Fashion Conscious is currently on display at the Design Museum in Walker Hall. The symposium Designing With Conscience will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Technocultural Studies building. For more information and to register for the symposium, visit designmuseum.ucdavis.edu. The exhibit’s blog is also available at sustainablefashion.blogspot.com
Proving that there is more to environmentally friendly clothing than the stereotypical image of hippie granola fashion and dresses resembling burlap sacks is the exhibit Fashion Conscious at the UC Davis Design Museum in Walker Hall.
The exhibit opens today at the Design Museum. Accompanying the exhibition will be Designing With Conscience: A Sustainable Fashion Symposium on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Technocultural Studies building, which is located behind the Art building. Attendance is free with registration at designmuseum.ucdavis.edu.
As part of the Design Museum’s ongoing 2007-2008 season of Eco-exhibitions, Fashion Conscious showcases garments made from environmentally sustainable material. Some of these materials include recycled and reused fabrics, organic cotton and Ingeo, a bio-polymer fabric made from corn.
“There are fabrics and materials that are better alternatives than what exists in the mainstream fashions right now,” said design professor Susan Taber Avila, who is also a curator of the exhibit. “It’s rethinking how design is.“
Works on display at the exhibit come from a wide scope of independent and commercial designers. UC Davis alumna and exhibit curator Julia Schwartz said the designers contributing to Fashion Conscious will range from the more accessible consumer market to high-end clothing lines, like Oakland-based denim label Del Forte and the “luxury eco” line Linda Loudermilk. The exhibit will also feature one-of-a-kind “art to wear” pieces, including a naturally dyed Ingeo dress made by “Project Runway“ Season 4 contestant Elisa Jimenez, who gained notoriety on the show for her unconventional fabric marking techniques.
“[Jimenez] was very out there and more on the art side than the fashion side,” Schwartz said. “[The UC Davis design department] does a lot more dying and working with manipulating textiles … than some of the arts colleges. Some of the art schools focus more on the fashion and business end of things.“
One unlikely contributor to the exhibit as well as a surprising part of the sustainable design movement is the Wal-Mart Corporation, who will have T-shirts made from organic cotton on display. According to Avila, Wal-Mart is the largest purchaser of organic cotton in the world. The company buys what is called “transitional cotton,” which is cotton purchased from farmers who are shifting over from conventional growing procedures to organic, a change that can take up to years.
When asked whether or not she thinks “going green” is more than just a trend, Avila felt that having companies like Wal-Mart involved takes the concept past a fad into being ingrained in the minds of consumers.
“I think nowadays, there are more and more designers incorporating new [sustainable] materials and new ways of thinking about design – trying to make it more accessible to mainstream audiences.“
The exhibit will also display a swatch wall that will consist of different eco-textiles, such as bamboo, lyocell (a fiber made of wood pulp) and hemp.
The use of eco-friendly textiles has mushroomed in the commercial fashion market over the past couple of years, especially with the growing trend of “going green” – a development that the exhibit curators hope will be more than just a fad. Though green design practices have a long way before they can be considered mainstream, Schwartz said that eco-design has become less of a niche market and more variety is available to both consumers and designers.
“When you look at the whole range of stuff, [sustainable design] is just a tiny [part] of what’s out there,” Schwartz said.
When textile designer Harmony Susalla first made the transition from commercial textile design to her own company, printed or organic textiles were not available to the general public. Susalla is the founder and creative director of Harmony Art, an organic textile design company. Her organic cotton designs will be on display at the exhibit.
“My fabrics are all inspired by nature, and my business is design to protect nature,” Susalla said. “I started learning about how damaging conventional cotton is.… My main mission is to show that organic fabrics don’t just have to be shades of oatmeal and granola, that it can have color and design as well.“
Conflicts and compromises such as Susalla’s are just a couple of the challenges for designers who want to break out into the eco-fashion market. Designers are forced to consider marketability and profit in addition to environmental costs. Since green design involves factors outside of the design process itself, such as the impact of their carbon footprint in terms of a product’s manufacturing, shipping and advertising, Avila said that there was no clear-cut answer for the question of what is sustainable design.
“It’s all a gray area – or shades of green, you’d say – in terms of where [designers and consumers] compromise,” she said.
This ambiguity, Schwartz said, has caused a bit of hesitancy for some in the industry to call themselves “sustainable designers.“
“But a lot of these companies are really focusing on improving their all-around business practices to become more sustainable, and that’s what we’re really sharing with people.“
“Fashion Conscious” is currently on display at the Design Museum in Walker Hall. The symposium “Designing With Conscience” will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Technocultural Studies building. For more information and to register for the symposium, visit designmuseum.ucdavis.edu. The exhibit’s blog is also available at sustainablefashion.blogspot.com.
RACHEL FILIPINAS can be reached at email@example.com.