Report from the Summer Institute on Sustainability in Fashion & Textiles
Jorg Hartmann, from machinery vendor Stoll, started his talk by showing copies of a well-worn 1880s pair of jeans bought at auction for $60,000. The jeans were copied and the look started a somewhat eco-hostile fashion idea: clothing that is almost worn-out when bought new.
Jorg said he himself used to buy jeans, rub them on the rough basement floor and run them through the washing machine to get the look. When the industry started to sell them that way, it found it had to use virgin material because consumers favor stuff that looked distressed but had never been worn.
He dryly observed that we’re in an age of “fashion democracy.” To follow the votes, the denim industry went through three stages: first companies sewed a pair of new jeans and washed them as destructively as they could.
Then there was the manual method, where skilled workers pulled, tugged, laser-distressed, soiled, bleached and dirtied, and then washed new jeans. That’s dangerous work, and also leads to quite a bit of energy use and environmental pollution.
Now the industry has a knitting machine from Stoll that does all this automatically, and in a scrapless way as well. Who knew? Knitted distressed “denim!”
Acting Associate Dean Sass Brown welcomed three dozen industry members to the second annual Sustainability and Textiles Summer Institute June 8. The four-day program introduces designers and others from around the world to practical ways of minimizing the industry’s carbon footprint.
The Institute began with Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levis Strauss & Co. Dillinger emphasized the adoption of a broad view of sustainability over a “single component” strategy.
“Most solutions in sustainability,” said Dillinger, seek to fix the weakest single component. “But it’s a lot of different components that create an impact.”
He took on critics of water-intensive cotton. “Let’s get rid of cotton. Yes! However, think about the global economies of the top 10 producing cotton countries,” warned Dillinger. Many are poor countries “for which cotton is a linchpin of their economies. If we wean ourselves suddenly of cotton because of the tremendous impact on resources, we would throw them into chaos.”
But that doesn’t mean an important environmental change isn’t forthcoming. “There will come a time when the value of an acre-yield for domestic [food] consumption will be worth more [than] that same acre will yield cotton…We must be prepared around the re-deployment of resources.”
Hence we can all make a living. “There’s a thinking that doing the right thing and doing the profitable thing is incongruous,” said Dillinger.
He suggested that designers need to bring back some cache to long-term attachment to clothing. “An important feature of sustainability strategy is how can you craft clothing that achieves emotional durability …rather than be a candy wrapper in six months,” said Dillinger. “Make it pretty and mitigate the impact on where your kids are going to live.”
The Graphic Design Junior Show in May–referred to as “the student production”–inventively showcased work that ranged from conceptual, to what might be found in a retail environment. Two sections of graphic design juniors worked together to create an exhibit flow that kept viewers in motion–moving from hands-on displays, to interactive media to posters and book covers.
“It was a joyous way for the students to share their educational process with the FIT community,” said Communication Design Prof. Elvin Kince, the show’s advisor.
The flow didn’t just simulate a gallery-feel, but kept viewers engaged and occupied.
“I thought it was fantastic,” said Communication Design Prof. Donna David. “What struck me most was how they displayed the work. They considered context, like books on bookshelves. They used tabletops and innovative displays. All that is important because design work can’t sit in a vacuum.”
Some works hung from frames of plastic tubing. “The work seemed to float within it,” said Prof. David.
Among the provocative works on display:
Daniel Lisowski’s poster set for an “autonomous school,” one that is self-governing, he explained. “It’s a shared and fairer education, in parallel–not doing things normally. It’s mostly from a European mentality of what graphic design is.” Lisowski says the impetuous for his work comes from “being very ambivalent about American graphic design education.”
A concern that Do Kyun Kim (above) addressed is the connection of the New York Public Library to its public. “There’s not a strong connection between the NYPL and Manhattan itself. Manhattan is composed of all straight and vertical lines, which creates a rectangular shape. So I developed a system by getting rid of all diagonals.”
“The graphics in the junior show have a level of diversity that’s very impressive,” says packaging design student Sasha Baw Dusky who came to view the show.
The displays “encompass a full spectrum of educational experiences such as site design and planning, group dynamics, teamwork, goal setting, individual review and presentation, time management and financial planning,” said Prof. Kince.
Sarsha Brown (above) explained the inspiration for her posters. “The project called for us to pick a symposium and design a set of three posters to advertise it. The posters had to work together and separately. I chose the Domestic Human Sex Trafficking Symposium to be held at the YWCA. My inspiration came from the TV show ‘Once Upon a Time’ that manipulates fairy tales into over lapping storylines.
“I used Peter Pan, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Pinocchio,” said Brown. “Originally, these stories were depressing until Disney fantasized them. I stuck with the grim connotations and combined them with the Disney appearances that everyone knows. I used this familiarity to build readability, to draw people in.”
