Students receive grant to design multi-use clothing
Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 20:11
Five long tables lined with sewing machines fill a room in Alison Hall. It looks like the "Project Runway" workroom, but it's actually an environmental project in the works.
The room is home to a special piece of clothing, one that is being designed by five honors fashion students who are participating in the Environmental Protection Agency's 7th annual P3 competition. The three "P's" stand for peace, prosperity and the planet.
The students received $10,000 to make their design, said Huantian Cao, an associate professor in the Fashion and Apparel Studies department and one of two advisors of the team.
All students participating in the program must design something economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, but it does not need to be a piece of fashion.
According to the EPA Web site, there are five areas of research that can be addressed — energy, built environment, materials and chemicals, water, and agriculture.
The team consists of five students, including senior Rita Chang and juniors Heather Starner, Jennifer McCord, Jenna Shaw and Grace Manalo. Cao gave them the option of writing a research paper or working together to form the proposal for the project to fulfill the honors requirements for a textiles class. They chose the proposal.
As a team, they decided to design a sustainable piece of clothing that falls under the competition's "materials and chemicals" category, Cao said.
After researching different kinds of sustainable design, for example cars and buildings, they began to come up with a plan for their own project, McCord said. Learning about other "green" industries helped inspire their ideas.
Through the Dean's Scholar program, McCord created her own major, titled Sustainability and Social Responsibility in the Fashion Industry.
"We started reading and reading and reading about different strategies for sustainability and how they could apply to the fashion industry," she said. "Overconsumption is the hugest problem we wanted to look at for our project."
McCord said they wanted to design one piece that serves multiple functions so that people do not need to buy as many things — the project's title is "Change Without Buying."
Their design is a sustainable coat. It is made of many attachable and detachable pieces, lined on the inside to provide warmth The students are trying to find sustainable fabrics to make it waterproof on the outside, McCord said. It may even be reversible.
However, this would mean selling fewer products, which would theoretically be detrimental to the fashion industry, Cao said.
"The company must make a profit, otherwise they cannot exist," he said.
To solve this, the team decided they can produce a more complicated product using higher-quality materials, which would cost more, but would be durable and wearable enough to last a long time, Cao said. This way, the fashion industry would make a profit and the consumer can be satisfied with their products.
Cao described the problem of overconsumption as being driven by both the fashion industry and the consumer.
"From the industry side, they want to make more profit," he said. "For the consumer, they want change. That is natural in fashion."
To solve the problem of changing consumer needs, the design needs to be adaptable to different weather conditions, shapes, sizes, styles and even colors. There are multiple ways to wear the same piece of clothing, McCord said.
The group designed one piece first and than drafted other designs, he said, then Manalo, a Fashion Merchandising and Apparel Design double major, joined the team and introduced the idea of putting snaps on the garment.
"Dr. Cao asked me to focus more on outerwear that could be worn throughout different seasons, so I definitely wanted to have some type of coat," Manalo said. "To address the different seasons I decided to create detachable everything, pretty much — detachable hood, sleeves, skirt, and gloves."
The result is what McCord described as the "uber-garment"— a coat that can be worn long or short, flared or straight, as a vest, with a hood — every part can be removed, or even placed somewhere else.
"My favorite part is that you can take the skirt off and put the hood onto the skirt and make a cloak," Manalo said.
Not only can the styles be changed, but also the actual size of the garment, because there are different sized bands that can be attached to make it bigger or smaller. Cao said this is something they wanted to address because people's sizes change, especially in college.
Color is another part of the design that can be changeable, as buyers can purchase different colored panels to make their coat unique, Manalo said.
Most of the fabric being used in the design is organic cotton, Cao said, but the group is still looking at and evaluating other materials. Recycled polyester made from water bottles is being used for the inside lining, he said.
The competition will be judged this spring at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington D.C. Each project is judged on the same criteria and each needs to provide a solution to the three problems of sustainability.
Both Manalo and McCord said they are excited at the possibility of moving on to phase two of the competition — $75,000 to produce their garment on a larger scale — even though the project is very time consuming.
"We solved the problem of the environment, which is resource depletion related to overproduction and overconsumption. We have some strategy for the economy part which is to allow the companies to still make a profit by making and selling less," Cao said. "For the social part, while we have a high-quality product, we are trying to convince the idea that a high profit margin product will allow the company to pay the employees a little higher, so that could solve the labor rights issue. That is quite big for the industry because it's labor intensive."