Thursday, July 5, 2012

Final Project: Completed

I finally finished my final project for my sustainable fashion class!

My design was inspired by the rustic, old wooden red barns of rural areas. It is designed for stylish city women in their late 20s - 30s. I imagine this type of woman frequents small boutiques in Soho, her fallback store is Anthropologie rather than H&M, and her favorite pieces are from her local vintage store. She appreciates hand crafted garments, and has an effortlessly sophisticated style.

My original mood board
The materials I used in the look were all sustainable. The pinkish red fabric used in the skirt and the red fabric in the coat are both recycled polyester knits. The blouse is up-cycled from an old bed-skirt. The belt and piping for the coat are up-cycled from an old fake leather pocketbook. 

The aim was to reduce waste by laying out patterns so that the minimum amount of fabric was left over. Any extra fabric from the skirt was used as embroidery on the front waist band. My plan for any extra fabric from the coat and blouse would be to use it as stuffing in decorative pillows or other accessories. I've come to the conclusion that creating an absolutely zero waste pattern is just too restricting in design, I think it makes more sense to consider the overall waste from the start, but re-purpose the leftover pieces in other ways. 

The main way my look is sustainable is through its modular design. It has an endless combination of ways to wear it, and it can be adjusted to meet the wearer's needs, whether for style, comfort, or convenience.

Here is a photo tour of my sustainable fashion look:

The skirt has drawstrings on each side so that you can adjust the length as needed. Start off the day at work with it long, and when you leave pull it up for more of a more funky evening look.
Detail on blouse and skirt: Blouse has origami pleating detail on front. Skirt has hand embroidery. 
Now the weather has gotten cold so you decide to add the coat with the hood.
You move the belt to outside the coat to create a more flattering silhouette. 
Back view of coat with hood and belt.
But you decide you no longer want the hood... so you simply zip it off!
Two snaps, two zippers, and the hood is off!
Now you fold the coat collar down over the hood zipper for a polished look.
Voila! Your chic hood-less coat. 
But wait, you're at the store and you forgot to bring a bag! So start by snapping off your belt. 
The belt has two layers, so unsnap the inner belt from the outer. 
Take your hood, and zip the two sizes together. 
Snap the inner belt to the two edges of the hood to make a strap!
Ta-da! You now have a purse.
Now just throw the first layer of the belt back on, swing the purse over your shoulder, an you're ready to hit the shops!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Final Project - In Process

I've been working like a madwoman on my final sustainable fashion project. I made a lot of progress this weekend, but I still have some work to do.  

The skirt is all done. I was able to use the scraps from my skirt as fabric applique for embroidery on the front waistband. The picture to the right is what it looked like when I was laying out the strips of fabric for embroidery. I think it came out looking pretty cool! This fabric is a stretch recycled polyester from Draper Knitting. I like the color, but I found it was a lot stiffer than it looks. Since I use two layers in my skirt the whole thing feels very heavy, and it would be warm to wear.  

For my coat, I wanted to make a leather (or fake leather) belt, and use some leather in piping on the coat. So I found this old fake leather bag at the Garment District for $5. It was already tearing on the straps, and looked pretty worn. I took the front strap and buckles off to use as the belt, but I haven't quite figured out how to turn it into a belt yet. Then I used the pre-existing piping on my shoulder seam and hood for the coat. I need to decide if I'll use any thing else from it.  I found taking apart a pocketbook to be a little nasty. The inside was full of sticky glue that got all over the fabric and my fingers... gross. 

For my blouse I found an old bed-skirt from the dollar-a-pound bin at the Garment Districtto up-cycle. The bed-skirt base (the white stuff) was ripped, so I cut that off. I then promptly washed the fabric (because who knows what kind of creepy critters might come from the dollar-a-pound bin...).  I'm going to use the bed-skirt fabric and turn it into a blouse with origami pleating on the front.  It's actually very soft fabric, however I realized once I got it home that it has a plasticy feeling on the reverse. I think that will make it not breathable as a fabric, and probably not comfortable to wear, but I'm going to use it anyways. Tonight I'll work on it and see how it will work as a blouse. 

