Exploring the Future of Sustainable Fashion

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Exploring the Future of Sustainable Fashion

Victoria Atkinson


Today’s fashion industry is not sustainable. It uses large amounts of resources on products that are replaced after a very short time. We plan to address this issue by designing dresses that use non-traditional materials and styles and promote recycling and reuse. One dress will be made of plastic, another will change color in different lighting, and the third will be two dresses in one. We will base our designs off of dresses from popular culture to create interest about what we are doing. Unlike many previous attempts at making sustainable clothing, these dresses will be wearable and practical for everyday use. We will also publish patterns of our designs so that people can easily access and use them. This project is aimed at consumers in America who are interested in fashion and seeks to educate them about the dangers of the current consumer culture associated with the fashion industry and how alternative dresses can help to change this.


Have you ever wanted a dress, but it was too expensive to buy and you don’t have the skills to make it? In our project we are trying to make it so creating dresses is much more affordable and easier than it currently is. Our goal is to make patterns for three categories of dresses. One, a stylish dress made out of plastic. Two, you no longer need to be in a stage production to have a transformation dress, similar to the concept of Cinderella’s dress in the musical. Third, a dress that looks different in sunlight, artificial lighting, and the dark so no one needs worry about those pesky ideas that you can only be pictured in a dress once. Our society is very consumer driven so it is about having lots of goods, and creating lots of waste. With our project we are trying to reduce the waste in subtle (the two in one dresses) and unsubtle (the plastic dress). The motives for this project were to educate people by creating patterns, but also to create interesting, different, dresses that people would be interested in creating and wearing.


All of our designs deal with waste management and affordability. Currently our capitalist society forces many people to buy clothing and wear it once, for fear of tarnishing their image if pictured in it again. This causes problems for individuals who cannot buy lots of good looking clothing due to expenses. Our goal is to create designs and patterns that allow people to reduce their waste production while wearing practical and stylish clothing. Many times clothing created for the sake of sustainability is ugly or made solely for the sake of a runway. The dress made out of plastic shows that one can reuse plastic, while not advertising it used to be a cheap plastic bag to the world. Additionally, increasing access to certain types of dresses is also our goal as transformation and color changing clothing does currently exist, but it typically is only for stage productions or for people who have more money to pay for the extra expenses of colored clothing. Two in one dresses are used to cut the time of quick changes and can be done on stage or in the wings. Color changing designs currently feature only a photochromic design or a glow in the dark one, even though they are both activated by exposure to UV light. The idea to create patterns is due to the fact that patterns allow people to learn how to create clothing on their own. Currently there are patterns for many designs however patterns run around the same prices as going to a store and buying a mass produced piece of clothing, let alone factoring the material cost. Lastly, we had the idea to make a child sized dress because creating child pieces show that clothing can be made affordably, sustainably, as well as stylish.


Sustainability has become a growing concern of many companies as we move into an age of pollution and learning about our effects on the environment. “Trashion” is a combination of the words “trash” and “fashion” which normally were art pieces of clothing constructed solely out of reused or repurposed items since the 1980’s (HauteTrash). There are many fashion shows in the past which have focused on trash as material, however like most fashion show products they are really meant as art pieces rather than practical clothing for the everyday consumer. Today many companies are trying to do their part in decreasing the plastic waste fed to the environment, like Adidas’s recycled plastic shoes (Mills).

Two in one transformation dresses have a short history as well. Many theater productions have transformation dresses due to the quick changes many actors need to undertake during a scene. The most famous stage transformation dress is Cinderella’s dress in Roger and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella. A leader in this field within the fashion world is Hussein Chalayan who creates many transformation dresses which with one tug transform on the runway (Balbo). Chalayan is also well known for various other transformation dresses like his robotic dresses from 2007 (Sehee Wu et al.). The inspiration I drew from was Nephi Garcia, the “Designer Daddy,” who created a Belle plain/ ball gown dress for his daughter and Carolina Huamani’s BB-8/ R2-D2 dress for the opening of The Force Awakens. These dresses are still not made by people not in the field of fashion (Garcia is a designer and Huamani is a cosplayer) however they both created these designs for enjoyment rather than for money. This shows how people have a passion for this field, but I hope our project allows more for people who are not designers or cosplayers to also create beautiful designs. The designs we decided to pull together for the two in one dress was Anita’s dress during “America” from West Side Story and Tiana’s ball gown from Princess and the Frog. These dresses are not casual dresses in any sense however they are two very different dresses which show if these dresses can be put into one design then casual dresses definitely can.

The design of the photochromic/ glow in the dark dress took a lot of research just looking into whether it is chemically possible. Glow in the dark has a long history of mishaps such as radium poisoning through radioluminescene, however the history I was interested in was fabric paint history. Glow in the dark paint is done through phosphorescent paint as it is made with phosphors like Zinc Sulfide in a suspension. The phosphors absorb ultra-violet (UV) light waves and become “charged” which then emit visible light seen in the dark. This is different from photochromic pigments which have a conformational change one they are exposed to UV light which allows us to see the color. Companies like Del Sol have made lots of money as there are only a few companies in the sun color changing business. Designer Rainbow Winters was the inspiration because she has many designs that deal with adding technology to fashion. She has many designs which are not feasibly possible like her dresses which change color when exposed to water because those pigments are not for retail sale.


