Graduate merges design with social responsibility

A business venture by Christen Forrester (DeGroot), a design student at ASU, has a win-win-win bottom line: social responsibility, environmental sustainability and economic benefit.

Forrester receives the multidisciplinary Master of Science in Design degree, with a concentration in interaction design from the Herberger Insitute for Design and the Arts on Dec. 14.

In her master’s research project titled “Fair Game: Capturing the market for ethical shopping,” Forrester outlines the goals of FAVE Bags™ – a business she co-developed with graduate students Aaron Redman and Erin Frisk from ASU’s School of Sustainability.

FAVE Bags™ are reusable fruit and vegetable bags produced by women in rural El Salvador. “Empower women – protect the planet” is the company’s tagline.

Although many consumers carry reusable canvas bags for shopping, they still fill them with clear plastic bags for produce, says Forrester.

“In the U.S alone, approximately 600 plastic bags are thrown out by each resident yearly.” In addition to the environmental impact, use of plastic bags result in hidden costs to consumers through higher retail prices. “Our bags are the solution to eliminating all that wasteful plastic.”

“By purchasing these bags, the consumer not only helps preserve the environment but also contributes to uplifting people in rural, developing communities,” she says. The women in rural Central America who produce the bags can earn an income in a flexible work environment, close to their homes and with fair wage compensation.  

“The goal is to empower the women themselves to eventually take ownership of this venture,” says Forrester.

FAVE has won recognition and funding through a Crown Innovator Scholarship, the ASU Innovation Challenge and a GPSA Jumpstart Research Grant, among others.

Forrester has received numerous awards and recognition for her design work and research, including the Arizona Golden Rule Citizen Award 2009, ASU Masters in Design Graduate Scholarship 2009, the Helios Foundation Scholarship 2009, Earl and Ellen Davis scholarship for highest GPA in MSD Program, and Outstanding Graphic Design Graduate for 2005.

Teaching undergraduate design students is Forrester’s proudest accomplishment, she says. “It makes my heart smile to see them, now upperclassmen, growing and developing as designers, knowing that I may have helped them in some small way to succeed.”

Forrester admits there were “many times when I felt utterly overwhelmed by the workload of full- time graduate studies, developing a small business, teaching two undergraduate design classes and completing my applied project.”
Graduation, however, brings a realization of goals accomplished and anticipation of the future.

“My hope is that FAVE Bags™ will continue to impact the lives of women in developing communities – giving them a sense of worth and a means to earn an income without having to leave their homes and families – with positive repercussions throughout the society.

“If we can help, even in a small way, to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the world, then we will have done our part to preserve the environment for future generations.”

FAVE Bags™ are available in retail outlets and online at

Michele St George

Publications, Graduate College