I encountered a bit of a challenge with the hood to my jacket. The plan was to make a hood for the coat that could be removed and turned into a pocketbook. I successfully made the hood detachable, and able to zip up and become a sack, however, it doesn't function like I thought it would. The reason is because of the proportions of the hood. The opening is too long and when you pick it up the sides just collapse in. I was planning to add a handle/hole to the middle, but it won't help this issue. I believe my only option is add a strap, and a long one would be best. This way it will hold up the sides. However I don't want to just create a strap that isn't incorporated into the coat in another way. I'm currently thinking that the belt I'm making could possibly double as the strap to the pocketbook, however, then you couldn't use the belt with the coat if you wanted a pocketbook... that's a little restrictive for a modular design. I hope to come up with some clever solution tonight!

The project is due on Thursday, so check back for the final look! 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline

I've heard a lot of buzz over Elizabeth L. Cline's new book: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. It's on my to-read list, and many people have pointed me to Cline's radio interview on WBUR's On Point, which I finally listened to recently. 

The radio interview, though an hour long, to me just begins to touch on the issue of sustainability in the fashion industry. For people who have never thought about the consequences of fast fashion before, this interview is probably a great introduction. It's worth listening to, but personally left me feeling like I hadn't learned anything.

On the other hand, I came across an excerpt from Cline's book on Slate where she examines what happens with the clothes you donate to the Salvation Army. The life-cycle of a garment is something that I find very interesting, and I still don't quite understand what happens to all the clothes we buy when all is said and done. However this excerpt from Cline's book sheds some light on that question.

Most of our donated clothing does not end up in vintage shops, as car-seat stuffing, or as an industrial wiping rag. It is sold over­seas. After the prized vintage is plucked out and the outcasts are sent to the fiber and wiping rag companies, the remaining clothing is sorted, shrink-wrapped, tied up, baled, and sold to used-clothing ven­dors around the world. 

Cline describes viewing a huge pile of clothing rejected from the Salvation Army (clothing only stays in the stores for one month - then it's shipped off):

Mashed together like this, stripped of its sym­bolic meaning, stacked up like bulk dog food, I was reminded that clothing is ultimately fiber that comes from resources and results in horrifying volumes of waste.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the excerpt is where Cline mentions that the used clothing market in Africa is getting more selective as the wages rise. This means that eventually we might not be able to simply ship off all the clothes we don't want to developing countries.... so then what will we do with it? 

I'm glad Cline is getting a lot of publicity for this book. I hope it will introduce this concept to people who have never though about it before. A major hurdle for sustainable fashion is that so many people don't think there is anything wrong with fast fashion. In fact, it's part of our culture to be proud of the cheap fast fashion deals we find. 

This excerpt shows a lot of promise for the rest of the book, and I will definitely read Overdressed this summer and let you know what I think!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Final Class Project - The Challenge

Our final class project (which is due in a week!) is to combine all the different sustainable concepts into one complete "look".  Things I've been asked to consider:

  • Form and function - can it be multi-functional? Does it address sustainability through design?
  • Eco-friendly materials  
  • Zero Waste techniques in pattern making
  • Carbon Footprint of garment production
  • Use of natural or low chemical dyes, eco-friendly notions
  • Life-cycle of the garment - how is it laundered, broken down, recycled?
  • Target market, customer profile
  • Season and trends
  • How to let the customer know about the sustainability of the garment
  • Customer/artisan connection, consumer participation in design
  • Slow design
  • Resolving any waste
  • Up-cycling
  • Garment made for dis-assembly
  • Modified or changed for different functions
  • Keeping strong design principles

These are a lot of components to consider when making a garment. So far I have a design and concept in mind. First I thought about colors and how using the color green could be an obvious tie to sustainability, however I thought that was too cliche. I didn't want to have to use the color green, so instead I chose red - the opposite of green! My concept is about our connection to nature through the color red, which led me to thinking of red barns and the rustic, aged look of wood. I want the clothing to be comfortable and rural feeling, but I want it to be worn by a confident women in the city. 

