We tend to consider discarded items and waste as useless and unattractive. This is why a majority is downcycled, rather than reconsidered by the fashion industry. However, some designers see potential in these scraps that represent a story, a life that can still be prolonged and shared. Designer Shelby Wauligman believes that discarded garments should be put forward in fashion design.
Wauligman graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a Bachelor’s of Science in Fashion Design. Having worked with various fashion brands, her current job is as apparel designer at Nike. She uses her creativity to transform ideas from one life to the next, from discarded garments to new ones, whilst telling their stories and adapting their relevance. She works with this in her thesis, “General Contracting”, which was chosen as a part of the CFDA+ programme.
For the sourcing of fabric for her thesis project, Wauligman partnered with Cintas Corporation, one of the world’s largest uniform suppliers. Those who wear Cintas clothing tend to have specific needs, as their garments need to facilitate their performances, despite the wear and tear of use. To Wauligman, this added to the value, aesthetic and practicality of the materials. She elaborated on the importance of prolonging the life of garments: “Once the garments no longer serve their function to a high standard they are no longer useful. Working with discarded materials, it is a focus for me to keep the integrity and past life of the garments relevant. There is so much power and storytelling that can be shared through objects that have already experienced wear.”
Wauligman is concerned about the fact that the general population views sustainability as a “trend”, as this creates another dimension to sustainability which steers away from its true meaning. She intends to redefine the traditional understanding of the fashion industry, whilst staying relevant. Wauligman considers it important in a sustainable process to get people to connect on a deeper level with one another.
At the end of the day if you can’t level with people you will not be able to influence or inspire them to change habits.
– Shelby Wauligman
The designer wishes to change people’s mindsets towards sustainability, and by this she means their perspectives and outlooks. For her thesis project, General Contracting, the aim was to look in on a culture that so many people are a part of, and that so many others overlook. She explains: “the working class, specifically in the Midwest, United States, where I grew up, tells a very interesting story to the clothing industry. But fashion has a tendency to glamourize parts they like and leave out the rest. I have an interest in sharing and uncovering what is commonly overlooked and ultimately has the potential for much more depth”.
Shelby Wauligman’s project, General Contracting, presents a collection of one-off designs that are created entirely from reused materials and objects. The designs are made more durable, and tell stories, as one can depict where they may have come from. By celebrating her designs’ past lives, and telling their stories, the designer expresses the beauty in imperfection, and encourages others to explore this too.