From plastic bags to the runway

Photos by Daniela Olariu.

Going green never looked so good.

As the models strutted down the catwalk Saturday night, it was hard to believe that the garments they were wearing had been repurposed from someone else’s rubbish to runway-ready looks in only a couple of months.

From fun pieces like a Jack Daniel’s t-shirt romper to more unorthodox ones like a dress made completely out of plastic bags, the Revolution 2014 fashion show proved that style doesn’t have to sacrifice at the altar of sustainability.

Revolution, the second installment of the Urban Revolution series, is an eco-conscious fashion show put on by fashion design students. Partnered with the Ryerson School of Fashion and Enactus Ryerson, an entrepreneurship-based group from the Ted Rogers School of Management, the show promoted sustainable fashion design and featured 12 designers this year. The proceeds went to Enactus’s Dago Project, which uses sustainable methods to improve the quality of life for people living in Dago, Kenya.

“It’s more than just a fashion show. We want to start a movement,” said Natasha Mawji, the lead producer of the show. Mawji, a second-year fashion design student at Ryerson, wanted to get involved after volunteering for Urban Revolution’s first show in 2012.

“I was really inspired after that,” said Mawji. “We’re the ones who are going to be designers for the next generation – we’re the future – so why not teach people new methods now and new things to do, and try something different so they can carry that on in their future designs.”

Mawji was given the opportunity to produce the show after Danielle D’Costa and Olga Okhrimenko, the Ryerson fashion students who produced the first show, stepped down to give someone else the opportunity to run the production.  D’Costa, the only fashion student in Enactus at the time, came up with the concept of a fashion show that would incorporate her knowledge of green initiatives and sustainability.

Staying true to the show’s original concept, Ryerson faculty members Kirsten Schaefer and Sarah Portway held two workshops before this year’s show to teach the designers about sustainable fashion and eco-conscious techniques for their designs. These techniques included selecting eco-friendly fabric, the “zero waste method” that leaves no scraps behind and upcycling old clothes by deconstructing them to make something new.

The upcycling method was extremely popular among the garments on the runway; dresses made from saris sailed by with sequins flickering in the spot light, and scraps from one design were repurposed into a belt or accent for another garment.

One of the show’s highlights was an elegant maxi dress made from a traditional kimono by designer Nina Boschman.

“I kept some of the body piece, but I also reworked it and I added some leather to make it a little more modern and a cute little train on the bottom,” said Boschman, a secondyear fashion design student from Ryerson. Boschman upcycled all of her garments for the show using the vintage clothing that she collects. She said she let the character of the textile guide her designs.

“One of my other dresses [in the show] was made out of an old smoking jacket that this old man wore in the ‘60s,” said Boschman. “I wanted to keep a lot of that original character and that beauty, but I also wanted to make it modern and wearable for nowadays.”

When her smoking-jacket-turned-dress sauntered down the catwalk, its chic design was sexy enough to ward off any memories of an old man smoking a pipe.

Alec Hildebrand, the designer liaison of the show, wanted this exact result: to show the audience that sustainable fashion can be “friggin’ cool”.

“You see a lot of that dumpy, hippy look that’s really stereotypical of sustainable fashion,” said Hildebrand backstage. “I want to get away from that as much as possible, which I think all the designers here did.”

Eco-conscious designers are crucial to the sustainable fashion industry, but consumers have a responsibility as well. Although both parties take part in the fast-fashion cycle, Mawji says the key to change is accessibility.

“The main part is not what consumers are buying, but what we’re giving them to buy,” said Mawji. “If we make stable fashion that’s in and trendy and obviously way more accessible, then they [consumers] would easily follow.”