These Young Fashion Designers Will Make You Hopeful for the Future

I used to attend NY Fashion Week shows. I didn’t do this for any particular reason, except the spectacle and the thrill of getting in via, shall we say, non-traditional routes. I stopped going several years ago when my angst about what to wear outweighed the thrill. But when Kerry from Variety the Children’s Charity of New York reached out to me to attend “Emerging from the Runway: A Showcase of Sustainable Fashion,” her enthusiasm radiated through her email and I again wanted to be sitting on the row — but this time, I was properly invited. The show was co-produced by event, PR, and branding agency AMCONYC and Variety, in addition to one of their cohorts, The Door.

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Open since 1972, The Door offers a comprehensive youth development program to over 10,000 disconnected youth in New York City every year. They offer a wide range of totally free services, ranging from reproductive healthcare and education, counseling and crisis assistance, legal aid, career development, supportive housing, recreational activities, arts, and nutritious meals. One of the workshops offered this past summer was fashion design, which included instruction in pattern making, silk screening with Gary Lichtenstein, fashion marketing/PR with AMCONYC, and catwalk lessons lead by Wilhelmina model, Daphne De Baat. Laboring under the mission of The Door, the people, work, creativity, and soul of the resulting fashion show was apparent.

The timing and professionalism of the event is perhaps where the similarities to NYFW end. The collections were deeply personal as well as socially and environmentally progressive. Instead of the marked lack of diversity that persists in traditional fashion shows, there was an array of different body types, skin tones, and gender identities stomping the runway. The models were the designers themselves, or friends, or peers from The Door — they were invested in the performance and you could see they were loving every minute of it. Diego Crown, who both designed and modeled said, “I was inspired to do a piece for me. Something that I would wear.” Pointing to his modified bell bottom jeans, he said, “This is something that I would really wear out in public.” The next generation of artists is also not satisfied with token representation. Photographer, designer, and member of The Door, Faiza Ilyas, explained, “I feel like the current fashion industry has its ways and it’s very set in them. So everyone who does not approve of them really has to make an effort to do something about it. Me personally, I’m a Muslim, so I wear the veil. I personally would love if people would be on the runway with [the veil].” Designer Kish Ferguson’s collection was a group effort both inspired by and executed with the help of his friends. He worked with fellow artists and friends, Evan McCullagh, who did stitching and distressing, and Roy Ferguson, who hand-painted pieces. The final garments took into account the personalities of the models, creating a personalized, unique look for each. In discussing his collaborative process, Ferguson explained. “It shouldn’t be about competition — everyone should be able to work together. Work on it together and put it out. It shouldn’t be a race, but should be like, I want to help you and you help me.”

Photos by Elizabeth Stilwell

The final designs for the runway were chosen by the Creative Style Director of Forbes, Joseph DeAcetis, and the New York Times Art Editor, Richard Aloisio. Under the guidance of Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) students and local designers, the participants used only sustainable materials gleaned from FABSCRAP and donated by Loren Cronk Denim. The designers often cited this as one of the greatest challenges — using only what was available to realize their vision — but tackled it with the determination of Project Runway contestants. “When I began designing, I didn’t know where I was going. It was basically like this is the fabric I’m provided with, so I need to make it work,” said Ilyas, describing her process. “As time progressed, we would notice all the details or implement some certain fabric. I would have to owe it all to the fabric, because once I saw [it], I was like okay, this can work as this. And then we bent some rules, making pants into tops and tops into pants.” I think Tim Gunn would be proud. And as someone traveling in sustainability circles, I register this as a critical skill required to start addressing — as the next generation of designers — waste and what to do with it. There were pieces that were painted, hand-embroidered, shredded, layered, cut, or otherwise woven together. Isalina Sanchez, a recent FIT graduate who is a mentor and professor at The Door explained that denim brought cohesiveness to the collection. She says, “A lot of them started just wanting to fix a hem and that’s it, but then they found out about the program and now they want to continue in fashion.” With the help of Sanchez, these inexperienced designers executed their pieces with creativity and unique style. Kiddo, who performed as both a musician and designer, said, “I made everything that’s on me. I feel like if I walk down the street right now, I’ll be truly different. That word different is what I go for. I want to be like no one else. I think that’s really when you are in your true element — when you don’t do what everybody else do. It makes me feel like I’m making a change in this world. I feel like I’m actually helping people.”

Photos by Faiza Ilyas

There’s no question that the industry needs help to change its wasteful ways. We can’t continue the cycle of produce cheap, sell cheap. We have to address the mountains of clothes in our homes, in stores, in landfills. They clog the thrift stores and downcycling plants. There’s so much material in existence, and we need ways to use it. Kish Ferguson is passionate about using secondhand garments in his creations. “It’s like turning trash into something that is absolutely amazing,” he explained. “People overlook the little stuff. They’ll think, I don’t want that, it’s from the thrift. But that outfit could turn into one of these within a couple days. I look at clothes as an open canvas — you can just put whatever you want on it and turn it into something amazing.” FABSCRAP has thankfully stepped in with one solution for designers, but it’s also necessary to address waste before it happens — to design thoughtfully to reduce excess, and to have a plan for it when it happens. Let’s get back to tailored, unique pieces like the ones on this runway and to designing to solve problems instead of creating them.

The designers and mentors at The Door are using art to teach, promote, and progress, pushing the limits of traditional fashion with this show. Seeing young designers consciously tackling social and sustainable challenges from the very beginning makes me hopeful for the future of fashion. When asked about his decision to be part of the event, Ferguson said, “It was like an open door — I couldn’t miss it.”

If you are in the NYC area, I urge you to check out these organizations and get involved. If you’re outside the area, consider donating to them to help continue the exceptional work that they do.

Variety the Children's Charity | The Door | FABSCRAP