Jackson: Zero Waste Fashion Exhibit Opens at Columbia College

Arti Sandhu, curator of the exhibition and a professor at Columbia
College Chicago, opens the event with a short introduction.

Jackson Stop IconBy Ali Trumbull
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011

Fashion is all about change and finding new, innovative ways to create. Although this isn't a new idea, eco-friendly/zero waste fashion is making a statement in the fashion industry -- and in Chicago.

On Thursday, Columbia College Chicago opened its Zero Waste: Fashion Re-Patterned exhibit at Columbia's Averill and Bernard Leviton A + D Gallery in the South Loop. The exhibit is open until April 16.

Zero waste fashion supports the idea of creating fashion without creating waste. 

"All of the clothes you're wearing can create up to 15 to 20 percent fabric waste," said Arti Sandhu, the curator of the collection and a professor at Columbia. 

Sandhu's collection was a collaboration that included help from Columbia students and the "Snow Drift" and exhibit designer, Derick Melander. Melander creates art with secondhand clothing and materials.

After several months of planning, these designers were able to create their secondhand material masterpiece. This masterpiece weighed 2.5 tons. 

                                                    Derick Melander's "Snow Drift"

Designer Derick Melander has more than a two tons of secondhand clothing
 for his piece, "Drift." (Photo by Ali Trumbull)

"There were a lot of obstacles. It was not easy to get 2.5 tons of clothing through the front door in the matter of a couple hours and then fold, sort it by color, and then stack it into that sculpture all within the course of four days," Melander said.

"Drift" sits in the front window of the gallery, where the bulk of the 2.5 tons of clothing is carefully placed.

Columbia graphic design students and gallery assistants, Caroline Ross and Nicole Kurily had a major part in production of this exhibit. To their surprise, they were also included in some of the artistic decisions.

"Coming into the project, I thought we would be doing a lot of the prep work for Derick like sorting the clothes, folding them, and then kind of handing the process over to him, but all of us were super involved in the process, the making, artistic decisions, the clothes," Ross said.

"This gray piece in the corner, Nicole and I basically made it. Derick was kind of at the end of his day and was photographing the main piece, so we almost put that one together ourselves. I was really surprised at how included we were and Derick mentioned that he thinks it was one of the most collaborative projects he's ever worked on." 

Melander sees life in the pieces of secondhand clothing that he works with on his projects. 

"I've been working with secondhand clothing for about nine years, almost exclusively," Melander said. "I work with anything from like 700 pounds to 2.5 tons, which is the case here. I'm really interested in the way clothing carries a trace. There's this idea that to live is to leave traces and clothing certainly carries a trace- the way the elbows wear out and the way that people write inside the collar. I'm really interested in that idea that clothing is like a metaphor for the people who wear it."

Contributing designers and artists include: A Magazine, Nick Cave, Padmaja Krishnan, Maison Martin Margiela, Holly McQuillan, Refinity + Berber Soepboer, and Timo Rissanen. 

"I wanted to put together an exhibition that wasn't only really about beautiful clothing, but things that could make you think about what you've worn and what you buy, what we buy, and really respect design," Sandhu said. "It was a wonderful experience being a part of Derick's piece."

The future for zero waste fashion seems to be to try and give it more of a "commercial appeal" and something a larger audience would purchase in a department store, those interviewed said.

"I wanted to make the gallery viewer aware that there are examples of zero waste fashion that is very commercial," Sandhu said. "For example, Margiela's pieces, of a label of that caliber to make recycled sandals and ski gloves desirable." 

The thought that zero fashion possibly limits a designer with his or her creativity and materials lingers over this idea, Sandhu said.

"It isn't about anti-fashion," Sandhu said. "It is about pro-design."                                                                                                           

Margiela's Sandal Vest
    Designer Maison Martin Margiela's Artisanal Sandals
Jacket made out of women's sandals. (Photo by Ali Trumbull) 

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