'Ecouture' designers tailor fashion to a green world

Kathy Lee/Provided
In a self-designed garment, Azi Akpan unveils her dress made with Target plastic bags and Amazon Prime bubble wrap.

Kathy Lee/Provided
Emma Ramsden models a one-of-a kind Margot Shumaker ‘19 aluminum can party dress, featuring a feathery Sprite-can skirt and ring-tab necklace.

Looking beyond garment trends to global social impact, students from the Cornell Environmental Collaborative organized the Ecouture Environmental Fashion Show Feb. 19.

“One of the things that sustainable fashion is missing is influence – the empathy for people on the other side of the supply chain who are making our clothing,” said Sarah Portway, a doctoral student in the field of fiber science and apparel design, who spoke at the show. “What we can do right now is think about these workers and how our purchases influence their work. We can think about how this show can influence us – the world – to think about our own purchasing behavior.”

In the modernist space of the Human Ecology Commons, the audience saw interpretations for an environmentally friendly wardrobe: Emma Ramsden ’19 modeled an original Margot Shumaker ’19 aluminum can party dress – lined with trash bags – replete with a feathery Sprite-can skirt and ring tab necklace. Rachel Erlebacher ’16 modeled an admiral blue Emilia Black ’18 design from leftover class projects, as Azi Akpan ’16 walked the runway in a self-designed dress made from Target plastic bags, Amazon Prime bubble wrap and a “two-day shipping” belt. In a Karen Ceballos ’16 creation, Taylor Kujawa ’18 unveiled an outfit made from paper bags laden with Clif bar wrappers.

Samantha Kirsch ’18 designed, made and modeled a newsprint dress, with a top featuring newspaper strips woven together. Was it assembled with Scotch tape or glue? “No, I just used staples,” she said.

In addition to student-designed fashion, the show featured clothing from Thrive, an Ithaca boutique selling ethically produced women’s fashion; and students collaborated with Sew Green, an Ithaca nonprofit that saves landfills from unwanted fabric, yarn and sewing equipment. Funding for the show was provided by CUTonight commission.

Off the main runway space, students from the Cornell Thrift Initiative loaded tables with gently worn dresses, khaki pants, sweaters, shoes and winter clothing. Students could grab anything they wanted. Zoya Kaufman ’16 kept the clothing swap organized and neat while many students sifted through the garments. “This is incredibly impressive, and this is just a drop in the bucket of what’s out there,” Kaufman said.

Recent Walmart Foundation 2016 U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund grant recipient Tasha Lewis, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design, reminded the fashion show audience: “As we think about fashion and consume fashion, the fate of clothing at the end of its life cycle is increasingly complicated. With the growth of mass production and multinational retail firms, enabling the rapid delivery of fashionable items on a global scale to a trend-driven industry, the imbalance of consumption and disposal often pushes the overconsumption of developed nations into the markets of lesser-developed countries.”

Organizer Lauren Cramer ’16 said the show’s take-away message was to contemplate a greener world: “This was an opportunity for students to … think about consumption and see ways students on campus are able to be fashionable and sustainable. The fashion industry is the one of the world’s largest polluters, and consumers have the power to demand change from retailers with the money they spend.”

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