Students connect with leaders in socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry

A collage image showcasing individual photos of 7 individuals plus a graphic that reads Professional Advisory Council 2022.
Top row, L-R: Brook Mullen, Megan Burda, Philippe Werhahn, Chris Hughes; Bottom row, L-R: Kendra Benson, Nicole Rudolph, Woo Seung Seo

Students connect with leaders in socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry

11 Oct 2022    

The Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln hosted their annual Professional AdvisoryCouncil on Sept. 22. The event brought together entrepreneurs and industry professionals with textiles, merchandising and fashion design students.  

This year, the PAC centered around the role of industry in building strong communities and included two virtual panel discussions with breakout sessions for small group interactions between students and speakers. The first session was comprised of panelists from the apparel and accessories industries that source their materials internationally. Speakers were Philippe Werhahn, owner and designer of Kolla.Berlin; Brook Mullen founder and owner of Sapahn; and Woo Seung Seo, founder and CEO of Shoe Baek and Jione Frs in South Korea.  

Panelists talked about the importance and implications of socially and environmentally responsible practices in running their businesses. Werhahn who joined the event from Berlin, described how Kolla.Berlin upcycles clothing into designer-wear, with the goal of addressing the substantial waste that the textile industry produces every year. Mullen described how her company produces handbags in collaboration with local communities in Thailand to support the local economies and as a means of uplifting lives of people in poverty, rather than exploiting cheap labor, as is sometimes the case with other companies. Seo, joining from Seoul, explained how his company is experimenting with innovative and ecologically friendly materials such as seaweed for their footwear.  

“Each international entrepreneur brought unique perspectives to our students on how mission-driven startup communities operate to achieve their sustainable missions. This gave students the opportunity to vividly imagine and connect their learnings to their future careers, said Surin Kim, associate professor and panel host.  

The second panel focused on local communities and the retail industry. Speakers were Megan Burda of Brick Road Boutique in Geneva; Chris Hughes, owner of Artifact Bags in Omaha; Kendra Benson, founder and designer of This Woman’s Work; and Nicole Rudolph, historic designer, YouTube star, and co-founder of American Duchess.  

Panelists discussed the importance of working with their communities, whether it is getting to know local customers and partners in rural Nebraska, as is the case for Burda; or instances when the community is a niche market that one can build slowly through online and event interactions such as was Benson’s experience.   

“Although each participant had different communities who supported their businesses, authenticity and honesty played a vital role in their successes,” said Michael Burton, assistant professor and panel host. 

Chris Hughes from Artifact spoke of how farmers and ranchers react to his products when he displays them at local events. “These people know quality and handle saddles and tack every day. So, my products have to meet their standards.”  

The PAC sessions gave a very good insight on global brands, the variety of retailers, product manufacturers and their styles of working to attain success in the fashion industry” said Ritu Jadwani, TMFD doctoral student. She further commented on gaining insights on the complexity of sustainable and responsible design, noting, “fashion is not only a combination of creativity and recycling, but research and development are equally important to take the brand to local or global markets.” 

Recordings of the two panels are now available at the Facebook page of Nebraska Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design. Anyone interested in connecting with Professional Advisory Council members are welcome to contact the department at 

College of Education and Human Sciences
Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design