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?
Jill Danyelle: 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?
Jill Danyelle: 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?
Jill Danyelle: 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?
Jill Danyelle: 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?
Jill Danyelle: 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.
Jill Danyelle: 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?
Jill Danyelle: 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?
Jill Danyelle: 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.