My mood board
Draper Knitting in Canton MA has generously donated organic and recycled fabric for our class to use for our final project. I've chosen two recycled polyesters to use for my look. I will also up-cycle some fabric for certain components. For example, I'd like to use an old leather bag as piping and a belt for the coat, and an old shirt for the blouse. I plan to make the skirt and the coat out of the fabric from Draper. 

My main sustainable concept is multifunction. I want each garment to have a modular component so it can be worn in different ways. The skirt will be adjustable in height and the blouse will be reversible. For the coat, I will make a removable hood which will then function as a pocketbook. I'm really excited to try and figure out how to make that work! 

I plan to use embroidery on the skirt and origami pleating on the blouse to incorporate slow fashion. I will use the scraps from the skirt pattern as the appliques for the embroidery to eliminate waste. For the coat, I plan to make it a lot less structured than in my first sketches (below). Instead I will drape the coat pattern, which should help cut down on fabric waste. My fabrics already came dyed, so I can't tackle the sustainable dyeing dilemma (and I'm actually incredibly glad that I don't have to). 

Preliminary sketches
I have two sustainability issues that I still need to figure out: 
1. The life cycle of the garment - how it will be laundered and recycled.
2. How to let the customer know that the garment is sustainable. 

Number 2 will be an important challenge. I've always felt that one way for sustainable fashion to gain ground would be for it to have a brand identity. To have some sort of logo on the garment, so that the wearer can show it off. It would be similar to how Abercrombie shirts say "Abercrombie" a zillion times... I think if people could show off the fact that they are wearing sustainable clothing, they would be more likely to spend the money to wear it. This is a little shallow I know, but I believe it is true. I believe this is one of the reasons why hybrid cars are so weird looking (especially the first models). People wanted you to know they were driving a hybrid car, it had to look different so that others would realize what it was and what it meant. When applying this idea to fashion however - I do not want to sacrifice the design for the marketing, so it will be at tricky problem to solve.  

Fun fact: Do you know why barns are painted red?

Many years ago in Europe farmers painted their barns with linseed oil. They combined rust with the oil as a way to kill off moss and mold. Thus red barns which became a tradition! (Some say farmers use to paint with blood from animals, but I'd rather go with the rust theory)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fashion Techniques: Embroidery, Felting, and Pleating

My back stitched reverse applique
As demonstrated by the brand Alabama Chanin (and mentioned in my previous blog post), one way to be sustainable is to use handmade techniques and couture details which help create a connection between the wearer and the garment. This is called "slow fashion" and it's a fashion philosophy that is gaining ground.  The popularity of, a shop where you can search for exclusively handmade items, is proof that the public is interested in handmade goods. 

In class we focused on a few different couture techniques that are used in slow fashion. The first, embroidery, is used frequently by Alabama Chanin. It involves hand stitching designs and fabric appliques to the clothing. The look that is achieved by hand stitching cannot be duplicated on a machine. Hand stitching gives the garment a natural, non-symmetrical feeling that looks less industrial and programmed. In class we experimented with a few different kinds of simple stitches (running stitch, and back stitch), and practiced appliques and reverse appliques.

My attempt at needle felting
We also experimented with needle felting in class. I've never understood how needle felting was done. I always pictured something similar to hat felting... not that I actually know how to do that either. But needle felting was surprisingly easy and also a good stress reliever. It's done by taking a square of wool fabric and placing it on top of a large piece of Styrofoam. You take a handful of loose strands of wool, and place them in a design on the wool base. Then you take the needle felter - which is a contraption that holds a number of sharp needles together - and stab at the loose wool. You can really get some anger out by felting! Basically every time that you are stabbing the needles through the wool layers you are pushing small fibers of the loose wool through the wool fabric. This locks it in, as if it's being sewn together. You can create any shape or pattern that you want.
My 2 types of origami fabric pleats

Finally we tried our hand at origami pleating. This is like regular origami except on fabric. By using origami pleating, you can create really interesting shapes and patterns that have depth and structure. We did two types in class. The first was a to create a three dimensional square by folding and twisting the fabric in a specific way, like normal origami. The second way we achieved the origami look was by using a pattern to sew anchor points to shapes on a piece of fabric. We then tightened the anchor points to create a 3D bulged in the fabric, and flattened them out to their original shapes. It sounds weird, but it was actually pretty easy. Once you iron these fabric shapes down, the turn into really beautiful architectural creations.

