By Katherine LeClair
In accordance with Sustainable Fashion Week, students recently walked in Sewanee’s second annual Upcycled Fashion Show, presented by Lauren Newman (C’18), The Hospitality Shop, Lady Farmer, and Sewanee’s Theater Department. This show aimed to display how shopping second-hand and seeking out ethical brands can be simple, even with the limited choices for shopping near Sewanee.
With a well-lit runway spanning across the Proctor Hill Theatre in the Tennessee Williams Center, students were able to showcase looks that reflected the essence of sustainability. All outfits were either second-hand or produced with an awareness of the effects of the fashion industry on the environment.
Newman first became interested in this event after hearing about last year’s Upcycled Fashion Show, and she wanted to make this year’s even bigger. Through the collaboration with Lady Farmer, an eco-friendly online store, the audience was able to see a new way to reduce one’s impact on the environment.
During Lady Farmer’s segment of the show, students modeled clothes with a strong, feminine energy made entirely from biodegradable materials and non-toxic dyes. Mary and Emma Kingsley, the mother-daughter team in charge of Lady Farmer, remark that their mission involves creating clothing that has minimal ramifications for the planet.
Additionally, all of Lady Farmer’s dresses include pockets, which warranted a passionate round of applause from the audience.
Lady Farmer encourages a shift in the way that clothes are made. Finding clothing for cheap prices is common, but this means that the materials and physical labor used to produce these clothes are cheap as well. Kingsley says, “When we look at clothes the way we look at our food supply chain, it casts everything in a brand new light.”
Lady Farmer asserts that America currently has a “broken fashion system.” Large fashion companies, such as H&M and Forever 21, outsource most of their labor overseas in order to keep clothing prices as low as possible. These cheap prices encourage consumers to purchase and repurchase low quality items rather than investing in durable garments.
When asked about her motivation behind the show, Neman said, “It bothered me how exploitative the fashion industry is. The whole idea of fast fashion and the tendency to buy cheap clothes and wear them a handful of times just isn’t sustainable.”
The Upcycled Fashion show acts as a way to spread awareness about these environmental issues while directly providing audience members with solutions. Shopping at ethical clothing stores is a legitimate option, but another is to shop at the Hospitality Shop, a thrift store conveniently placed on University Avenue.
“When I moved to Sewanee I was excited to learn that there is a thrift store on campus,” says Jennifer Matthews, Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance. Matthews has utilized the Hospitality Shop to costume many of Sewanee’s theater productions as a way to reduce her impact on the environment.
During the show, models displayed these discarded garments and created looks that were up-to-date and in style, showing audience members that shopping second-hand can be just as glamorous as buying new clothes. Matthews and students in the Theater Department spruced up many of the clothes from the Hospitality Shop by altering hemlines and making these outfits more modern. “[These clothes] have been upcycled by cleaning, repairing, and figuring out new ways to wear old things,” she says.
“We were able to bring new life to the clothes and show everyone what a hidden gem our Hospitality Shop is for the Sewanee community,” says Newman.
When asked about her hopes for next year’s show, Newman said, “I hope we are able to fill each and every seat in the theater and raise even more money for the Hospitality Shop. I see so much potential for this event to grow!”
Additionally, Newman hopes that the Upcycled Fashion Show will encourage students to reflect on the environmental impact of their shopping habits. “Most of us at Sewanee come from a privileged place where we can afford to make more ethical fashion choices,” she says. “I believe it is our duty to be informed consumers and make smarter choices. We are the future and we have the power to reshape how the fashion industry runs.”