Sustainability, Fashion Merge on Designer Runway


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Upcycled art is a new genre growing in popularity among designers and makers. Rather than sourcing raw materials to create masterpieces, artists source discarded textiles in hopes that upcycled art can contribute to a more sustainable mindset in our economy and daily lives. Four percent of California’s waste stream is textiles, which are defined as items made of thread, yarn, fabric, or cloth. This may not seem like a lot until you consider that 4 percent is over 1.2 million tons of material that could be diverted from landfills and used to make new products.

Recently I got the chance to test my design skills at Merge 2017, an upcycle fashion event hosted by the Sacramento Chapter of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA). It’s a one-day event that gathers top architects and interior designers (not fashion designers!) from around Sacramento to upcycle architectural materials into chic fashion ensembles. Upholstery fabric, carpet samples, ceiling panels, and floor tiles are transformed into bodices, skirts, belts, hats, and jewelry. After a full day of designing, sewing, hair, and makeup, the event culminates in a runway show held at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in Downtown Sacramento. This is upcycled art at its finest!

Fashion is a big business. According to the Business of Fashion’s 2017 State of Fashion report, global fashion is a $2.4 trillion industry, or the nation-equivalent of the world’s seventh-largest economy. That’s a lot of textile material! In an era where inexpensive, seasonal clothing is common and second-hand clothing purchased at thrift stores is sometimes seen as unfashionable, fashion artists are reframing the concept of reusable textiles and paving the way for sustainable high fashion. Although it’s unlikely that many traditional fashion designers would use architectural materials for their garments like we did at Merge, the event brought awareness to upcycled fashion and inspired attendees to repurpose items rather than toss them out.  Seen in creative, artistic terms, it’s yet another pathway to casting aside self-imposed limits on fashion.

My sister Jessica, an accomplished interior designer, led a team from Hibser Yamauchi (HY) Architects. She recruited both our mother (and her mad sewing skills) and me (pretty savvy with a glue gun) to lend a hand. Prior to the event, firms were assigned several sustainability-focused textile manufacturers who supplied them with materials. HY worked with Rockfon and Momentum Textiles, both of whom are dedicated to recycling and diverting waste from landfills when possible. 

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The theme for this year’s event was “Around the World,” and our team was assigned Russia to inspire us. We wanted to create an edgy homage to Russian ushunka hats—would you believe these faux fur accessories are combed ceiling tile fiber? We used Rockfon stone wool ceiling tiles, which are comprised of up to 42 percent recycled content. Rockfon reduces its environmental impact by diverting 95 percent of its production waste from landfills.

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Our dress was constructed from Momentum Textiles Crypton Green upholstery fabric.  My mom’s skills came in handy, since we couldn’t use a pattern and had to create our own on the spot and then tailor the garment to our model. Momentum creates fabrics from recycled fibers, and their Crypton Greenfield Gold Certification fabrics are constructed in an environmentally conscious way and have low VOCs.

My contribution consisted of transforming a long rope of carpet sample tassels into a woven braided necklace with blue vinyl tile charms dangling from its threaded loops. We spent hours pulling tassels apart, tying 4-inch threads into a long string, braiding them together into a rope, and then crocheting a necklace to grace our model’s neckline.

The best part was, of course, the runway walk! Our model nailed the perfect runway attitude—a little sass, a little twinkle in the eye, and alot of dramatic hip swings. The competition was fierce; although we didn’t win, we were proud of our efforts, felt good about what we created – and how we created it!

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The Sacramento chapter of the International Interior Design Association put on a stellar event and  awarded several local interior design students with scholarships. There was an electric atmosphere of creativity in the Galleria that night, and you could see the scholars beaming to be part of such a vibrant and artsy community.

In keeping with the design principle on display that evening, the event hosts gathered up the leftover and unused architectural materials and donated them to a local organization looking for raw materials for art projects and crafts. Sometimes being sustainable is just about your perspective. I never thought of industrial building materials as suitable for the runway, but I’ll never look at a scrap of carpet the same way again! 


CalRecycle sustainability Merge RecycleForClimate
— Christina Files
Posted on Aug 7, 2017

Summary: Upcycled art is a new genre growing in popularity among designers and makers. Rather than sourcing raw materials to create masterpieces, artists source discarded textiles in hopes that upcycled art can contribute to a more sustainable mindset in our economy and daily lives.