Courtesy of Sandra Zapata and FIT

For many young fashion designers studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), sustainability is at the forefront of their education, their designs and what they hope to create in the future. 

On May 11, FIT hosted its annual fashion show sponsored by Macy’s to showcase several standout students in the fashion design program. The show took place outside (a change brought on by the pandemic) at the New York City campus where many students were recognized for their use of upcycled materials and recycled textiles during a night highlighted many sustainable designs.

Some of students honored included those who won the FIT Critic Award and Macy’s Bold Representation Awards. They all worked worked closely with a number of critics and judges such as designers Jeffrey Dodd and Sally Lapointe, founder of the zero-waste design system Decode, Danielle Elsner, and many others.

It was a special evening for the up-and-coming designers, and GRAZIA USA caught up with five winners from the night to learn about their standout designs and what’s next.

“Best Use of Sustainable Materials” was awarded to Sandra Zapata, who said winning felt “so surreal.” After struggling to find her “identity” as a designer, she’s “extremely grateful and proud of the outcome.”

Courtesy of Sandra Zapata and FIT

Zapata incorporated large and boxy silhouettes that play parts in both menswear and streetwear into an elegant design. “My goal was to create a fusion of multiple aesthetics, that way anyone could feel comfortable in these looks. I personally love streetwear and denim, but a majority of the time they are not considered sufficiently elegant, which is how my concept was born, and what it challenges.”

Her award recognized her use of sustainable materials, something that’s very important to Zapata. “There are so many aspects of sustainability that many people don’t even consider. Throughout the years I discovered that, unfortunately, many young people do not understand sustainability. What’s more, they may very well just not care. I was once one of those people.”

What changed was when she started customizing old jeans and transforming them into something brand new and special. “That is when I discovered how important sustainability really is,” she shares. “Sustainable fashion is so important because it’s all about slowing up the industry, falling back in love with the craft while of course remaining ethical and conscious of the issues our planet is facing and doing what we can to help.”

After graduation, she hopes to continue growing her brand, Custom by STZ, and bringing more people into the sustainability-focused community. “I firmly believe that the more they begin to truly understand their contributions, the more they will appreciate how much they are helping our planet, and will continue to do so.”

Alongside Zapata were four standout members of FIT’s senior class who were also recognized for their use of sustainable materials. They used thrifted clothing, tablecloths, camping tents, old denim that was passed down from family members, and scraps of fabrics that were used in previous design courses.

Monica Palucci at the 2022 FoF Critics Award Winners at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Credit: FIT

Monica Palucci was recognized for her fully upcycled, quilted ensemble using materials such as torn and discolored camping tents, hammocks, parachutes, curtains, shrunken wool, damaged cashmere sweaters, tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and even a comforter.

Palucci said in a press release, “I wanted to give new life to well-loved, damaged hiking gear. With a technique like quilting, I was able to salvage the good parts to make new rain pants. Much like earlier outdoor gear, I utilized vintage materials made of 100% cotton and applied a natural wax finish to make them water resistant, biodegradable and free from microfiber pollution.”

When selecting which garments were to be used in the design process, she looked at the content make up of the items and selected single fibers rather than blends.

“Since my materials may have stains or burns, I do have to dispose of some parts, however, I try to incorporate low waste practices where I can,” the designer added. “Scraps were used to add additional volume to the “puffs” in my puffer scarf/jacket which is made from an old comforter. My garments are designed to transform and have multiple functions. The purpose of this is to encourage repeated use of the garment throughout seasons and over time.”

Karisma Hisahkawa at the 2022 FoF Critics Award Winners at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Credit: FIT

Karisma Hisahkawa created a dress made entirely of T-shirts cut into strips. The shirts featured in the colorful mini dress with puff sleeves and a plunging neckline belonged to both her, her friends, and family.

“I loved the feeling of the memory of a textile; a way to transform it into something you will never lose,” Hisahkawa said in a release.

The base of the dress is a textile that she used in one of her previous classes, beneath that is stretch denim jeans from her cousin. Hisahkawa came to FIT with the hoes of becoming a costume designer for Broadway.

Alison Ko at the 2022 FoF Critics Award Winners at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Credit: FIT

Alison Ko created a long vibrant orange puffer jacket with intricate seams, in addition to a mixed green, puffer snowsuit to be worn underneath.

Ko used upcycled garments that were sourced from secondhand stores in addition to unwanted fabric that was headed for the landfills.

A life-long skier, Ko spoke about her process saying, “I sewed together separate jackets and a sleeping bag to create the ski pants, and utilized clean patchwork to create a new “fabric” used to form the shapes.”

Xiahela Xiaokelaiti/Shahira Short at the 2022 FoF Critics Award Winners at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Credit: FIT

Xiahela Xiaokelaiti/Shahira Shokrat explored the concept of a fading memory in her design and used a circular, zero-waste approach to create a dynamic silhouette.

The grainline of the fabric on the silver jacket runs in an unconventional direction giving it the strong shape. It was paired with intricately patterned tights and a similar top underneath.

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