'Ultra Reflection' student fashion show takes sustainability to the stage

Contact: Chris Hybels and Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Green is the new black. Student fashion designers at Western Michigan University took sustainability to the stage during their annual spring fashion show. The Merchandising Opportunities & Design Association (MODA) registered student organization challenged designers to reflect on the environmental impact of their fashion lines with its show, "Ultra Reflection," held before a sold-out crowd at the Kalamazoo Expo Center on Friday, April 7.

"This event is an opportunity to bring together designers, students, and the community to reflect on the impact of the fashion industry on the planet and inspire action towards a sustainable future,” says Erin Boismier, a fashion merchandising and design student and MODA president.

Designers and stylists were given the objective to focus on sustainability within their lines. This included upcycling garments and using recycled clothing that would have otherwise been headed to the landfills.  

According to the Council for Textile Recycling, a nonprofit organization committed to creating awareness of textile waste, the average US citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textile annually. And the American Textile Recycling Service estimated the recycling rate for clothing and footwear in the US was only 13% as of 2018.  

"We wanted designers to stay away from focusing on fast-fashion places or brand new for their line and use things from their closet, go to second-hand stores or design it yourself.” adds fashion merchandising student Madeline Fritz, MODA’s head of marketing and public relations and winner of the Best Styled Line Award.

Grace Stibich, a MODA member and product design student, drew inspiration for her line from vintage materials.

"I thrifted a whole bunch of jean material, which is a durable fabric and can last a long time. And I was also gifted a whole bunch of patchwork squares from my grandma," says Stibich, who incorporated quilting into six garments she crafted for models to wear as well as an outfit for herself. "I think sustainability is incredibly important because of how much waste the fashion industry creates with fast fashion. Online shopping creates so many markets that are so easy for people to purchase that they don't think about what impact it has on the world."

Julia LeKander, a fashion design student, also chose a vintage feel for her line—which won the Best Construction Award—harkening back to the "flower power" era of the 1960s and '70s. For one look, she created a zero-waste wrap skirt inspired by the sustainable design that won her a trip from Western to New York Fashion Week in February.

"This is my third MODA fashion show, and I think I've grown as a designer every year," LeKander says. She's also watched the organization grow over her time at Western, focusing not only on the fun side of fashion and creating but also on making an impact in the community. This year, a portion of proceeds from the show will go to the YWCA in Kalamazoo and Earthjustice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to litigating environmental issues.

"The way that MODA uses its spotlight to showcase not just the designers but issues that are important to them is really great to see," adds LeKander

Social work student and winner of the Best Creative Repurposing Award Juan-Luis Gutierrez tried to reflect the impact of fast fashion and industrialization in his designs by incorporating natural tones.

"Fast fashion brands have been going bigger and more global," says Gutierrez. "For me personally, I try to stay away from those brands as much as I can because, yes they might be good pieces but they’re not good quality. They’re not lasting as long and that’s the big main issue."

MODA also practiced sustainability when building and organizing the production. According to Fritz, roughly 70% to 80% of the furniture and props used were sourced second-hand or repurposed from previous shows. And the show collaborated with local zero waste store, Bee Joyful, to provide gifts for VIP guests of the event.

"The purpose of this show was to educate people within MODA and the community itself to continue living a more sustainable life," Fritz said. "So hopefully that message will stay with them for years to come."

The show also gives the campus and community a chance to get a glimpse of the talent in Western's fashion merchandising and design program, which recently became one of just six programs in the nation to be accredited by the Textile and Apparel Programs Accreditation Commission.

"The community is so supportive and faculty are so supportive, and watching our members smile and be happy and know that their hard work paid off is, to me, the best thing about the whole show," Boismier says. "It's just so rewarding knowing that we can give students an opportunity to develop professionally and make those networking opportunities and connections."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.