Smile Politely

Re-fashioned: Illinois Art + Design students take recycling to the runway

Now in its 12th year, Re-Fashioned, a re-use fashion show, helmed by Illinois Art + Design students, prepares to hit the runway this Saturday night. This show, and its evolution, is a testament to the University’s commitment to research and finding creative solutions to global challenges. Think Project Runway’s unconventional materials challenge meets eco-awareness. We here at Smile Politely have long been fans of Re-Fashioned and its fearless leader, Art + Design faculty member Susan Becker. In the midst of last minute fittings and other last minute prep, Becker graciously took the time to share some thoughts about this year’s show, its inspiration, and its impact. 

Smile Politely: So this show is the product of a class that you teach. Can you tell how the notion of reuse became a component of the design curriculum?

Susan Becker: The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. Some statistics show it is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. As an educator, I can’t ignore that. It must be central to the education of the designers of tomorrow to be thinking about designing and making in new ways because the current system is truly unsustainable.

SP: How has the course changed as our recycle/reuse habits and attitudes have changed?

Becker: When I first started teaching a version of this course at Rhode Island School of Design in the late 90’s, using repurposed materials was a fun novel idea and one that students who were living on a limited budget appreciated. Now it feels like a moral imperative, not only to encourage designers to reduce the harm the fashion industry exerts on the environment but to raise awareness for consumers. All of us can make individual small choices that add up to big societal changes.

SP: How has the show changed over its now 12 years?

Becker: The show has had a variety of venues. Temple Hoyne Buell Hall is a wonderful fit, a gorgeous space, easy to find and plenty of parking. I hope we are able to continue to present the show in this space. As to the content of the show, even though the design prompts for the projects have remained the same for the last few years, how the students creatively answer those prompts is always wildly different and unique. I guarantee you will never see the same thing twice. You might see some of the same materials used, but never in the exact same way.

SP: Are the pieces archived or worn beyond the show?

Becker: The pieces are photographed for archival purposes bit they are the property of the students who create them. Sometimes a lucky model gets to take the piece home.

SP: What advice do you have for artists, designer, and makers who are considering working with repurposed or recycled materials?

Becker: Think local! The IDEA Store is a fantastic place to get materials and inspiration. We are so lucky to have this amazing resource right here in CU. Working with and listening to found materials means you are building on laid foundation. This show is the product of one semesters work! Most of the students come to the class with no previous experience making clothing or even sewing. Be fearless, jump in and you will be amazed what you can create.

SP: What’s the one thing you hope the audience take away from the show?

Becker: One thing I hope my students will take away from the course is Michelle Lee’s rule of sixes. Michelle is the author of a book called Fashion Victim which I highly recommend. The rule is an easy place to start when looking how to positively impact the environment with our clothing purchases. It states, before you buy something ask yourself if you think you are going to wear it in six weeks, if not, definitely don’t buy it. Then ask yourself if you think you will wear it in six months. If the answer is no, think really hard if you want to add this piece of clothing to a landfill. The standard for new purchases should be that you can imagine yourself wearing the item in six years. That last line always illicites gasps from my students who generally can’t imagine what kind of life they will have in six years much less what they will be wearing. But imagine the decrease in clothing waste if each of us just stopped purchasing things we knew we wouldn’t want to wear in six months or even six weeks.

As for the audience, we are so thankful for all those that come every year! I hope they have a great time. I hope they leave feeling inspired.

Saturday, May 4th, 7 to 7:30 p.m.
Temple Hoyne Buell Hall
611 Lorado Taft Dr, Champaign
Free and open to the public

Arts Editor

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