Fashion and Plastic? How Do They Go Together?

When I think of fashion, the LAST thing I think of is plastic.  Yet for students at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, they created a collection of garments and accessories using post consumer plastic products.  Their designs debuted on a most unique runway –  the opening ceremony of NPE2015 (National Plastics Exposition) in Orlando, Florida.

SPI, The Plastics Industry Trade Association, commissioned the garments and created a fun and unique challenge for the students.  They shared an interview with two of the students with the blog Plastics Make It Possible.

NPE2015 opened in style this morning with the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show, which showcased garments designed by students from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) made using only post-consumer recycled plastic materials. After the Fashion Show the garments were moved to the Zero Waste Zone in the South Hall, where they’ll stay for the remainder of NPE.


SPI caught up with two of the students who participated in the project and attended the show, Adewunmi Adetayo and Siobhan Mulhern, and SCAD School of Design Resources and Projects Coordinator Tenley Gilstrap to talk about their work with SPI, what it was like working with recycled plastics, 3D printing and what they hope everyone gets out of seeing their designs.

SPI: How did this project get started and how did things work?

Tenley Gilstrap: SPI came to SCAD and they were interested in collaborating. Here at SCAD we have what we have the CLC, also known as the Collaborative Learning Center. The CLC is where we engage students with real world company experience.  Companies that we’ve partnered with include anyone from Coca-Cola, to HP to Gulfstream.

The companies sit down with SCAD and try to figure out what the deliverables could be that could actually come from a great partnership and then we try to structure an actual course around the goals and the outcomes and what we actually want to accomplish.

Siobhan Mulhern: They created what they called the zero waste design lab. They gathered 9 students—eight of us were senior design fashion students and one sculpture student. And they basically asked us to create a line of garments made out of post-consumer recycled plastics.

TG: The sculpture student is responsible for most of the jewelry in the show and also in the catalog that was created from the course.

Adewunmi Adetayo: Part of the process was just brainstorming which was really exciting for all of the students because we were just able to think and go wild. After that came gathering the materials that we were going to use; the one requirement was that most of the materials be second hand or already used, so we did do a plastics drive where we got everything from used forks, to sleeping bags to milk jugs, table cloths…

SM: Anything our peers could think of.

TG: The materials that we ended up using were really the materials from eBay and the materials that SPI provided right off the bat. Yoga mats, phone cords—an entire garment was created out of phone cords and it’s a really show-stopping piece—drawer liners, shower curtains in assorted colors, a used parachute from 1960?_F4C5105_web

SM: That one we found on eBay, from 1966. It’s a parachute and we actually had no idea what to expect and it covered our entire classroom, it was so big.

We have two final ones that are in the show but there’s still half of a parachute left. We’re all still thinking we want to use it.

TG: With the actual sewing, how was it to actually sew and work with these materials?

SM: Some of them were really challenging. There were some that were intuitive but there were some where we had to use processes we wouldn’t normally use, like melting, and, with the parachute, to sew it together you could only sew it through the thicker parts so we had to use needle and thread, and a thimble on one side and then jewelry pliers on the other because we couldn’t just sew it like normal.

We had to use some glue but some would melt the plastics. We were just learning constantly.

AA: Melting was one of the things we had to use because plastics are not a typical material. The sculpture student who worked on the jewelry actually melted down the drawer liners and then made a mold for these rings. Most of the processes aren’t things that you would naturally think of for a fabric.

TG: One of the closing pieces in the show is a dress that looks like it has spikes. It looks like an animal product but that was 3D-printed.

AA: We created a unit; scaled it up, scaled it down. We printed a whole bunch of these pieces and we had them in fragile do-not-touch storage. Looking at them as pieces, they don’t really have that much effect but then when you put it on this garment it creates this fur texture, and then when you move up close to it you realize it’s 3D-printed and it’s plastic.

TG: It’s definitely a show stopper and it is a really beautiful elegant cream-colored plastic and the pieces up top actually resemble bone or animal product.

