Sustainable Chic: College Designers and Scientists Fashion a Second Life for Textile Waste

By Boscia, Ted | Human Ecology, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Sustainable Chic: College Designers and Scientists Fashion a Second Life for Textile Waste


Boscia, Ted, Human Ecology


Human Ecology fiber scientists and fashion designers, along with a Canadian apparel company, are refashioning old clothes found in Haitian secondhand markets into hip new threads.

Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, three professors and four students are helping Toronto-based LB Designs improve its methods to dismantle discarded clothing and use the components to create pants, shirts, jackets, and professional wear for young men and women. Known as fashion upcycling, their process diverts clothes from landfills and provides humane, fair-wage jobs to Haitian tailors. The Cornell-LB Designs team is collaborating on mass production standards for upcycling secondhand clothes, including new ways to reuse leftover scraps and threads.

"There's a growing demand, especially from young people, for clothing that is produced ethically and sustainably," said team leader Tasha Lewis, Ph.D. '09, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design. "This partnership gives our faculty and students an opportunity to apply their knowledge and creativity directly to a sustainability challenge."

In 2012, the United States generated more than 14 million tons of textile waste, with 16 percent of it recycled, according to the EPA. Upcycling allows these old clothes to have a second life, rather than amassing in secondhand markets in developing countries or going into landfills, said Lewis, who studies fashion's global supply chain.

In the past year, students, guided by Lewis and FSAD assistant professor Huiju Park, have used body scanning equipment and computer-aided design tools to create digital patterns, allowing LB Designs to preview the fit of garments, create standard sizes, and avoid fabric waste from samplemaking. From there, the project team created two prototype blazers and skirts, which Haitian tailors are fabricating for sale to the public. "It's a great accomplishment for students to have helped create clothing that is part of a product line," said Lewis.

To move closer to zero waste, FSAD professor Anil Netravali and students are exploring how to reuse clothing scraps. …

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