NORTHAMPTON — An upcycled fashion show at the Eileen Fisher clothing store in downtown Northampton Friday was the result of a partnership with a local school through the store’s new initiative to take back and repurpose unwanted clothing.
With an emphasis on using recycled materials and hand-sewing, students at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School created new designs using old clothing donated by the store.
“We found out that a huge amount of clothing was ending up in landfills, so we started an initiative called Renew,” said Jenn Schreiner, events coordinator for Eileen Fisher’s Northampton store. “We sell gently used clothing in the back, (but) some of it is unsellable, and those items were donated to the students to make the clothing today.”
Fellow students served as models, walking down a “runway” cleared in the middle of the store. Mannequins stood on display in the storefront wearing student-made designs. The clothes were colorful and eclectic, some with patches, patterns and asymmetric designs.
Nathan Herman-Zierlein, a 15-year-old freshman studying costume design, was one of about 10 student designers to showcase their work.
“I like to take something that is very simple and make it different or new,” Herman-Zierlein said. “I like to look for a direction that people have done in the past and take pieces from there and incorporate it into a new design.”
Luna Puchalsky, a 14-year-old freshman at PVPA who specializes in singing and acting, served as his model. She wore a long black dress, formerly a nightgown, altered with a red triangular pattern on the collar.
“I’m just kind of a differently creative person open to a lot of experiences,” Puchalsky said. “When given an opportunity to be a part of something I tend to not turn it down because it’s always good experience.”
Dozens of parents and supporters filled the Eileen Fisher store on Pleasant Street for the fashion show. The event was run by Petula Bloomfield, who teaches fashion and costume design at PVPA. A professional artist since 1990, Bloomfield has spent her career transforming waste and pre-existing materials into art.
“We have not bought any materials,” Bloomfield said in an earlier press release. “Even the thread is found, and all of the projects are hand-sewn by the students.”
The Eileen Fisher Renew program takes gently used Eileen Fisher garments back from consumers to clean and repair them for resale, keeping viable clothing in circulation longer, reducing waste and preserving natural resources.
“We’re very conscious about our waste at home, so it’s very in line with our values,” said Dara Herman-Zierlein, Nathan’s mother. “We try to be a plastic-free home.”
The idea for a student fashion show sprouted from a conversation last fall between Bloomfield and Jody Riseman, an employee with Eileen Fisher. Since the beginning of the school year, Bloomfield’s students received several deliveries of clothing and materials from the store to use as material.
“This store staff as a team has been able to choose who we want our partner to be,” Schreiner said. “And we choose it based on Eileen’s mission to empower girls and women, especially in leadership roles.”
Committed to taking responsibility for the lifecycle of their clothes, including efforts to support the environment, human rights and initiatives that benefit women and girls, the Eileen Fisher brand seeks out partnerships and opportunities to advance their ideals.
“We love collaboration because it benefits both the community and our students,” said Marc Kenen, interim head of PVPA. “Eileen Fisher does some wonderful work around sustainable practices and that fits perfectly with our curriculum that has been teaching our students about the importance of natural materials and recycling.”
Handmade tote bags were also for sale at the event, with proceeds going towards a field trip for students to visit the Eileen Fisher Tiny Factory, where the old clothes are upcycled. The store’s front window will feature student work from April 27-May 4.