Colorado Mountain College students in Steamboat take different approach to sustainability
November 7, 2013
Steamboat Springs — As Brian Smith and the rest of the Colorado Mountain College art and sustainability students presented their sustainable fashion projects Thursday, one professor commented that Smith's jacket looked store bought.
The plaid-lined corduroy jacket looked as though it was straight from the rack of a men's fashion outlet.
It was the exact thing the project was meant to convey.
The senior sustainability student got all of his materials at the LIFT-UP of Routt County Donation Center, put a month’s time worth of sewing into the project and produced something that not only was sustainable but also fashionable.
"I thought we'd just show up to class and study it," Smith said. "By doing the project, we had a deeper appreciation that art can make a change."
That was the idea behind associate professor Cynthia Zyzda's class.
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When sustainability rolls off the tongue, the first thing that usually comes to mind is food or construction.
But Zyzda, a visual art and humanities professor, saw sustainability all throughout her studies in art. Taking it a step further, she saw it in clothing.
The class members were asked to transform discarded items of clothing into new pieces of wearable art.
The students’ clothing creations will be on display Friday through Dec. 2 on the third floor of the academic center at CMC. Several of the items will be up for silent auction to help buy a sewing machine for the class.
"Sustainability covers a wide variety," Zyzda said. "It's compassion, protest, change, ecology, economics. All these things are sustainability. Art is the impetus for dialogue of these things."
Zyzda first started formulating the class last spring. She said the difficult part was to pare it down to fit into a semester.
When students first entered the class, they were asked to go to stores and look at tags to see where the clothes were produced. From there, they researched the textile industry, working conditions, pollution and everything that went into making the clothes.
Through it came some striking observations about how clothes are made, where they are made and the social and economic conditions around their production.
For instance, the average American throws away 68 pounds of clothes per year. The class set out to try to change that.
Each student scoured thrift shops or his or her own closet in search of old clothes. The results were part art, part functionality and all understanding of sustainability.
There was a belt made out of a road bike tire. A formerly too-small hoodie made larger with pieces of a tank top. A skirt with built-in thermals. A multi-design poncho and a colored flannel made out of several flannels.
Without much sewing experience, the class members had Gale Loveitt from Gotta Loveitt come in and teach the class basic sewing techniques. Fabric artist Wendy Kowynia also talked to the class about weaving.
Students then set out on a mission to create new clothes out of old clothes while learning about the clothing industry as a whole.
"Social justice is a huge part of sustainability," said Caroline Jordan, a student and president of the Students for Sustainability club. "This is literally the reduce, reuse, recycle. This made it tangible."
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