Imagination and concern for the world’s resources on parade in eco-fashion show

A row of students wearing clothes made from recycled materials.

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lothing retailer H&M recently revealed that it is sitting on an inventory mountain of more than $4 billion in clothes nobody wants. Shocking to many, but not to Timo Rissanen, assistant professor of fashion and sustainability at Parsons School of Design in New York City.

Rissanen discussed ways the fashion industry could work toward sustainability in a lecture April 20 attended by members of the Quinnipiac community before the annual eco-fashion show presented by students in Hanna Hejmowski’s Eco-Fashion Design class.

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About a dozen students modeled dresses fashioned from materials including silk flowers, stenciled coffee filters, handmade tissue paper flowers, shopping bags, newspaper, papier mâché and recycled plastic and fabrics. One male student sported a vest designed with Quinnipiac Magazine cover cutouts.

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Timo Rissanen speaks at a podium in front of an audience

Steward of the earth

Timo Rissanen, assistant professor of fashion and sustainability at Parsons School of Design in New York City, spoke about sustainable fashion in as part of Quinnipiac's celebration of Earth Day.

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Students create zero-waste fashion from household materials and learn to stitch the materials together to create their outfits. They descended the twin staircases in the Piazza of the Carl Hansen Student Center and circled their audience, walking to music suited to the fashion runway. The show was part of the university’s Earth Day celebration that also featured a farmer’s market on the quad.

The imagination on display impressed Rissanen, who said Parsons requires each of its fashion design students to study sustainability. He remarked that of the 150 billion garments produced every year, a third are sold, another third are discounted, and the last third ends up in a landfill.

A student walks across the Carl Hansen Student Center Piazza modeling her eco fashion outfit.

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“When is enough, enough?” asked Rissanen. He pointed to the fashion industry’s focus on growth and job creation vs. concern for the world’s resources as part of the problem. “Think about the land, water and fertilizer used to grow the cotton that then must be turned into cloth and then into garments,” he said, adding that 60 percent of new clothes are tossed within a year of purchase. “Even recycling does not justify that short of a lifespan.”

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A key part of the solution, Rissanen said, is human imagination. “We need to come up with ways to make more out of the world’s resources and ensure garments are worn as long as possible.” For example, he knows of a Denmark business that rents children’s clothes because sizes change so quickly.

Born in Finland and trained as a fashion designer, Rissanen has co-authored two books on fashion and sustainability, “Shaping Sustainable Fashion” in 2011 and “Zero Waste Fashion Design” in 2016.

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