For this project, we will design alternative dress patterns that will improve people’s lives and help the environment. By doing this, we will be taking fashion design, something very present in people’s everyday lives, and make it new by using non-traditional techniques to increase its sustainability, affordability, and accessibility. By using plastic and other recycled materials that are inexpensive and common, our dress will reduce plastic waste through reuse and can affordably be made by hand. Making two dresses in one and a dress that changes appearance in different lighting will combat the current consumer culture that dictates that a dress only be worn a few times before being replaced. Finally, basing these designs off famous dresses from popular culture will draw people’s attention to our patterns and encourage them to learn more about non-traditional techniques and to experiment with our patterns for themselves. Additionally, by combining the design of the dress patterns, the creativity of the materials, and the culture that is inspiring the designs, we will encompass the main ideas of DCC that we have studied throughout the program.

Fashion designers have used these techniques in the past to create sustainable clothes. Designers have experimented with plastic materials, convertible dresses, and using photochromic pigments. Many of these experiments have been purely art or to prove that the concept is possible. Our project will be using these techniques to design dresses that are wearable and practical for everyday life. Many other attempts to integrate plastic into clothing have used synthetic fabrics made from plastic, whereas we will use plain plastic that is more accessible and affordable. Finally, our project, unlike other similar projects, will create and publish dress patterns so that many people can learn about these techniques, recreate our designs, and integrate this sustainable fashion into their lives.


I know how to hand sew as well as work a sewing machine which is very important in a project where sewing the final product is most of the project. Additionally, I have drafted patterns before so hopefully the pattern creating will not be too hard. Also I have designed dresses before so I can do that as well. I will have to learn more about what are the best bases for the photochromic pigments I plan on using. That experimentation will happen over winter break.


This research is very hands on as we will need to make clothing as well as patterns to go with such. Sewing is a skill that will be utilized which is an art form and a skill that more people should learn due to the practicality of it. Also we will be using mathematical skills to measure and draft the patterns once we have decided exactly what designs we are creating. Some very basic chemical experimenting will happen when I am trying to figure out the pigments for the color changing dress so that is chemistry, art, and mathematics.


For this project, I am working on the color changing dress while Erin is working on the plastic dress. Once the first two dresses are complete, we will work on the two-in-one dress together. The minimum acceptable product for this project will be two dresses with published patterns, and the maximum acceptable product will be more than three dresses with published patterns. Because this project is relatively small scale, we will be able to complete the work in our dorm rooms.

        The project will start over winter break. I will research using photochromic pigments and glow in the dark paints, and Erin will research sewing with plastic, specifically fusing plastics. Over winter break, we will also finalize the designs of all three dresses. We will also buy our materials over winter break so that we have them for the start of the spring semester.

        From when the spring semester starts until the beginning of March, I will sew the color changing dress and add the patterns while Erin will be working on sewing the plastic dress. I plan to complete the bodice of the dress by February 13 so that I can start work on the skirt and finish the dress by March 1. From March 1 to March 17, we will complete any finishing touches on our respective dresses as well as make and publish the two patterns. We will start to work on the two-in-one dress on March 27, which leaves us spring break to catch up if we get behind on any part of the project. We will finish work on the two-in-one dress, create and publish its pattern, and conclude our project by the end of April.

        The Gantt chart below shows a more detailed schedule of our tasks throughout the project.


This project is more for people who currently do not have access to sewing clothing for themselves or family members due to time constraints as well as the expenses of material, patterns, etc. The goal is really to educate people on how they can make different designs that can be made out of things they have access to, or designs that can be used in many scenarios. Many times when designers make clothing out of plastic they focus on the fact they are “reusing trash” rather than how to make practical, stylish designs people would like to wear.


We are overall hoping to do this project in under $120, so moderately expensive. Thread and plastic should be around $10 max. I know we both currently have thread and it normally is not that expensive so that’s not too pricey. Fabric on the other hand we have a budget of $60. This is because fabric is so expensive these days, and one of the reasons why one of our affordable dress ideas is made of plastic. We also have set aside the idea of around $30 for upcycled clothing. Upcycled clothing addresses the idea of waste as this way we are reusing clothing rather than it being put in the trash. Also clothing from thrift shops can be much more affordable than buying new fabric. Lastly, for the glow and the dark and UV light changing dress we have estimated costs around $20 to buy glow in the dark fabric paint as well as photochromic pigments.


The main goal of this project is to educate people about issues of sustainability and the clothing waste that is a result of our consumer culture. I wanted to share with others my passion as well as show that there are alternative fashion designs for people to learn about. Sustainability is important, so creating a culture where people reduce waste and promote reuse and recycling would definitely be an achievement. Additionally I am looking into teaching and Erin is already a teaching major so we want to use culture and design to create an interesting and engaging product that will encourage people to want to learn more about how they can make a positive difference for the environment as well as a way to make clothing production more affordable. The overall goal after finishing this project is to continue designing alternative dresses to suit a wider audience with different clothing styles. Lastly, I hope that we continue creating patterns to post online so others can follow the instructions to make their own designs and build upon our own. Overall I love teaching people new things and the fact that this is a way to do such with the passion I have for making clothing is amazing.


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