between theory and practice on the topic of sustainability with regards to the interior design profession.  The author seeks to address this issue by increasing connection and knowledge of the subject to be integrated within all phases of the design process and practice.  She believes this shift will lead to a commitment on interior designers part to adopt sustainable behavior in all aspects of their design approach.  This article is relevant to my research question in that the same issues: lack of education, conflicting information, industry criteria such as LEED affect textile designers’ ability to easily adopt sustainable practices.  This article offers a starting point to address these issues and encourage implementing positive change.

Beatty, Bronwyn and Lorena Gibson, 2009, “Culture and Development: New Paradigms.” Knowledge Notes, Synexe 2009/02

In “Culture and Development: New Paradigms”, Bronwyn Beatty and Lorena Gibson discuss how neo-liberalism has given rise to thinking about culture as an asset in development.  This is in stark contrast to more traditional economic and policy models, which tended to view culture as an impediment to progress.  The term creative economy is the concept is used to describe the creativity and learned knowledge to culturally distinctive produce goods and services.  They look to incorporate culture into development as an institution.  By doing this they recommend tapping into existing local networks and structures.  By infusing stakeholders with a familiar and existing framework, they encourage ownership and participation.  Secondly, using culture as a resource isolates what is unique and distinctive about objects or materials coming out of the culture.  These traditional goods and services become products and commodities, which are a sustainable and viable economic option to decrease poverty.

Conaway, Janelle.  2012. “A Peruvian Textile Tradition and the Challenges of the Marketplace” Grassroots Development, v33 n1 p29-33 2012

In, “A Peruvian Textile Tradition and the Challenges of the Marketplace” the author provides an overview of the efforts of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC), a non profit organization that supports the local textile weaving industry in Chinchero, Peru.  The organization provides economic means for approximately 700 weavers in 10 communities.   They have made commitments to their weavers to purchase their goods in advance of sales. Each community sets its own standards for pricing and quality control. The article addresses the challenges the organization faces.   First, it is difficult to charge high prices on the textiles because consumers do not understand the high level of skilled labor and time involved in the weaving process.  Secondly, the system is reliant primarily on a local tourist market and a few buyers, which is in keeping with the communal way of life, but does not reach the amount of buyers needed to keep the system sustainable.  Finally, the organization also addresses the balance of keeping traditional textiles alive and adapting their products to appeal to a contemporary marketplace.  From the facts, the article points to the importance of educating tourists and other consumers on the high quality, rich tradition, and cultural value of purchasing the textiles produced by the indigenous Peruvian communities.


Both articles highlight the value of cultural diversity, indigenous knowledge and posit that sustainable business models come from encouraging community participation as well as making those involved stakeholders.  While the articles both focus on indigenous, often marginalized, people in foreign countries, the concepts are still applicable to small, local businesses.


I plan to conduct personal interviews with individuals involved at different levels of the textile field on the curatorial level and individual artisans.  Three sources I have initially outlined to interview are:

–          Textile Curator at the American Folk Art Museum.  In this interview, I hope to gain a better insight into the rich textile traditions indigenous to this country and some historical context to place contemporary textile artisans within.


–          Curator of On Purpose: Art & Design in Brooklyn, 2012 at the BRIC Arts Museum, whose current show focuses on: “On Purpose will feature inspiring work from Brooklyn-based designers, architects, and visual artists working across disciplines on projects that address the environmental challenges of contemporary urban living. All of the work featured in the exhibition will combine a focus on sustainability with a desire for beauty in our social, domestic, and professional spaces.”  For local artisans, supporting community involvement as well as exposing their products to potential consumers is necessary to support the economic aspect of their sustainable business models.  In this interview, I hope to gain knowledge of those active in promoting these artisans as well as ways to increase their visibility to the larger interior design community.


–          Textile Artisan for Interior Fabrics.  By interviewing an textile designer currently practicing in the field, I want to understand the decisions that govern design decisions and the production process to see if there are ways to implement more sustainable and environmentally conscious practices.


What is at Stake?

Born out of an interest in rich textile traditions of indigenous cultures, I want to examine the artistic value and techniques created by local artisans.  Rather than exoticizing the textile traditions of foreign cultures, I want to focus my research on a more local level.  By studying small businesses and individual textile artisans and learning their practices from their fiber choices, sources, finishing techniques and dyeing processes, I think small changes can be made working within an existing infrastructure to adopt more sustainable practices, increase exposure and education for both the artisan and consumer.

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About heidi.korsavong

Heidi Korsavong is an interior designer at Aero Studios, a Thomas O'Brien Company, who specializes in high end residential interiors. She has a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and Art History from New York University. She has lived abroad studying art and architecture in Madrid, Spain and Florence, Italy. Her varied work experience includes positions at the New Museum, Alexander and Bonin Gallery, and Sills Huniford Associates Interior Design. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Sustainable Interior Environments at The Fashion Institute of Technology with a focus in textile design and production as it relates to indigenous cultures.

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