Our final project for the class will be to combine all of the different sustainable fashion components together for a total sustainable look. I plan to incorporate some embroidery and origami pleating into my garments to acknowledge slow fashion.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ellen's Favorite Eco Shops

I posted a new page which I'll edit on a regular basis - it's a collection of my favorite eco shops. I've gone through all the store and brands I've discovered through writing this blog and compiled them into a list.  I hope people can use it as a resource to find eco-friendly clothing. Eventually I may try to indicate price points and make it more of a user friendly guide.

One note about the list - it's all the stores that I like, so it's not meant to be a comprehensive list of every eco-friendly and sustainable fashion store. I chose the brands whose aesthetics I admire and whose values are strong. Hopefully the list will continue to grow, as I discover more great sustainable fashion brands!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Zero Waste - Final Product

I finally worked out my zero waste pattern. It was really a challenge. Once I decided on the general shapes of my large pattern pieces (4 large rectangles for front and back, and the shape of my hood), it was really about laying them all out flat and seeing the negative spaces that could be used for other parts of the garment.

I had an idea for the closure of my bomber jacket that would require no notions (zippers/buttons). Most hoodies have ties that come out at the ends to change the fit of the hood. I decided to incorporate a longer version of these ties, and instead of have them control the fit of the hood, they are used to weave through fabric loops at the front of the coat to close it! I knew I would need one long piece of bias fabric for this hood tie closure, so I decided to have one long bias strip cutting through my pattern. This really helped me define my pattern layout, and I realized I was working with two triangles within a larger rectangle.

Once the back, front, and hood pieces filled up space, I really had one smaller triangle on each side from which to make the sleeves. I decided to divide it into one rectangle and two triangles, so that the two triangles could be combined into another rectangle. So in the end I had two rectangles to use for the sleeve.

Bomber Jacket front
The sleeve cap was the hardest part. I noticed that a negative space left from the hood formed a shape similar to a sleeve cap. I measured the length I needed and adjusted the shape of the negative space to be the right length. Even though it wasn't the typical shape of a sleeve cap, I knew that as long as the length of the cap equaled the length of the armholes, it would fit!

Armholes had been a major issue when I was first trying to work out the pattern based on the letters "ECO" (which I gave up on). But I realized when making this jacket that the armholes could easily be turned into pockets! The only thing is that the front and back holes are slightly different, so the pockets would have to be made from the same armholes, and therefore they would not match perfectly. I decided to solve this issue by making interior pockets. You can't see how big they are and your hands won't be able to tell that they are a slightly different shape.

I had a few more pieces left over, but I was able to incorporate them into the hood and the sleeve. I was super impressed with myself! Until I went to sew it together... There is a problem with this pattern, the hood is not a symmetrical shape and so it appears in this pattern facing the same way both times. Meaning that when I went to cut out my pattern, one of my hood pieces was facing the wrong way, I had to sew it with the wrong side of the fabric facing out... (my fabric has two distinct sides). So that was a zero waste lesson for sure. I still think this pattern is great, however it must be used on a fabric that is the same on both sides.

Jacket back detail
Zero waste taught me that there it takes a lot of thought and planning to make something work with no waste. It also leaves no room for error in a project like this. The hood issue really messed up my final look. I also accidentally cut into one piece of fabric while sewing it together, but I couldn't just start again. I had to make that cut a design line and add it to the pattern piece for the other side!

As a concept I think zero waste is great. We should be getting all that we can get out of our fabric resources. However I think that by working within the constraints of zero waste it limits design and functionally. You may design something you wouldn't normally design, or want to wear.  Realistically I think designers should do their best to have as little waste as possible when they cut a pattern, however, I think a great solution is re-using those left over pieces. By throwing the scraps into a pillow case, using them to make jewelry, or recycling them into yarn, you are not wasting them at all. This is what some companies do, and I think it is 100% the most realistic and effective solution to zero waste.