34 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
At first glance, there wouldnt seem to be much of
a connection in the 6,700 miles between a cattle
farm on a South Pacific island and a startup busi-
ness working with fashion clothing in Southern
But for IISE student member and recent Uni-
versity of Southern California graduate Soraya Levy, both
ventures contributed to her industrial and systems engineer-
ing education and her pursuit of sustainable practices.
Levy said she decided to pursue an ISE education after her
experience leading a robotics team in high school gave her a
taste for engineering.
“I really enjoyed math and the sciences and the push for
women in STEM,” she said. “The main reason I started in
ISE is that it was so broad. It allowed me to vary my interest
in STEM more in quantitative analysis and social analysis,
and it offered a lot of expressive thinking and writing, and
lot of flexibility.
Finding sustainability lessons
half a world apart
Fashion startup, New Zealand farm put ideas in focus for Southern Cal ISE grad
By Keith Albertson
The organic cattle, saffron and honey
farm in Te Anau, New Zealand, where
Soraya Levy worked included some
1,000 heads of cattle and employed
sustainable practices throughout the
Photos courtesy of Soraya Levy
September 2020 | ISE Magazine 35
Levy earned her bachelor’s degree in industrial and sys-
tems engineering in May from USCs Viterbi School of
Engineering. She was a USC Renaissance Scholar and
Presidential Scholar and the Daniel J. Epstein Department
of Industrial and Systems Engineering Student of the Year.
After graduation, she began her career as a brand manager
on the supply chain team at General Mills’ Natural and Or-
ganics Operating Unit in Berkeley, California, not far from
her hometown of Monterey.
Soraya is the quintessential renaissance scholar and an
embodiment of our engineering-plus philosophy,” Najme-
din Meshkati, a professor of civil and environmental en-
gineering, industrial systems engineering and international
relations at Viterbi, told ISE. “She is a pioneer and among
the growing number of equally talented and truly interdisci-
plinary-oriented ISE students at USC who I see are aspiring
and becoming a true ‘global engineer,’ to apply their truly
interdisciplinary skill set to complex sociotechnical systems
and global and public policy issues, above and beyond just
number crunching.
Soraya and her like-minded pioneer cohort at USC, to
paraphrase the old popular Star Trek phrase, are embarking
for ‘where no ISE has gone before.’”
Levy became interested in the fashion industry, not as
much from the creative standpoint as its inner workings,
particularly its unsustainable practices.
Toward the end of high school, I was starting to get some
kind of understanding of the wastefulness of the fashion in-
dustry and how increasingly problematic it was becoming,
she said. “I was very interested in the fashion industry, and
not really clothing design but kind of the mechanisms be-
hind the fashion industry.
Those concerns include the manufacture of inexpensive
items from synthetic fibers made from fossil fuels that do
not decompose in landlls, where 85% of garments end up,
along with the low pay and harsh working conditions found
in many developing countries. According to the United
Nations, the fashion industry contributes to 10% of global
greenhouse gas emissions.
To alleviate this, in 2017 Levy and three of her USC
Soraya Levy hikes on the Kepler Track, a popular backpacking
route located near the cattle farm. Beyond her in the
background is Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South
Island of New Zealand and a key focus of the country’s
environmental conservation movement.
36 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Finding sustainability lessons half a world apart
classmates created a nonprofit startup
called Bloom Boutique that offers
donated clothing items both for re-
sale and to a charitable nonprofit in
Los Angeles. The boutique (bloom
boutiquela.org) was founded as an at-
tempt to bypass the industrys waste-
ful practices based on three ideals:
offering a sustainable clothing option
for students, educating them about
the fashion industry and providing
service to the community.
“For the first pillar, operationally
we would collect clothing donations
from students, clothes they would
otherwise throw away or donate,
Levy said. “But there’s a lack of trans-
parency to where clothes go when
you donate. A lot of times they were
shipped offshore and ended up in a
The Bloom team would sort
through donated clothes and designate items that fit its
funky and colorful brand” for resale on campus during
events or at pop-up sales. Clothing that was deemed more
professional in appearance was donated to the Downtown
Womens Center in Los Angeles, one of Blooms four com-
munity partnerships. In all, 100% of its profits were donated
to charity, more than $3,000 to date.
“I was in charge of operations, involved with setting up
the whole infrastructure,” Levy said. “That grew into some-
thing that bridged the operations management with a cre-
ative pillar. I ended up being the person who bridged op-
erations and inventory management with the photographers
and the marketing team. We had a blog for the editorial
team as well, just to make sure we were all in alignment.
The boutique is part of USC’s Environmental Student
Assembly, a group dedicated to campus organizations that
practice environmentally conscious work. The operation
grew from four members at the start to more than 50 by the
time Levy graduated. Yet its growth was temporarily halted
when the coronavirus pandemic took students off campus
last spring and left the staff unable to accept or pass along
clothing donations.
