Saja Elmishri is a Textile Design DMU Graduate (2019) who was inspired to make sustainability a focus of her career by her studies at DMU. This case study Q&A explores what happened at DMU and what Saja did next, including writing about sustainable fashion for a variety of publications like Eco-Age, Curated Today and EcoCult…

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

Sure thing! My name is Saja [ Sa -yah] and I studied Textile Design at DMU from 2016-2019 to where I specialised in construed textiles with an emphasis on sustainable textiles. In my final year I decided to focus on researching about sustainable alternatives to cotton that can be used in clothing for wearer comfort properties. I discovered how cotton is the most widely used fibre out there that had a lot of issues with being a very water thirsty crop so I wanted to explore other material alternatives that can be used for sustainability reasons in clothing.

What impact has your University course had on you? 

I remember that in my first year a couple of lecturers started talking about sustainability in the textiles and fashion industry. At first I wasn’t quite sure of what this meant but it was something that I had sort of parked in the back of mind and during our historical concept module, to where I wrote about the history of Toile de Jouy, French for ‘Cloth from Jouy’, and its figurative designs of landscapes and figures from the French 18th-century factory, near Versailles. It was something about researching the past and their making of textiles that sort of made me explore this further. In my second year at University, our course took our whole class to London for a fabric sourcing trip and they advised us to look into “better made textiles” and that is when I spoke to my lecturer and asked them “what do they mean with sustainability”? – it all started to unravel from there. I sort of went on my own design journey and started researching “is cotton sustainable” or “why isn’t cotton sustainable” and “how to find sustainable cotton”. I can’t exactly pinpoint the isolated occasion to where I learned about sustainability but it was one thing that led to another and having my lecturers at the time to where I went and asked questions, really helped with my learning and supported my interest further.

 How did you get involved with sustainability and how has this inspired you beyond graduation:

Sustainability is something that my course tutors spoke quite a lot about during my time at DMU and I was really interested to take it further. There was a talk that was arranged at DMU in April 2019 to where Solitarie Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, a leading sustainable communication agency, and she gave a talk about sustainability in a 21st century climate and how her agency works with clients from Google to UN when it comes to addressing measurable solutions. I was immediately excited and interested about what she said so when she ended her talk – I literally flew out of my seat and introduced myself to her. I managed to get her business card and I emailed her asking about whether I can undertake an internship after I finished my studies. She replied back to me and we arranged two weeks for me to do so – during this time I learned so much about how to include the “magic” with the “logic”, which is something that Futerra highlights to their clients.

The experience that I learned from interning at Futerra assisted me with understanding the need of how to deliver a meaningful strategy that works. For example, it’s not just enough for a brand or organisations to call themselves sustainable, we need data that shows this. But also you need to be able to present this data in a meaningful way that makes sense for the average consumer or person.

Tell us about the articles that you have written:

Sure! So given that we all have been affected by the pandemic I decided to use the experience of growing up in Sweden and offer a different insight into what sustainability means from a non-western concept. I wrote an article for Eco-Age that explored the need to include the Middle East into the sustainable fashion conversation that challenged whether sustainability has become this westernised concept and it sort of snowballed from there. I have written a few other stories about sustainable fashion, but also lifestyle and tech pieces as well as conducting interviews and writing these up for Curated Today, which is an insight platform based in Dubai.

I sort of love breaking down the challenging aspects and delivering this into digestible ways that are easily understandable but also rich in knowledge.

Tips for upcoming graduates:

Get involved in as many things that you can and take time to build your experience in the career discipline you want to enter. The harsh reality is that employers don’t just want a degree – they want you to also have experience of some kind but this doesn’t mean that it can’t come from the part time jobs that you have done. Work smarter and take risks – find out who the hiring manager is on LinkedIn and approach them there. You also got the support of the employability team at DMU so take advantage of it. In due time you will find your way, but you can’t give up.