“Sarsha’s concept was to get people to think about the fear that the original stories stimulated and to have a conversation about what fear is,” said Kince. “She used some familiar fairy tale figures to attract viewers and then used the shadows and body parts extending from outside the frame to suggest danger from the unknown and unseen.”
Prof. David lauded the students’ ability to think of the work in relation to the viewer. They elevated their work, she said, by how it was displayed. “It took things to another level.”
Eduardo Mendez described his work as a response to “how a minor change in global temperature can cause major disasters.”
Prof. Kince praised Eduardo’s “natural instincts of the Old Masters in graphic design and typography. His sense of abstraction is like that of an old soul, almost as if he’s obsessed.”
Michelle Walliser explored bulimia prevention. Her poster includes the dictionary pronunciation of bulimia. “It’s typography-based because English is not my first language. I thought it was interesting how different the pronunciation is written from the actually word. It makes you think. It draws viewers closer.”
Prof. Kince said the exhibit benefited by a change of focus. “The exhibit is no longer dependent on faculty critiques as a measure of success. This makes the process more dependent upon student involvement and student energy.”
When it comes to having your accomplishments acknowledged, being a college junior can be like that of a middle child. “The seniors have a graduating show. The associate degree students have a show. What the juniors need is feedback,” says Photography Prof. Curtis Willocks. “They had this intense year. They learned a lot, applied a lot. They just need feedback from the outside world on what they’re producing.”
Each of Willocks’ Projects in Advanced Style and Media students “produced” a book or magazine based on a 15-week personal project, work from a large-scale Coney Island photo shoot, and much more.
“My experience with the industry critique was amazing,” says Alejandra Lopez, who has a strong focus on fashion. “It was a great opportunity for us students. I got so much feedback on my work from industry professionals, which will definitely help me improve my work,” she said.
“I met inspiring people who shared new insights with me. It was very beneficial,” said Alex Golshani, whose work details daily occurrences of New York City life. “I made a contact with someone interested in my work whom I’ll be meeting with again this summer,” he said.
“I was very impressed with the students’ ability to describe their work and photography goals,” says Jennifer Permutter, Creative Consultant for Agency Access who came to critique. “There are so many ways to be involved in the photographic community upon graduation and all of the students had a good handle on that.”
Perlmutter said she was especially taken by portfolios that reflected strong vision, such as Irene Espinosa’s lifestyle-portrait and Trupal Pandya‘s documentary-portrait portfolios.
“I believe that to make it in this industry you need a strong vision that represents the work you want to create, not what others want you to create,” she says.
The Advaced Styling and Media class, for which Willocks developed the syllabus, focuses strongly on networking with industry and within the School itself. For one project, students created portfolios that were distributed to Fashion, Accessories and Packaging Design students. Those students in turn chose photographers who were right for photographing their own creative work.
Then there was the fashion photo shoot that started at 7 am in the dead of winter. And then the Coney Island extravaganza. “We had a stylist, six dancers and models. Profoto brought location lights, Phaseone brought high-end, medium format cameras,” says Willocks who still seems in awe of the enormity of it. (Watch for an upcoming post with video about this event.)
“Their work as a whole displayed a wide range of styles and skill levels,” said Steven Hellerstein, another of the critics. “There was an abundance of individuality. The work was very representative of each student’s vision and how they see the world. I got the feeling that the students are very ‘in the moment’ and figuring out how the skills that they are learning will benefit them longer term,” he said.
“I got tips and advice about how the industry works,” says Lopez. “I talked to amazing, interesting people willing to answer any question I had. They gave me advice on moving forward with my work once I graduate. I increased my knowledge of how the industry works and whom to approach in different situations.”
Says Perlmutter, “I look forward to seeing how these students progress including those who are still fine-tuning their artistic vision. It is clear Curtis has given these students direction and they are eager to take it and run with it.”
Definition of SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence: “A system-level honor conferred to acknowledge and provide system-wide recognition for consistently superior professional achievement and to encourage the ongoing pursuit of excellence.”
Definition of 2015 SUNY Chancellor Award Winner for Excellence in Classified Service at Fashion Institute of Technology:
At the FIT staff luncheon on April 29, College President Joyce Brown introduced Ms. Levy-Birnbaum as the recipient of the 2015 SUNY Chancellor Award for Classified Service. An alumna of FIT, Ms. Levy-Birnbaum serves as assistant to the dean of the School of Art and Design. She has worked at the college since 1982.
In her introduction, President Brown spoke of Ms. Levy-Birnbaum’s extensive knowledge of the college, its history, management, policies, budget, procedures and of each of the 17 School of Art and Design programs. “And that’s the short list!” she said.
