Susan Lyons may not think of herself as an adventurer, but she's certainly traveled down some interesting and life-changing paths.
Her journey into the world of art and design started in college in Massachusetts, when she and two other students began printing "artsy" t-shirts as a fund-raising project. A friend took some to New York City, and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art ended up ordering 200 of them. "We thought, 'How are we going to do that?'" she recalls with a laugh.
But they did. That led to her job as a printmaker, working out of an old textile mill, where a piece of gorgeous handmade paper inspired her in a new direction. "I looked at it and thought about how beautiful it was. I loved the utility of the paper, the touch and the smell of it, the sense that you could discern the hand of the maker in each sheet. That was a defining moment for me."
She then spent six months in India working with a family to set up a studio to create exportable products using local materials and techniques. "Working in India was such a revelation: the riot of color, the exacting craftsmanship, the reverence for the value of the materials."
When she returned to New York, Lyons began designing textiles for interiors. From there, she became director of Product Development and Marketing for Boris Kroll Fabrics. "Working in the factory made me realize how much I enjoyed the process of making—understanding what the machines could do and how to marry the technology with the materials. I also had this vague idea that we could make things more intelligently, more green."
As executive vice president/creative director at Designtex in the early 1990s, she began exploring ways to make products more sustainable. "After seeing an article in The Wall Street Journal about Bill McDonough, I said, 'I need to talk to this guy.'"
She did, and they soon formed a partnership with some others. In 1995 they introduced their first cradle-to-cradle product: a collection of compostable contract textiles that won Best of Show at NeoCon, highest honors from the Design Museum in London, and global recognition as a model for sustainable product development.
Lyons now owns her own design and development studio, and her passion for all things sustainable continues. "I'd always wanted to work with Herman Miller because of their environmental leadership, their rich history, and their approach to design," she says about her current focus on the company's Materials program.
"I'm researching new sustainable technologies and designing new materials that will give architects and designers a toolbox to express themselves," she says. "It's a wonderful project to be working on, a combination of all the things I love."
Lyons Consulting, New York, New York
Denver Art Museum: Permanent Collection
Environmental Champion 2004, Interiors & Sources
Swiss Design Award, Climatex Lifeguard FR, 2003
Gold Award, Best of NeoCon, Logos Collection, 2002
Ecology Design Award, Redux Collection, IF-Industrie Forum Design, Hannover, Germany 2001
First Place, DesignSense, Design Museum, London, England, 2000
Gold Award, Best of NeoCon, Hardwear, 1994