Smile Politely

Ninth annual U of I fashion show promises a vision of sustainability

This Saturday at 7 p.m., community members will have the chance to see fashion designs created by U of I students on the runway. The students, under the advisement of Instructor Susan Becker, have been putting together the show — and the wearable works of art — all semester.

Becker, the main force behind Saturday’s show, has been teaching fashion-related electives at UIUC for the past nine years. Before she began teaching, she worked in many different areas of the fashion industry.

“I worked at all kinds of places, from a small place where I was one of four employees, to a slightly bigger place, where I was one of twenty employees, to really big places, like Macy’s, where I was one of hundreds of employees,” said Susan. “I’ve had lots of experience with lots of different aspects of the fashion industry, so now I have plenty of stories to tell in my classes.”

Becker’s fashion courses fill a special niche on U of I’s campus.

“There is no current fashion design department at U of I. I’m happy to address what I think is an important need on campus, since lots of students are interested in fashion,” said Becker. “I try to expose my students to many different aspects of the fashion industry. Many students who are interested in fashion think you have to be a fashion designer to work in the industry. In reality, though, there are very few people who are cut out to be designers. Most people would not be happy with that. But the industry is huge, and over the course of the semester, many of my students realize that they’d be happier being a stylist, or a buyer, or being involved in fashion writing, or in PR. I feel happy to give students the information they need to make an informed decision about their potential careers.”

She turned to teaching after having some experiences assisting her mother, who is a drama instructor in New York City, with productions and costume workshops.

“Being able to have reflective conversations about why we’re doing the things we’re doing and how clothing communicates is very rewarding,” said Becker. “Fashion communicates. It communicates our identities. And in the context of costume, you get to really think about how it does that through character and performance.”

This Saturday’s fashion show will highlight the work of students in Becker’s Fashion Design course as well as a Sew and Flow course, which Susan co-taught this past fall with Kirstie Simpson, an Associate Professor of Dance, whose area of expertise and research is improvisational movement.

“In the Sew and Flow course,” said Becker, “we met at the sewing studio on Mondays and used improvisational frameworks to create costumes. On Wednesdays, we would develop movement to go along with what we had made. We did several performances — including one at Krannert and another at Pizza M — and received great feedback from the audiences.”

Meanwhile, this semester, Becker’s Fashion Design students have been working on four projects, all of which emphasize creativity and sustainability.

“The first project was that pairs of students were given a bag from the IDEA store and asked to create an ensemble from the materials inside. Another project was that they were given newspaper and duct tape and asked to make an ensemble using specific principles of pattern making they had just learned. In another project — Reclaim to Wear — the students used preexisting clothing as raw material. They broke that clothing down and created an original ensemble. Sometimes you’ll see the original intention of the clothing and sometimes you won’t. And then there’s an extra credit project; they get to decide what goes into that.”

On Saturday, the students’ fashion designs will be complemented with laser cut paper pieces made by students in the Metals Department as well as live music.

Becker noted that her students are keyed into issues related to fashion and sustainability all semester long; a big focus of her courses, she noted, is the waste generated by the fashion industry.

“As things are now, the fashion industry is really not sustainable. The amount of waste and pollution for every aspect of how clothing is made, shipped, and purchased is incredible. In my fashion courses, we think about what needs to change.”

The fashions on display at Saturday’s show are designed to show how sustainability can look in real life and on the runway.

The 9th Annual UIUC Fashion Show takes place this Saturday, May 9th at 7 p.m. in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The show is in the Open Rehearsal Space, a basement (production) level room. Arrive early to find the venue and a seat. Standing room will also be available.

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