Ms. Levy Birnbaum was recognized for the exemplary service she provides to the dean, associate dean, department chairs, faculty and students. Her habit of never saying “no,” has led to her wearing a second hat as School event coordinator. She is “the point-person who, with always a smile on her face, assures that all the loose ends are neatly tied up,” said Dr. Brown.
Art and Design department chairs piled on much exuberant praise:
“We chairs are responsible for our own ‘corners of the world’ at FIT,” said Suzanne Anoushian, Chair of Communication Design. “Darlene is aware of all of them. And what she does for me she does for every other chair of the School. She knows all our stories, all our department nuances and budget idiosyncrasies…Darlene keeps track of everything!”
“Darlene is a rare employee who goes beyond what people ask for and pro-actively assess the needs and issues of the departments,” said Craig Berger, Chair of Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design.
The celebration coincided with the college’s 70th birthday, which meant plenty of cake and a lot to reflect on.
“I must attribute, to a very great extent, my success and the success of our department to the time spent under Darlene’s tutelage,” said former Chair of Jewelry Design Michael Coan.
Said the President “She performs all of her tasks not only efficiently, but graciously, making everyone, from student, to faculty to visiting VIP, feel well-served and welcome,” said Dr. Brown.
And don’t we know it!
“Darlene makes everything look so easy and effortless,” said Dean Joanne Arbuckle. “I am well aware that it is all part of the ‘magic” Darlene performs each day!”
This year’s Fine Arts thesis exhibit, “Not Gonna Hold Your Hand,” includes the work of the 17 BFA graduating seniors. The “defiant and exultant” title, says Prof. Joel Werring, was chosen by the students. It suggests “This is my life. I’m ready, and I’m going to shape it.”
This backstage look shows the contemplative and often very physical involvement of students with their work in the days prior to the exhibit.
“Over the past two years students have explored their ideas, content, and imagery through experimentation and a range of approaches and methods,”says Werring who serves as Assistant Fine Arts Chair.
Some finishing touches required a long reach. Gravity-defying Fine Arts senior AJ Springer, in action below.
The student work captures “visceral and personal experiences with place, home, identity, ethnicity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality,” says Werring.
Werring worked with senior thesis students in painting. “The show both toys with and requires the active participation of its audience. “The theme speaks to the difficulty of attaining consonance between an artist’s intent and the viewer’s understanding of the work.
“It dares the viewers to cultivate their own understanding of each piece without being told its meaning by the artist. Similarly, it is an intimation to the artists themselves that the world will be expecting the same rigor and presence of each of them once they step out.”
“While preparing for this exhibition in the midst of multiple social and cultural influences and in close proximity to Chelsea’s art galleries, students developed a greater awareness of the challenges and opportunities ahead,” says Werring.
The students are poised to contribute to the world “as creators, divergent thinkers, and problem solvers,” says Werring.
The Fine Arts department’s senior exhibit, “Not Gonna Hold Your Hand,” is part of the 2015 Art and Design Graduating Student Exhibit being held from May 6 – 21, 2015. Viewing in is located in the John E. Reeves Great Hall, is from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm.
Print is not dead, and a redesign by Fine Arts students and featured artist Samuel Levi Jones at The Studio Museum in Harlem on March 29 will help keep it alive. The Fine Arts department’s Urban Studio club members assisted Jones in a “Studio Squared” workshop devoted to paper, pulping and bookbinding. The artist’s work, currently on display, is known for its “deconstruction and manipulating” of texts in order to explore “systems of knowledge and power.” There was plenty of artistic knowledge on hand for the workshop, which attracted 48 participants.
Printmaking technician, Slavko Djuric and Fine Arts Urban Studio club president and printmaker, AJ Springer, along with Fine Arts alums Danielle Yalon and Cassandra Holden, demonstrated various book binding techniques at stations set up for participants.
“One was a paper pulping section where you could blend down sheets of paper and set it to make your own piece,” says Springer. “Another was a sewing station, to stitch creations back together after disassembling them. The third was for bookbinding, where I and others helped to create new pieces. ”
It was a “learning and sharing of skills and personalized techniques,” said Nico Wheadon, public programs manager at the museum. “FIT students were crucial in delivering a holistic understanding of the many approaches to reconstructing the paper source materials that Mr. Jones guided us in deconstructing.”
Other Urban Studio members participated: Stephanie Castillo, Amanda Ioco, Wilfred Laureta, Alexus Parker, Samantha Treco, Lobsang Tsewang Eddy Valerio and Dina Volpe.
