This year I got the great opportunity to work with fellow apparel design and fiber science students in a sustainable fashion project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency under the supervision of Professor Tasha Lewis, Dr. Park, and Dr. Netravali. The project fused sustainable design theory, upcycling–the process of adding value to cast off, second-hand materials–with practice, in our partnership with a sustainable fashion company “Local Buttons.”
Our industry partner, “Local Buttons” is striving to reach “people, planet, profit” goals, and our work sought to help them maintain long-term success. “Local Buttons” currently provides employment and fair wage opportunities for Haitian tailors and seamstresses. This is distinct from previous North American clothing brands that have outsourced simple cut-and-sew t-shirt labor to Haiti. “Local Buttons” helps nurture the creative agency of Haitian tailors and seamstresses with an emphasis on skilled sewing and tailoring. Workers also have opportunities to keep constructed samples. “Local Buttons” is also helping reduce the amount of textile waste generated in Haiti’s second-hand market since the amount shipped from North America exceeds the consumer demand. “Local Buttons” sells their clothing primarily in Canada and is reaching a U.S. market.
In our work, we sought to help them standardize their production process with a standard sizing system, and also help them reach a zero waste landfill solution with textile waste recycling strategies. Please see the a short description of our work here. From the apparel side, we created patterns, mock ups, a digitized grading system for sizes XS to XL, and created jacket and skirt samples for the factory to use. From the fiber science side, we conducted fiber analysis, suggested low-tech fiber identification strategies for the factory setting, developed a prototype machine that could shred small fabrics for recycling, and created upcycled accessories.
We presented our work to a broad audience at the EPA “People, Planet, Profit” Expo during the USA Science & Engineering Festival. Audience members included academia and the general public. People were very interested in our process of upcycling second-hand clothes for a mass-production scale. They also enjoyed our “mini-factory” demonstration from clothing deconstruction to fiber identification with low-tech microscopes. Special thanks to Catherine Devine, John Stager, and Charles Beach for their assistance and support.