A student-designed dress that was 3D-printed using materials from Fashion Show sponsor Green Dot.

It’s one of the closing pieces but we’re opening the show with a dress that we were approached by Green Dot to actually have a student commissioned to make a garment or several different garments that would be made of their material and Siobhan was the student we reached out to because she’s a pro at the whole zero-waste concept.

SM: Green Dot is a newer production company and they’re trying to branch out into materials that can be used in a variety of things. The materials they sent were biodegradable plastics that resemble faux leather and it has a herring bone pattern. They gave me free rein to do what I wanted.

It’s very different from regular fabrics. I used a lot of laser cutting and different techniques to…

TG: It’s actually four different pieces. It’s a top, a skirt, a jacket and a handbag. Those will all be featured in the show as well.

SPI: Is the concept of “Zero Waste” something that’s common in the fashion industry?

SM: Sustainability in fashion as a whole is starting to be talked about a lot more because the industry itself is actually fairly wasteful.

It’s growing and zero waste is a small segment of that so it’s just a way of designing where instead of laying out your pattern pieces and there are gaps where the arm holes are and that just gets thrown away, it’s a way of designing and thinking about how these shapes can be made without those scraps, and then another aspect of that is using materials that are less harmful or recycled.

It’s this larger concept but it isn’t that popular or widespread.

SPI: What do you guys hope that people will get from seeing these garments that were designed and created using only recycled plastic materials?

SM: I would hope that people would get that it’s not a sacrifice. You don’t have to sacrifice beauty or aesthetics to make these pieces. It is a challenge but it’s not something that is detrimental to design.

AA: That first day where we were brainstorming, the big phrase that we came out with was “putting life back into life.” I think our hope is that one of the big takeaways is that people can see that things don’t have to end up in a landfill and we can always give new life to something that has been used before and you can give it a new look and make it something completely different than what it looked like before

I think that concept of life back into life was something that carried throughout in the class as something that we hope people would get from the show.

SPI: Some of the plastic materials sounded difficult to work with but were there things you liked about working with recycled plastic materials?

SM: Some of the materials opened up possibilities that we wouldn’t have thought of because a lot of them, we used bubble wrap in something and at first “bubble wrap what are we going to do with bubble wrap?” but then it winds up having this really pretty texture. So it’s something that fell in a different way and it moved almost like fabric but it had that texture that was bubble wrap which was interesting and it added something to it.

AA: The freedom of it was very enjoyable and very attractive. With fabric before you even make a garment you can imagine how it’s going to fall and how it’s going to drape and what it’s going to do but I think with a lot of these it was an exploration where we didn’t even know what the outcome would be until we tried it, so I think a really interesting part of it was discovering as we created.

SPI: Did the project and the fashion show change you or your classmates’ perspectives on plastics and plastics materials?

AA: There was definitely a change of heart and I think a big conclusion that we came up with at the end was that using plastics doesn’t inhibit design, it enhances it.

I think at the beginning we thought “what are we going to do with plastic? What are we going to make with it?” And at the end with all of the garments and accessories that were made, we walked away from it with “wow, this is a huge possibility.”

In our research we just found a lot of Youtube videos and a lot of resources of things that people have done with plastics and it just kind of opened up a new world of possibilities that we weren’t exposed to.

SPI: Anything else you’d like to say about the project?

TG: One thing that’s really cool is that a lot of times the CLC projects that we work with the students don’t get to see that end piece so I really am glad that Siobhan and Adewunmi were able to do that. They both are such hard workers and they were both key players.

I think it’s awesome that SPI actually extended it a little further and said not only are these fashions great but we want to make sure you’re a part of the actual fashion show, making sure the designs are presented the way that everyone wanted them represented when they were created and really keep the vision all the way through until they made it through the fashion show and the whole plastics industry got to lay eyes on them.

It’s a really cool part of the puzzle that we’re able to sit here today and be involved.

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