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Unconventional Materials

Photographed by Quinn McCaffrey of Brady Pitcher and Emma Adelman
Styled by Jack Turpen

By Jack Turpen and Sophie Dehn

For those of you familiar with Project Runway, the phrase "unconventional challenge" won't surprise you. Even though the designers must abuse the materials (and occasionally the models wearing them) to achieve their goals, these challenges aim to use unusual materials to produce garments that won't look tortured. This taught viewers and designers that you don’t necessarily need to purchase fabric or materials at a traditional store in order to create something one of a kind. The unconventional challenge is sustainable for our environment and pushes you as a designer. Why not use some of the materials from the bottom of your closet instead of going to the store to buy extra fabric you are just going to waste anyway? While I do agree with the idea behind the challenge, the show also captures seasons where the unconventional challenge requires you to purchase different materials from a store. While this can push your design abilities, it can also be very expensive, and probably just as environmentally unfriendly as purchasing fabric. That said, opting out by using materials you already own can be a great way to recycle and save money.

For those of you that struggle with repurposing clothes and creating something entirely new from a pre-curated garment, this could also be great practice for you. This is not to say you need to start on any big projects, starting small by hand sewing stuffed animals onto shorts or sewing ties on the hem of a skirt can make for great mini projects to increase beginner skills. Practicing designing with unconventional materials, even though you may have conventional ones, will feel technically easier but may challenge you creatively. Recently, we have noticed a rise in unconventional materials spreading throughout the industry, with designers creating stunning and wearable works of art. Zippers, DVDs, safety pins, and other non-conventional materials can all be managed to be applied to a garment. Although, this trend is not new, as we see designers like Junya Wantanabe as early as 2005, who incorporated zippers in unconventional ways throughout his collection.

Though it may not be a designer's first choice, utilizing unconventional materials has proven to be a great way to stay green. Not only is it more cost-effective, but it also avoids our tendency to overproduce. By utilizing things you already own or using secondhand items, designers can create silhouettes that have yet to be seen. In our very own “unconventional challenge”, we attached ties to the bottom of a denim skirt, transforming the entire garment. The skirt was made using long ties, printed scarves and bow ties atop a cut denim skirt. The pants were made using old denim shorts and old stuffed animals. Both tops were made using old garments; the t-shirt using two old graphic Ts and a strip of lace from a silk skirt. The button up using two old button ups sewn up the back and buttoned together.

Anyone can be a designer; skill level does not exclude someone from the world of fashion. So, this idea that one may be restricted by their lack of experience is crazy. It is all about finding shortcuts that can work with your level of experience. Utilizing unconventional materials and old garments is the perfect starter kit for anyone who hopes to be a designer. It is all about experimentation and a lack of fear. When you can get your hands on a pile of old items, your creativity will finish the sentence. With that said, we encourage you to try new things. Gather your unused belongings and start creating! It is so much easier than one would think.

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