Development of a Sustainable Design Aesthetic

Developing a strong design aesthetic requires acknowledgement of the mind’s creative potential. It has taken my twin sister and I over 10 years to develop distinct design aesthetics. Both of our aesthetics are geared towards sustainability, but they are distinguished by the way we approach thinking about design. I will focus on communicating my sister’s, Nidia, pathway towards developing her design identity and aesthetic in this post.

In the drawing  “The Designer’s Brain” Nidia proposes that the brain has several elements that seem disparate, but work together to make the brain whole. Her drawing suggests that creativity is a process that is not easy, or neat, but can be chaotic and compelling. She quotes Karl Ulrich’s definition of design where he indicates that “At no time are good designers frightened to entertain a crazy, competing, or uncomfortable idea.”

Drawn by Nidia Trejo 2008
Drawn by NT 2008

Nidia emphasizes that design “creates thoughts and images to enliven and improve our reality.” Design aesthetics change overtime as our “realities” change. Below are fashion illustrations created when Nidia was 11, 12, and 14 years old. Each drawing is hand numbered and each woman in the illustration has a name. This conveys careful thought to individualize each woman who wears Nidia’s designs.

Drawn by Nidia Trejo 2001, 2002, 2004
Drawn by NT 2001, 2002, 2004

We can see how her design aesthetic changed overtime from 2001 to 2004. At this time Nidia drew inspiration from our mom’s wardrobe, t.v., and magazines. In 2001, her design sense was very practical with a jacket and skirt. In 2002, she conveys a more glamorous look with a focus on the luxury of the fabric. And in 2004, she experiments more with style lines to create an innovatively cut of the outfit.

In the drawing below she places a strong emphasis on the relationship between nature and design in a fast paced society. Growing up in Los Angeles, it is normal to hear about fads and seasonal trends. Going to UC Davis in Northern California, and having more exposure to nature led her to seek nature as a new source of inspiration.

Drawn by Nidia Trejo 2008
Drawn by NT 2008

In her senior collection”Blooming,” Nidia conveys how nature can be integrated into design beyond just visual inspiration. She used vegetables and spices including red cabbage, tumeric, ground annato, coffee grounds, and leaves to add colors to her fabrics.

Drawn by Nidia Trejo 2012
Drawn by NT 2012
Modeled by Alejandra Mendoza
Front and Back Modeled by Alejandra Mendoza

In the sustainable design process, Nidia learned about safe dye methods and non-conventional natural fabrics including nettle, peace silk, and pineapple fabrics. Dye methods ranged from boiling the vegetables and dipping the fabric into the “dye bath,” and pounding in the color to extract it from leaves. This process gave her garments more character and made them one-of-a-kind. To give greater dimension to her naturally colored fabrics, she did surface manipulations as seen in the design above. Nidia created the patches of rouches throughout the skirt of the dress with elastic thread. Varying the density of rouching and use of diverse fabrics made the design more dynamic and playful.

Obtaining a sustainable design aesthetic developed overtime, and was dependent on a shifting perspective from Los Angeles to Davis California. Sustainable design is more than just creating an aesthetically pleasing design. The entire design process must be considered including materials used, colorants, and techniques implemented; all of these elements can make an outfit unique and treasurable. Thinking about design from the sustainable perspective can help “enliven and improve our reality” because the final design reflects nature. Although the vegetable and spice colorants are not fixed, and will change with exposure to light, the design represents the integral beauty of nature. Changes in the naturally colored dress parallels seasonal changes in nature; the changes are intangible, valuable aspects of nature that must be appreciated for the value it adds to our lives. Nidia emphasizes that a critical part of her “Blooming” collection was to encourage design activism. With naturally colored clothes, people can embrace nuanced changes, and add colorants when colors do fade. By actively engaging in the design process, people can develop deeper appreciation for their clothes and see clothing beyond their material worth.

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