Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Ralph Lauren Circularity Lead Discusses Company Sustainability Strategy, Career Path

The Georgetown University McDonough School of Business (MSB) hosted a sustainability expert from Ralph Lauren to discuss the brand’s circular fashion strategy and her sustainability-driven career path on Feb. 15.

As Ralph Lauren’s lead for circularity, Danielle Nkojo oversees the company’s goals of reusing and recycling designs in an attempt to create products using minimal waste, in particular through spearheading Timeless by Design, the company’s new product circularity strategy. The Business of Sustainability Speaker Series welcomed Nkojo as part of the MSB’s Business of Sustainability Initiative, which aims to promote the business value of sustainability through educational programs, leadership opportunities and outreach events such as the speaker series.

Njoko said she was first drawn to the environmental justice movement because of her experience growing up in Hunts Point, N.Y., a neighborhood in the Bronx with abnormally high pollution rates and, consequently, the highest concentration of asthma in New York City.

According to Njoko, although she often witnessed severe pollution while living in the Bronx, she did not fully understand the dangerous health effects of breathing polluted air at the time. 

“I started to remember we would be playing outside and the local incinerator would burn trash and it would rain soot on us,” Nkojo said at the event. “We didn’t even think about particulate matter or the fact that we were breathing this in as children. It was more of that, if it fell on your clothes and you touched it, it would actually stain, so you would have to blow it off.”

Njoko previously worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Washington, D.C.’s Department of Energy and the Environment before switching to the corporate side of sustainability, working for the clothing company Kontoor before her current role at Ralph Lauren. 

Nkojo said she enjoys the wide range of opportunities that her career in sustainability provides, as it has allowed her to work on a variety of different projects and initiatives in seemingly disparate fields.

“Here I am an environmental justice person, and all of a sudden, I’m running a job training program and a loan program,” Nkojo said at the event, referencing her time at the EPA. “That’s one of the things I love about the work in what is now sustainability is that it’s so intersectional.”

While executing Ralph Lauren’s sustainability and circularity strategy, Nkojo helped implement circular design principles, sustainability and circularity certification requirements, as well as a cashmere recycling program

Nkojo also stressed the importance of resourcing, saying current pieces of clothing can be resources for crafting sustainable, circulatory products in the future.

“The idea is, resourcing the material that is already in your clothes can be our sources for the future,” Nkojo said. “My inventory is sitting in your closet.”

@VogueBusiness/X | Danielle Nkojo, the sustainability lead for circularity at Ralph Lauren, gave a talk on her career and the brand’s strategies to improve environmental impact as part of Georgetown’s Business of Sustainability Speaker Series Feb. 15.

Whitney Johnson (CAS ’24), who attended the event, said she appreciated Nkojo’s intersectional approach, especially her focus on science-driven sustainability initiatives like life cycle analysis, a scientific calculation of a garment’s carbon footprint.

“I found it really interesting how she noted life cycle analysis and innovation as key parts of where fashion is heading,” Johnson told The Hoya. “There are always going to be different parts of innovation where science and direct textile design need to be combined, and most of the time, it is not the people designing these clothes that have a direct science background.”

Vishal Agrawal, the Henry J. Bloomer endowed chair in sustainable business, academic director for the Business of Sustainability Initiative and the moderator of the event, said Nkojo’s experience and expertise provide valuable lessons for those interested in sustainability.

“Danielle’s extensive experience in circular economy strategies from the government to private sectors, provides insights for how such strategies can be adopted to provide both economic value and lower environmental impact,” Agrawal wrote to The Hoya. “These and our other events and initiatives forge innovation with leadership, making Georgetown McDonough one of the most thought-important leaders in sustainable business.”

Nkojo said that initiatives like Cradle to Cradle, a chemical standard that companies use to innovate new materials with minimal environmental impact, are effective collaborations between science and the textile industry, although such plans to salvage textiles can be difficult to implement. 

“I love these new ideas, but certainly they need to be scalable, and the sources of the material to make them need to be nontoxic as well,” Nkojo said. 

According to Nkojo, both consumers and companies should bring their purchases and products, in line with sustainability guidelines, with consumers buying for longevity and fashion brands making trendy products more easily recyclable.

“Buy for longevity, buy and hold on and care for the products that you have,” Nkojo said. “But then for stuff that’s trending, like bell bottoms are in, if you’re gonna wear bell bottoms — and we all know that’s not going to be the thing next year — those things should be easily recyclable, the jibbitz, the trims, the zippers should be easily removable, so that denim can be recycled.” 

Nkojo noted that one such innovation in textile recycling is the development of dissolvable threads, which degrade at lower temperatures than standard threads and allow for more efficient clothing recycling. 

By implementing these threads into a garment’s stitches, which traditionally are made of non-recyclable elastane thread, Njoko said that fabric from discarded clothing can be used to make new garments, reducing their environmental impact.

“Science is playing such a large role in this space,” Nkojo said. “One of the things that I am excited about is the idea of dissolvable threads. If you all are studying what you’re studying, you’ve seen that picture of the jeans that have been composted, and what’s left are the elastane threads.”

Returning to her motivations for working in the sustainability industry, Njoko said implementing sustainability and circularity systems can have a tangible impact on affected communities such as the one she came from.

“If I set up these circular systems, I know that there’s not a kid in the Bronx having soot raining down on them because we see the value in the materials,” Nkojo said. “When you think of it as a resource, it’s helping to do my part and have an impact.”

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