The boutique allowed me and some of my peers to really
create some change at a local level,” Levy said. “I had been
learning about sustainability and production in the global
supply chain system in my ISE classes. That was a very
daunting idea, trying to implement change on that global
level, because so many processes are so messed up, for lack
of a better word.
Levy’s dedication to sustainable practices was fueled by an
earlier project she took part in: Working at an organic farm
in New Zealand through Worldwide Opportunities on Or-
ganic Farms in early 2019.
“I wanted to learn what other countries were doing as far
as their conservation efforts,” she said. “I think something
industrial and systems engineering introduced me to and
stressed a lot is how important the human component and
the social component of any system is. I think being able
to navigate the unique, complex nature of the relationship
between these farmers, that was really something I learned
a lot about.
While in the Pacific Island nation, she helped manage
1,000 head of cattle, grew saffron flowers for spice and cul-
The Bloom Boutique team takes part in Veg Fest, USC’s annual vegetarian festival. The
campus startup used such events to sell donated fashion clothing that might otherwise
end up in landfills. Other clothing items were donated to a Los Angeles area nonprofit.
I think it was important being able to
bring it down to a personal level and talk
to the people whom you are personally
affecting – whether it’s in the fashion
industry or whether it’s organic farming
– to cultivate the knowledge of successful
practices and also unsuccessful parts of the
systems they’re unable to change.
September 2020 | ISE Magazine 37
tivated honey from beehives, all while
pursuing organic and sustainable practic-
es. She also learned from her interaction
with the New Zealanders’ culture and
farming practices.
“It was interesting living with the
farm manager,” Levy said. “At night, we
would watch the news and then have a
very candid and open discussion of New
Zealand politics, which was very interest-
ing. I learned a lot about the relationships
between New Zealands government and
the farmers and general public, and how
the dynamic of that relationship really is.
The work helped Levy develop a sys-
temwide appreciation for the symbiotic
link between the farmers and society at
large and the key role each plays in sus-
tainable practices.
“It really was a special relationship be-
tween the people working on the farm
and the livestock,” Levy said. “They
practiced sustainable farming throughout
the entire operation. The various pro-
cesses and methods in place to protect or
ensure sustainable farming were also in-
teresting. They seemed to really import
every single farming practice throughout
the entire operation, not just to be able to
write the world ‘organic’ on their prod-
ucts but in order to feel good about what
products they were offering to their com-
The lessons she learned both on the
farm and at Bloom Boutique helped give her an apprecia-
tion of how a hands-on approach for sustainable practices
can have a systemwide effect across different products and
enterprises. She found the common link between the two
ventures was making consumers more aware of the source
of their products, be it food or clothing, by improving trans-
parency and cooperation between producers, governments
and consumers along the supply chain.
“I think Bloom Boutique, as well as this cattle farming
operation, really brought it down to a personal, tangible, lo-
cal level, and that was something that we had discussed a lot
in ISE classes or curriculum,” she said. “They’re all having
to do with these global systems that were super impactful to
millions and millions of people in the world. I think it was
important being able to bring it down to a personal level
and talk to the people whom you are personally affecting –
whether it’s in the fashion industry or whether it’s organic
farming – to cultivate the knowledge of successful practices
and also unsuccessful parts of the systems they’re unable to
Levy also believes the challenges the world has endured in
2020 demonstrate how maintaining the health of both the
planet and its inhabitants go hand in hand.
The whole pandemic has given people some time to step
back and think about the state of the world,” she said. “I also
think its given us an opportunity at least to see how quickly
such a massive global shift can occur. That had led to some
optimism for sustainability in general.
That’s great to see – it brings that large global system,
that large global, extremely wasteful supply chain system
that a lot of people are focusing on now. I think it brings
it back to more of a personal level, and it seems a lot less
daunting to be able to really affect change in that system.
Keith Albertson is managing editor of ISE magazine. Contact him
at kalbertson@iise.org.
IISE division leads sustainable projects
Even through the pandemic, the need to promote sustainable practices while helping
those in need is an ongoing priority for industrial and systems engineers.
For the last seven years, IISE members have taken a hands-on approach at the
Sustainable Development Division’s Annual Conference Service Projects, putting
members’ lean, quality and process improvement abilities to work in support of
nonprofit agencies. Last year’s event included work with Habitat building homes and
with Rise Against Hunger, an Orlando food bank (link.iise.org/iseoct19_hurley)
To see a list of past service projects, visit link.iise.org/sustainable_annual2020.
IISE members take part in the 2019 Annual Conference volunteer project by
labeling food packages at Rise Against Hunger in Orlando, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Brion Hurley