Intern to Design Studio Director: Aliesha Crosby’s POV of the Biobased Space

Intern to Design Studio Director: Aliesha Crosby's POV of the Biobased Space

By Michelle Ko

From being the first Carnegie intern to Design Studio Director, Aliesha Crosby combines 15 years of technical expertise, historical product knowledge, and trailblazing creativity to lead product development and mentor her team of designers.

MK: Wow, 15 years is an incredible accomplishment to be proud of, congratulations! There’s a rumor going around that you were the first intern at Carnegie - is this true?

AC: It is—and I love sharing this with everyone especially when we do student tours because that is exactly how I got hired. Heather Bush and Mary Holt were leading a tour for PRATT Interior Design students at the time, and I distinctly remember how enamored I was by all of the different textiles. I could not stop asking questions about the process! Where did the yarn come from? How were the textiles made? How did they achieve certain finishes and applique techniques? Even though I got the opportunity to intern at some amazing interior design firms including Mancini Duffy and Frank Dibiasi Interiors, ultimately, this made me realize my true passion for interior design—the tactile details like textiles and finishes.

Student tour at Carnegie Creative

MK: One of the most historical moments was when Biobased Xorel first launched in 2013. You were on the design team then working with Heather Bush who’s now our Chief Creative Officer. How did it feel to be a part of that achievement?

AC: The immense amount of research & development, testing, and experimentation that went behind this decades long innovation was truly awe inspiring to witness. Being surrounded by leaders and teammates who not only champion sustainable innovation, but live for it, created a strong bond between all of us and is what still motivates me to continue this legacy to leave a positive impact for future generations to come. It’s funny to think that before I joined Carnegie, I wasn’t as interested in sustainable design, but now it’s what drives and inspires me the most creatively.  

MK: In addition to sustainability, where else do you find inspiration for creativity and design? 

AC: Honestly everywhere—from traveling, visiting trade shows and art exhibits, to my daily surroundings when I’m home or commuting to our NYC Creative Studio. We have Xorel tackable wall panels all over the studio so we encourage everyone to pin up whatever inspires them at the moment. We recently did a huge trend exploration to develop new colors for the existing Xorel Strie line. When pulling inspiration for the tack wall, we found that we were most drawn to aged metallics like brushed copper and antique brass so we tried to evoke these colors in the refreshed palette. 

Xorel Strie color development

MK: Xorel has such a specific look to it but we’ve seen so many different styles like matte, metallic embossed, embroidery. Not to mention, we’ve also seen Xorel woven, knitted, and crocheted. How does the Design team come up with these ideas?

AC: You’re right, and that is precisely why we push beyond what is expected. Because we have full control of the manufacturing process and material, we can do whatever we want. Our studio is more like a design science lab where we can run experiments and try endless iterations until we are 100% satisfied. How do we wow designers who look at tons of products on a daily basis? How do we create something bespoke and beautiful, while still delivering its proven performance? 

We also love a good challenge. Before we launched Outdoor Biobased Xorel, we had received so many client requests asking for an outdoor Xorel textile. There was not a single commercial plant-based textile solution for the outdoor market—and we saw an opportunity. Our clients are the ones making a difference in the built environment, and we need to supply them with as many sustainable alternatives as possible. Thinking about their challenges and how we can help is essential when deciding what new innovation to come out with next. 

MK: Speaking of challenges, what is the most challenging part of being in the biobased space?

AC: There are still a lot of misconceptions and negative connotations around products that are plastic but that shouldn’t be the case for all. Xorel was born out of an urgent need for safer, durable materials that wouldn’t pose risks to firefighters when facing burning vinyl in buildings. 

I understand why there could be some hesitation especially with all of the greenwashing noise, and that is why we are always finding ways we can demonstrate full environmental transparency through third-party certifications. Biobased Xorel products that are Cradle to Cradle Gold certified now have an environmental product declaration (EPD) which requires a full life cycle assessment. 

MK: Where do you see the biobased space evolving in the future?

AC: Now that we are seeing a huge demand for sustainability directly from the consumers, I’m really excited to see how other companies will solve this need through renewable resources, utilizing energy waste for manufacturing, and considerations to a product’s life cycle. It’s amazing to see even every-day products come out in a biobased version like these bio-based sunglasses by a Barcelona brand called Meller. 

Bio-based sunglasses by Meller (Image credit: Twitter @Meller)

Biobased Xorel yarn is crafted from bio-based PE pellets derived from sugarcane waste.

MK: Thank you for satisfying my curiosity by answering all of these questions! On a final note, if you could give yourself one piece of advice when you started your career in the biobased space, what would it be? I think this would be extremely helpful to anyone starting out or is interested in working in this space.

AC: Innovation and exploration in new frontiers take time, especially from a sustainable standpoint…but the end result is completely worth the journey. Biobased Xorel took more than 6 years of testing to become a reality. And despite the challenges and time it took, this product is what drove Carnegie forward to its legacy today. 

About the Author

Michelle Ko is the Marketing Manager at Carnegie and previously worked as a designer under Aliesha Crosby and Heather Bush. Innately curious with an appreciation for beautiful design, Michelle enjoys writing stories about creativity and the people behind it.