The Underswell Backstory

Back in 2009, as I settled into my assigned role as Head of Sustainability for the well-known, publicly-traded company, Volcom I realized that I had a lot to learn on the subject. So, like any good student, I got to work.

But, when I started to dive into industry reports, scour through editorials, attend conferences, and meet with specialists in the space, I constantly found myself asking, “Wait, what is that word? Who is that organization? What is that acronym? Who is that person?” And, the more I dove in to teach myself, the more rabbit holes I discovered. I was unraveling a world of information that, while not new in and of itself, was completely new (if not foreign) to me.

With more than 10 years of industry experience at the time and a Master’s Degree in business from a top-ranked university, I was feeling knocked back on my heels. I was constantly asking myself: 

🎯 "Why do I not already know this?"

Especially, because what I was uncovering, and learning was deeply resonating with me, and made perfect, reasonable sense to me: Business can be, and should be done better. 

There were no reason (aside from status quo) that the lifestyle I love, and the products I valued should come at the expense of people I had never met, communities I may or may not ever visit, and/or ecosystems that were ultimately connected (I came to realize) to me. 

The concept of The Triple Bottom Line could not have been more of a no-brainer: Find a decent balance between the business you do (Economic), the Ecosystems we rely on (Environmental), and the Humans we should respect (Social), and we’ll all be better off for it today and well into the future.

As I slowly became an expert, I was made acutely aware of how much effort it took because for most of us the concepts of sustainability (everything you’d find outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals) have not historically been ingrained into our educational systems, our career paths, or even our cultural experiences and so, unfortunately, these topics are treated as an add-on or an afterthought.

How then can we expect business leaders, designers, developers, product developers, marketers, etc. to tackle sustainability issues if they don’t have the tools (i.e. the knowledge) to know WHAT they’re tackling, WHY they should be tackling them, and especially HOW to tackle them?

How was anyone else in the business with their already busy roles expected to know any of this?

Those are the questions that drove me to form The Underswell, an effort to create a generation of changemakers in the apparel industry who are confident and competent in the complex and nuanced sustainability matters that are driving forward this new economy. 

After years of trial, and after developing and teaching Sustainable Fashion courses for a California college, I decided that rather than “consult” and bring in expertise from the outside, I would offer to educate and drive change from the inside. An approach we call “empowerment” - Empowering brands to become more sustainable based on a 3-Tiered approach of Educate, Empower, then Activate, powered by a 10-point methodology we developed, and driven by a core of signature courses, and guided-by-expert approaches.

This is a movement, and there is nothing else like it.

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Let’s spend 25 minutes getting to know each other and talking about where you or your team is at today in regards to sustainability and where you’d like to be in the future.

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A Quick Note

I've been a part of the apparel industry for more than 25 years.

But, perhaps like you, I didn't learn about sustainability until I was deep into my career.

I made these courses and workshops and developed this method to get the sustainability knowledge I’ve acquired over the last 15 years straight to you and your team in the most efficient - yet thorough and effective - way possible. Learn the essentials, get access to resources, and begin making progress immediately.

Additionally, I know this industry, from the inside, out - I’ve co-founded and launched my own sustainable fashion brand KOZM, been a Global VP of Sustainability for Volcom, worked directly with, and learned from, the world-class Sustainability team at Kering for 4+ years, developed and taught sustainability in fashion courses (a 3-semester certificate program) at Orange Coast College, and have worked with lifestyle brands you’ll surely recognize like: Volcom, Boardriders, Roark, New Balance, Quiksilver, RVCA, Billabong, and PJ Salvage and have been called on to contribute to projects and events at SIA, Outdoor Industry, GreenStory, Seeding Change, and SIMA.

Grilling Cheese Since '09 

Sustainability and climate change are some of the most urgent conversations of our time, and I know that you want your brand to be more sustainable. I hear it from you, the nonprofits and ngos, and  your leadership. In order to do that, you’ll need a new, future-proof way of designing, manufacturing, and selling. The problem is: sustainability in the apparel industry is complex which makes you feel unsure, unmotivated, and even complacent. 

I believe sustainability needs to be fully understood and integrated from all sides of the business; from the top down (leadership) and from the bottom up (everyone else); PS I call this "The Grilled Cheese Effect." Transformation like this will require coordinated learning, resources, commitment, and time which is why I’ve developed a Sustainability Coaching method based on my 25 years of experience in the apparel industry, and 12 years of experience as a sustainability specialist, to help push it across the finish line.



“I have been a designer in the fashion industry for 13 years and I still learned things I never knew before I took The School of Understanding courses. It has helped my design and product development process from the materials I choose to how the garment is made. I can now teach my team on how we can make a better impact in our industry and to keep learning. Knowledge is power!” 


“Derek delivers with optimism, and constructive energy - on top of stark, fact-based science & study from progressive thought-leaders. Frankly, taking this course felt very empowering and ignited and a fresh fire in my soul.”


“These courses are highly beneficial for anyone working in marketing/creative, design, sales, customer service/social media, production, sourcing and leadership.  They are made for anyone keen on progressing their career and personal grasp of critically important global issues. The education provides a lens that truly throws a filter on every inch of your personal & professional life.” 

Schedule a Free Call to Get Started

Let’s spend 25 minutes getting to know each other and talking about where you or your team is at today in regards to sustainability and where you’d like to be in the future.

Schedule a Free Call to Get Started