Reconstructing the Next Generation of Fashion Designers

By Lanni Lantto, Originally posted on Eco Fashion World


If you offered me a front row ticket to the hottest big name designer showcase at the hottest big city fashion week, I wouldn’t be interested.  Put me in front of some up-and-coming designers showcasing how they creatively reworked old garments into new and exciting lines, well I would pay you for that ticket.  I’m not intrigued by a blank slate, I want to see how the skills of a clothing artist can be demonstrated by how well they can rethink existing fabrics. To me, that is exciting.

At the latest Green Festival Chicago, a group of Columbia College students teamed up with clothing thrift store giant Savers to put on the Saver’s Fashion Show.  The event was headlined by Project Runway designer & Columbia College alumni, Alexander Knox, who turned two old sweaters into a gorgeous jumper (shown in image below).

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Sustainable Fashion Designer & London Design School Professor, Jeff Garner, and his model

Students were able to get all of their materials from any of the 9 Chicago Saver’s locations.  Jaime Dinino, a Saver’s representative, said that the show was a perfect fit for the goals of their store, “We live in a society where we just throw away things – trends come and go– [at Savers] you can take all these fabrics that already exist and repurpose them.  You can find vintage pieces that were often made here in the United States so you are also keeping it in the country.  Hopefully this show does inspire more students to use grandma’s ugly old sweater and make it something beautiful”.

This was the first time many of the students ever worked with second hand materials and found it to be a valuable experience.

Anna Ramiarz, a Senior fashion design major said the experience has inspired her future looks, “This was my first time deconstructing and reconstructing for a fashion show. It was refreshing not having to start with a complete blank slate, to make whatever it was already into something new and revamped.  As a designer I would do this again, I would go to Savers for vintage fabrics to use in my designs from this experience.” Goli Parvinian, also a Senior, agreed that thrifing for her materials brought added value to her pieces, “[Thrifting is] a really great resource especially for ethnic-inspired looks, which I had in the show. It gives you a cool new perspective, especially fabrics you don’t see as much any more in the [fabric] stores.” Jax Sirotiak said that price point and old-time tailoring were a factor in her choices,” I think when you design you have to keep in mind all the prices of the fabrics, but you can totally get better and affordable fabrics from a second hand store. I saw the construction [of these garments] and became further inspired by the tailoring techniques.”

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Upcycled design by Columbia College students

When so many students find value in learning how to deconstruct and then reconstruct garments, the question worth asking is: Why aren’t we teaching this more regularly in fashion design curriculums?  Beth Shorrock is the Assistant Professor in Fashion Studies at Columbia College who oversaw the students’ work for the show, “There’s so much second hand fabric out there already, why do we need to keep creating more? [Redesigning] teaches the students to be really creative.  They must deal with seams, zippers and buttons, and the fabric itself.  There are a handful of designers that have dedicated their design practice to doing this but not enough.  It would be great if we had this as a class or even a 1-credit workshop. I do hope to see that more in the near future.”

By now, most of us are aware of the over-abundance of clothing and materials produced every year by the fast fashion machine.  Being able to produce designers who are able to understand and work with second hand materials seems essential… and potentially very profitable in a future of limited raw resources.

Sustainable Fashion Designer & London Design School Professor, Jeff Garner added that along with redesign, up-and-coming designers should be looking at their choices of fabrics.  “It’s important to deal with the materials we have already created but a lot of those clothes were made with synthetic materials like polyester which can be harmful to our health (bio-accumulation).”  Mr. Garner suggested that a smart choice of fabric to work with (perhaps if one wanted to mix old with new) would be hemp + eco-dyes.  “It can be done differently, we just have to look for the solutions.”


Lanni Lantto is taking upcycling mainstream. Deemed a “Curator of the Upcycle Fashion Movement”, she’s spent the last 6 years promoting upcycled fashion design in the United States. Lanni creates “clothing that tells a story” in order to inspire a society to rethink their choices as consumers and influence the fashion industry to reduce their waste stream. She is Co-Creator of Michigan’s 1st ever (RE)design Fashion & Art Show, which highlights the innovative artistry of recycling artists & has shown in numerous eco-fashion shows in the US and internationally. Along with being a designer, she teaches Wardrobe REdesign Workshops & gives Eco-Closet Make-Overs. Through her Los Angeles-based label, (RE), Lanni’s mission is to bring the concept of creative reuse into the media spotlight. You can find out more about Lanni Lantto viawww.lannilantto.com

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