Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sustainable Fashion Design Exhibit at the Goldstein Museum of Design

Redefining Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability

January 19 – May 26, 2013

Goldstein Museum of Design

admission is free

The principle of sustainability describes not using up more resources than can be replaced from generation to generation. Sustainability is not usually associated with the fashion industry. The concept of fashion – as opposed to clothing – is about novelty and change. When we pursue fashion, we seek new clothes because we want a new look, an innovative change in design. That means we may discard garments that are still perfectly wearable from a use standpoint.

This raises the important question of whether one can make clothing choices that are both fashionable and sustainable, or are the two ideas inherently antithetical?

New fashion designers are taking on this issue. They have come of age during an era when “green” consumer choices have become more prevalent, and recycling (rather than trashing) has become a habit. This has led to thinking about how creating new looks can take less toll on the environment.

The new exhibit, “Redefining Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability” at the Goldstein Museum of Design is a fascinating exhibit for those who are interested in exploring the possibilities for sustainable clothing design.

Curators Marilyn DeLong, Barbara Heinemann and Kathryn Reiley have categorized the exhibition entries according to five sustainable design criteria:

Alternative Construction & Techniques

Emotional Connections

Repurposed Materials


Valuing Resources

The exhibit features many fun garments that are made from repurposed materials. Most eye-catching is the colorful dress made out of repurposed soda can pop-tabs. If you don’t fancy wearing aluminum, there are dresses and jackets made from discarded linens and clothes that were once donated to Goodwill – if you have sewing skills, it might spark the imagination.

I found the clothing made from using alternative construction techniques intriguing. Before visiting Redefining Redesigning Fashion, I had never really thought about how much fabric goes to waste simply by being cast off the cutting table because bolts of fabric are rectangular, while bodies (and therefore patterns) are curved. One of my favorite items on display (you can see it in this photo) is a gray “tent” dress designed to minimize the amount of fabric that is cut away from the pattern and discarded.

The inclusion of the category “Emotional Connections” is often overlooked in sustainable design but it is very important. With Emotional Connections as a criteria of sustainable design, we are asked to think more consciously about our emotional attachments to our clothes. Whenever I visit a vintage shop, I’m aware that someone held on to their dresses, sweaters and suit jackets and perhaps lovingly cared for them even when they were no longer in style or they no longer fit. It’s that emotional connection that often leads us to preserve our clothes, keeping them safely packed away for years, rather than donating or discarding them, where they may make their way more easily to a landfill.

The exhibit also implicitly begs the question of whether the fashion industry can be sustainable. Everything on display is hand-sewn and unique – only 1-2 items could possibly lend themselves to mass production. Thus like the slow food and localvore movements, sustainable fashion may be a practice that asks us to think globally and act locally with our purchase power.

If you live in the Twin Cities and have an interest in ethical fashion, I highly recommend visiting the Goldstein (rhymes with “design”), which has free admission to its gallery where this exhibition is showing. There will also be a free lecture by Sandra Black, an expert on sustainable fashion from London on Thursday, February 21st at 33 McNeal Hall on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.

– Nancy L. Fischer



Filed under Ethical Fashion, Sewing