Nurturing a Sustainable Design Aesthetic

I remember when I spent entire summer days drawing new designs alongside my twin sister, Nidia. The joy I took in drawing each “doll” as we called them, inspired me to pursue fashion design academically.

Number 10, voted as "Best Creative Outfit" by me and my sister in 2001
Voted as “Best Creative Outfit” by me and my sister in 2001

This outfit was heavily inspired by the ’90s, and my interpretation of fashion as an art form.

Some of my favorites, drawn when I was 12
Some of my favorites, drawn when I was 12

The “dolls” above, named “Dana” and “Pallas” are some of my favorites. I love the colors and the focus on their facial expressions. I tried to make them look happy, high-spirited and eager with attention to their eyelashes, size of their eyes, and smiles on their lips.

Drawn by Helen and Nidia   at age 12
Drawn by Helen and Nidia at age 12

With over 100 drawings combined by 2002, me and my sister decided to draw “dolls” together. We combined our best design ideas into these two drawings. These are also some of my favorites!

Drawn at ages 13, 14, 15
Drawn at ages 13, 14, 15

As might be noticed, my drawing style of “dolls” led to disproportionate head and body ratios. The “dolls” became shorter with bigger heads and smaller bodies. This was most likely the influence of “Bratz” dolls that we liked.

We were very excited when two of these designs became realities. My sister created her prom dress based on the illustration to the far left, and a version of the illustration on the far right was created for our 16th birthday fashion show.

Going to UC Davis led me to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of design. I drew the illustration below that suggests that design incorporates perspectives from multiple disciplines to be significant–ecology, biology, and design all work together. Nature creates beauty without the intention to appeal to us, but it do so nonetheless. We, in comparison, create beauty through design, intentionally. The goal is to create designs with no environmental impact to preserve nature’s beauty.

Drawn Fall 2008

The significance of people and nature is equal and both are “one” in design. Everything is shown to be connected in webs with words “whole, altruism, discovery, revolution, and freedom.” Design is more than just making something that is aesthetically pleasing, design should be purposeful to induce altruistic deeds, stimulate discovery, stir revolution of thoughts, and free the mind from anything that constrains its creativity. Valuing nature as an equal and considering all implications of a design can induce self-discovery and innovation for successful design.

These are a few sustainable designs I created throughout my time at UC Davis.

Modeled by Nidia; Designed by Helen, 2009
Modeled by Nidia; Designed by Helen, 2009

Made of UC Davis “The Aggie” newspapers. Inspired by Jackson Pollock’s “The Mural” splatter painting, I pleated and painted the newspapers to add dynamism to the design. Shown in Student Fashion Association Fashion Show.

Modeled by Irene Yang; Designed by Helen, 2011
Modeled by Irene Yang; Designed by Helen, 2011

Part of “Reconfigure the Blue” collection made with Nidia. Used our old blue jeans, hand-painted and used the bottom of a plastic bottle to add surface design and aesthetic appeal. Shown in Student Fashion Association Fashion Show.

Modeled by Esmeralda Medina; Designed by Helen, 2011
Modeled by Esmeralda Medina; Designed by Helen, 2011

Made of organic cotton with excess fabrics. Hand-embroidered and used patchwork technique to combine the different pieces of fabrics. Shown in Signature Collections Fashion Show.

These outfits were constructed as I prepared to do my senior collection at UCD. Experimentation with these different sustainability perspectives: re-purposing unconventional materials, second-hand clothes, and using environmentally benign materials with implementation of special techniques–informed my decision to create a zero-waste collection for my senior collection.

This was my design ideation:

My zero-waste collection was inspired by sentimental architecture, which is the home my father built for my family in Los Angeles. I chose a home as the basis of my inspiration because a home and clothes function as protective shelter from the environment. Brick stair steps, a curvilinear staircase, and windows are all inspirational details. I integrate excess post-consumer fabrics as well as polyester from recycled PET plastic bottles. I added value to these textiles with hand-embroidery, applique, color staining, and laser cut manipulations. My unique collection shows how the sentimental value and prolonged life we give to a home may be applied to clothing, encouraging stronger emotional attachment and prolonged use. I used the cut-and-sew “jig-saw” zero-waste technique. This zero-waste conceptual and practice-based approach can lead towards an overall reduction of textile waste that can benefit the environment in the long term.

See previous post for more details about each outfit:

These are some illustrations that stimulated ideas for my final designs:

Drawn 2012 as design ideas for zero-waste collection
Drawn 2012 as ideas for zero-waste collection

These are my final designs with my wonderful models:

After Signature Collections Fashion Show, 2012
After Signature Collections Fashion Show, UC Davis 2012

That is how my sustainable design aesthetic developed. It continues to develop with my work in knitting and crochet. A change is that I do not begin by drawing an illustration first, I often just begin to make an outfit without constraints of an illustration. I find that this allows greater leeway to change ideas in the design process and allows for more discovery and innovation.

See this previous blog post regarding the most recent sustainable garment I made:

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Verónica says:

    I am pleased to nominate you for the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award. I enjoy reading your blog and glad you have stopped by mine! Here’s a link for more details:

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