Coupling style with sustainability is a natural talent for New York writer, artist and fashion designer Jill Danyelle. Two years ago, the avant-garde, environmentally conscious designer set out to engage in a new level of self-expression. Jill set forth a year-long goal to suspend making any new fashion purchases and rather, create a sustainable wardrobe using the “reuse, reduce, recycle” mantra.
The result, a resourceful collection of beautiful and inspirational garments; the most famous of which is a sleek cocktail dress fashioned from broken umbrellas found on the streets of Manhattan. Inspired by the inky black “fabric” and the bubble silhouette Balenciaga popularized in the fifties, Jill’s creation was chosen as a finalist by TreeHugger for the “Umbrella Inside Out: ID and Fashion” contest which challenged designers to explore ways to efficiently and profitably create desirable, functional pieces from used umbrellas.
Jill can spot a fashion opportunity in even the most ordinary of objects. Documenting her progress by taking “a photo a day,” Jill’s colorful experiment lives on at fiftyrx3.com—a thoughtful style chronicle that highlights inventive ways to enhance a sustainable, yet fashionable wardrobe. FiftyRX3 provides a much-needed resource for those looking to create refreshing, eco-chic style. Jill gives her take on the eco-fashion scene and how it has been evolving since her project began.
YT: How did you decide to take up the fiftyRX3 project, and what was the motivation behind it?
JD: I was attempting to live sustainably in all areas of my life, but I soon began to realize that clothing was the one area where I had trouble finding the resources I needed. I was using recycled paper products, I knew about the benefits of eating organic foods — I could find an organic apple from an entire city block away — but the same was not true for organic clothing. I was also growing increasingly frustrated by all the online images surrounding ecologically sensitive style and fashion. I was not seeing anything that spoke to me. So, I did some research on the subject and eventually decided to go to school and learn how to make clothes. I figured there had to be someone else in the world that must also want organic clothing!
YT: Explain how you used the mantra “reuse, reduce, recycle” in your project?
JD: First, I made a goal for myself to reach a fifty percent level of sustainability in the items I wore each day. I decided not to choose one hundred percent because I did not want to throw away everything I had and start from scratch. I wanted to incorporate items into my wardrobe that were sustainable. “Reuse, reduce, recycle” is a mantra that has been around forever, and it would make sense to apply it to clothing. The “reused” meant using second hand or vintage clothing; “reduced” applied to any clothing that was manufactured through an organic or environmentally friendly process — organic or otherwise; and “recycled” applied to any clothing that actually physically existed as something else.
YT: How did this experience change your approach to clothing and consumerism?
JD:In all actuality, I really do not shop that much. When I do, I tend to opt for vintage, if it’s available, and I really try to consider my purchases by asking myself questions like, “Do I already have something like this in the closet? Why am I buying this? Where is it coming from? What is it made out of? Where is it made?” I definitely look at the labels so I can feel good about it. If I am buying new, I try to buy something I believe in or invest in a nice designer piece I will love, care for and keep for a very long time.
YT: How can the rest of us curb our consumerism and make creative use out of our existing resources?
JD: If you have a good tailor or are handy with a needle and thread, that is probably a good place to start. You could also try altering your own things and creating something different by reworking pieces. For example, old sweaters can become mittens, hats, scarves, etc. Also, I would advise people to refrain from buying too many trend-driven items because they tend to cycle out so fast. Fashion is often about the desire for change. Sometimes it is just a matter of seeing what we already own with new eyes. Trying to mix and match or wear things differently can evoke a feeling of newness.
YT: How did your creativity express itself in this project day after day?
JD: The project and the process definitely evolved as it went along. I became an accidental journalist of sorts and less of the designer that I had intended to be. Few people were really looking at green fashion in the same way they do today. So when I started the project, I got involved in many different things — I ended up having less and less time to sew and create things for myself. I really had to put my foot down sometimes and mark out a period of a couple of days when I could work exclusively on another recycled piece.
YT: Your blog has received a lot of attention and press to the point where you have taken on the role of a “Green Fashion” icon. Do you have any thoughts about designing your own clothing line?
JD: That’s a good question. When I went to Parsons and FIT, fashion design was originally what I had intended to do. In order to become involved in something like that, I would need to find the path that is right for me. There is a lot of clothing out there, and I do not want to do it just to do it. I could see myself doing something very small where I can also share something very personal and thoughtful. With that said, the last two years have been very busy and intense; I need to take some time and really think about it before I am ready to get started with anything.
YT: The organic apparel movement has been attempting to emerge for years. What is different today?
JD: What really changed is what I call pre-Al Gore/post-Al Gore period. Prior to being recognized on a larger scale, many people did not even know what I was talking about when I referenced sustainability and organic cotton clothing. I had designers saying to me, “Oh, you can’t do that!” That kind of pessimism has changed so much in the last two years that it has virtually disappeared altogether. I knew it was coming, but it has actually happened a lot faster and with more momentum than I had expected. It has created a real shift in how we look at production and manufacturing.
YT: Many new designers are popping up in the organic marketplace. Does that leave you optimistic for the future?
JD: Absolutely. It also makes me feel like I can give up being the advocate I was when the project started and get back to my own creativity. Because eco-friendly clothing is out there now, it is everywhere in the media. There is a slightly negative side to all of the attention, given the fact people are going to get into the business solely to make money. I don’t think desire to profit is the best reason to jump in, but regardless, it’s beneficial no matter what because it will create more conscious products in the marketplace.