“Sam’s (Levi Jones) work focuses on unbinding preexisting, mainly law books, and deconstructing them,” says AJ Springer. “He uses the covers and papers inside to collage with. He explained that his work is meant to challenge the structure of authority, language, and social connotations. By deconstructing these elements, he finds ways to compose them back together. ”
Participants were asked to bring paper materials that had a personal significance and to “examine their attachments” to them. One participant brought in wedding invitations from his first marriage, “said Wheadon. His interest was to “erase their iconic signifiers and repurpose this personal record into an altogether new narrative.”
This was the first Studio Squared workshop in which the exhibiting artist led the workshop. Techniques that were explored included Japanese stab binding, sewn bindings, and various types of both hard and soft cover techniques.
“Assisting Sam and helping people make things that were completely foreign to their art process was very inspiring for my own work as well!” said Springer, who is currently preparing for her senior thesis.
Striking colors and innovative fabric designs, all addictive to the eye, filled the room. The students’ excitement was palpable as well. At yesterday’s announcement of the winners of the Kornit Design Challenge, Textile/Surface Design seniors shared their perceptions and spoke of the virtues of digital textile printing.
The Kornit prints out a digital image directly on almost any surface, in one step. It uses biodegradable, sustainable pigment inks and can handle small batches of fabric economically. Thus it saves time and the earth’s resources.
“It was our first time doing an engineered digital print, so it was interesting fitting our ideas into the silhouette of a garment,” said senior Elena Kanagy-Loux. “It’s an exciting day. We all put a lot of work into this.”
The awards and luncheon offered students the opportunity to hear Kornit officials. But giving students the opportunity to indulge in the technology was one of Kornit’s main goals. The company provided each of the 28 students in the competition with up to 10 yards of printed fabric in multiple designs.
“Usually for textile design it’s something you paint, but for this I folded paper since I had the opportunity to digitally print,” says Victoria Ida. “This way I could achieve a lot of dimension within the design.”
“The smoky effect in my design comes from a picture taken of polluted air over China,” says Stacey Lebron. “A friend sent it and I said ‘great it goes with the theme of my project’–that is, how air pollution is affecting plant life.”
“Digital printing on fabric is often a duller washed out color” says Emily Arlington. “The great thing about Kornit and their printing and technology, is it can yield a broader color gamut. That’s not really accessible with other printers, yet it’s sustainable. It’s hard to find the pairing of the two. That’s what made it exciting. It came out so beautiful. I loved being part of it.”
Students from two sections of Advanced CAD with Photoshop classes participated in the contest. One section was taught by Prof. Ellen Oster, the other by Prof. Kenneth Krug. “Prof. Krog knows all the tricks and short cuts,” said Lebron. “He is really amazing at all digital design and Photoshop,” said Ida.
Photoshop has almost boundless ways to create new patterns. It also connects easily to the Kornit commercial fabric printer.
Prof. Krug has long known the importance of adapting to new technology. “Very early on a client told me ‘If you don’t use technology we can’t use you anymore. I got an expensive computer and worked on it and hated it for two days. After the urging from a friend he gave it another try. “I figured out Photoshop was just another way to draw.” By 3 am he fell asleep with a mouse in his hand. “I realized I was addicted.”
“The student work is amazing” said Dean Joanne Arbuckle of the School of Art and Design. “The college is committed to sustainability. It is part of our Strategic Plan. This project is a wonderful example of engaging with industry in that effort to produce world-class designs in a world-sustaining way.”
And the winners are: Hyuna Kim, Konchok Bercholz and Elena Kanagy-Loux.
Prof. Oster, who initiated the collaboration with Kornit, noted that the display “of phenomenal textile designs showed the culmination of the students’ four years of study,” and that the competition “exposed them to some difficult realities about our planet. As part of the project they needed to research and develop a theme based on sustainability, and in that, I think many eyes were opened, not only to the negative effects of global warming and its human causes, but on ways technological advances can help.”
OneClique founders Sandy Saccullo and Stefani Tsakos encourage women and girls to walk tall, whether under peer pressure or throughout the day when re-fashioning oneself from formal wear to casual wear is an imperative.
The two hosted a screening of “Finding Kind” yesterday at the Faces & Places in Fashion lecture series taught by Prof. Joshua Williams. The film explores the often devastating consequences of girl-on-girl bullying. Saccullo and Tsakos are sponsoring 10 screenings of the film across the country. The two stayed to discuss their online shoe “separates,” engineered with interchangable heels and uppers.
“I think they’re offering customization and versatility that intrigues consumers,” says Accessories Design Chair Sarah Mullins. “The consumer gets to feel like a shoe designer by interchanging OneClique uppers and heels. Hopefully it inspires future shoe designers to study Accessories Design at FIT!”
The Faces & Places lecture series is a weekly forum that features prominent fashion professionals, including executives, designers and marketers. It is held in the Katie Murphy Amphitheater (D Building, Corner of 27th Street and 7th Avenue), the series is also open to the public, Mondays, 4pm-5pm.