American Apparel & Footwear Association Honors William McDonough as Eco-Steward of the Year

William McDonough, Chief Executive of McDonough Innovation and Founder and Manager of MBDC, has been recognized as the Eco-Steward of the Year by the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) at the 2023 American Image Awards, which took place on Tuesday, April 25 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The annual gala celebrates stewardship and progress in the industry, and McDonough was honored for his outstanding contributions to sustainability.

Halide Alagöz, Chief Product Officer at Ralph Lauren, presented McDonough with the award in recognition of his collaboration with the brand. Earlier this year, Ralph Lauren achieved the industry’s first-ever Cradle to Cradle Certified® Gold cashmere sweater, developed in partnership with McDonough Innovation and MBDC. This achievement is one of five ‘iconic’ products that Ralph Lauren has committed to having certified by 2025 as part of their dedication to sustainability and “Timeless by Design” approach, inspired by McDonough’s vision of a regenerative economy.

“He has helped us to think differently, to strengthen our commitment to sustainability and circularity,” says Alagöz of McDonough. “Bill says he’s just helping everyone to discover the obvious, but his vision, his leadership, helpfulness and his poetic storytelling continue to drive meaningful and impactful change that has the potential to truly transform our industry.” 

The recognition of McDonough as the Eco-Steward of the Year highlights the growing importance of intergenerational stewardship in the apparel and footwear industry. During his acceptance speech, McDonough emphasized a new design assignment for a more safe and circular world: 

Hello Everyone,

The word “eco” comes from the Greek word “oikos” which means household. Eco-steward means, steward of our household – nature itself.

In the 1800’s, Emerson wrote about nature as earthly essences unchangeable by humans – the oceans, the mountains, the leaves. But we now realize they are all changeable and we have more and more power to change them for better or worse.

It is now up to us to ask ourselves what have we done to our Earth – household – in this Anthropocene Epoch.

We often use the term natural resources, but nature doesn’t have resources, it has sources. It’s up to us to make them into re-sources so we can use, reuse, and share them over, and over, and over again.

When we see linear and degenerative economies, disturbing the climate and other natural systems, businesses are asking how can they be net-zero.

In other words, how can we not be here? 

So looking forward, what does this sound like as a design assignment? 

Let’s create a less monotonous, less unsafe, less unhealthy, and less unjust world – with less polluted air, soil, water, and power–all economically driven. 

So is that our goal? Less is more until we have nothing? Where’s the stewardship in that? 

But the people in this room and the people who are stewards of the world’s beautiful things and those who want to help create more of those beautiful things worthy of generations, are looking for a new design assignment.

It’s not just net-zero Bad, telling our children what we are not going to do. 

It’s also net-100% Good, even Fabulous, saying what we are going to do.

So, let’s go be… Fabulous.

Let’s describe our new design assignment: Cradle to Cradle – a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world, with clean air, water, soil, and power – economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed. 

And let’s be the intergenerational stewards of that world 

Let’s think about timeless beauty in a regenerative biosphere and circular technosphere. Nature and industry in balance. 

With this said, I’d like to thank and honor all of my collaborators, some of whom are here tonight, Halide Alagoz (EVP Chief Supply Chain & Sustainability Officer, Ralph Lauren) for her leadership and kind introduction, and Ralph Lauren for allowing me to do intergenerational design and stewardship together.

McDonough’s pioneering efforts in sustainability and circular economy in many sectors including the fashion industry and collaboration with Ralph Lauren demonstrate that sustainability can be achieved through innovative design and responsible manufacturing. The AAFA and the American Image Awards play a vital role in promoting and recognizing the industry’s progress, encouraging brands to prioritize environmental and social responsibility. 

In addition to McDonough, the American Image Awards also honored other outstanding individuals and companies in the industry, including New Balance Athletics Inc. as Company of the Year, Willy Chavarria for Designer of the Year, Harlem’s Fashion Row for Fashion Maverick, and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as the inaugural Global Vanguard. 

To learn more about the American Apparel & Footwear Association, visit their website, and to discover more about McDonough’s collaboration with Ralph Lauren, click here.

Introduction video during the American Image Award Ceremony