Charlotte student’s blog promotes eco-fashion

htrenda@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 6, 2013 

Armed with an eye for style and a heart for the environment, high school senior Alexis Giger launched a do-it-yourself blog, Ecouturier, in September, aimed at “reducing your environmental impact fashionably.”

The idea was sparked by the ecology unit in her biology class last year, she said, which covered issues like peak oil, deforestation and habitat destruction.

“I started thinking about what I could do to stop the wastefulness in my immediate community,” she said. “It has changed the way I look at basic everyday activities and how I can change little things to reduce waste.”

While attending a fashion design program at Virginia Commonwealth University over the summer, Alexis said, she had her epiphany: “I could combine my love of fashion with this environmental message on a blog.”

Ecouturier aims to make reusing or repurposing thrift store finds or last season’s pieces easy and fashionable, while cutting down on the resources consumed by garment production, Alexis said. Through online research, she said, she discovered a simple cotton T-shirt takes more than 700 gallons of water to make.

“It made me realize that the fashion industry consumes huge amounts of natural resources as it relies on producing garments quickly and in large supply – many of which garments are only intended to be worn three or four times.” She said the design course at VCU discussed stores such as Forever XXI that have pieces that are on-trend, but typically don’t last more than one season – and have inventories that change almost entirely several times a year.

Once she started looking for items to repurpose, Alexis found inspiration everywhere. Her dad’s old button-down shirt was a skirt just waiting to happen – one that even adhered to school dress code. Bleach, a spray bottle and old jeans fit into the printed denim craze. And this season’s sparkling shoe obsession? All it took was an old pair of boots, liquid adhesive and micro glitter.

Alexis already had a number of tools to help her get started. Her mom, Kimberly, taught her to sew when she was 5. Her grandmother taught her to crochet around the same time. A recent Ecouturier post on DIY bracelets documents gifts Alexis gave friends and family members for Christmas. Alexis said she also gained technical knowledge and inspiration from her part-time job at Varnadore Costumes, a Charlotte company that creates theater garb for schools and drama productions.

“I learned a lot of sewing techniques and how to recycle a lot of things. They pull off zippers, buttons, snaps and trims. … It made me think about what I could salvage before I throw it away.”

She spent several months illustrating “recycling” projects prior to the blog launch, and she set up a Flickr account to create photo tutorials with the help of her middle school art teacher, Jen Rankey. Though Ecouturier hasn’t been online long, she’s been getting positive feedback. “I’ve had people come up to me in the hall and say, ‘Hey, I saw your blog. I’m working on one of the projects right now,’ instead of just going out and buying stuff,” Alexis said. “My mom’s friends have requested projects for older audiences as well.”

She used the blog and the creation process in her college application essays, and said she’s received three acceptance letters to date. “It’s served me well in the college aspect.”

It’s worked in the spending aspect, too: The coated denim treatment demonstrated on her blog, for example, used a pair of jeans from freshman year, acrylic paint and gel medium. Alexis estimated the treatment supplies cost less than $30. “To buy a pair of coated jeans from Paige or 7 (For All Mankind), it’d be in the several-hundred-dollar range. So (repurposing) is definitely a bargain.”

She said she hasn’t bought a brand-new piece of clothing since last July, and her thrift store shopping has paid off with finds like the $5 burgundy BCBG dress she wore to homecoming and a $15 Marc Jacobs shirt she wears to school. “It doesn’t happen every day, but if you go to thrift stores often enough, you will find cool things.”

Ken Kneidel, biology teacher at Alexis’ high school, said his ecology unit is usually eye-opening for students: “It takes one pound of pesticide and fertilizer to produce one T-shirt and one pair of jeans. … There’s plenty for someone listening to be motivated by.”

But while student concern about the environment usually runs strong following the unit, it doesn’t typically correlate to action, he said. “The usual response is in one ear and out the other. … It’s safe to say (Alexis) is unusual in that regard.”

This Christmas was the first time Alexis had been to a mall since July. “It reaffirmed everything I put in the blog,” she said with a laugh. “There was so much stuff, it was overwhelming to see how many different things there were to buy and how much resources it took to even get the stuff to SouthPark.”

Varnadore Costume owner Jamey Varnadore said he’s glad to have Alexis working part-time, and that she’s on to something with her repurposing. “I think (it’s) the next big wave trend. It really does use the resources we have, and a lot of really cool elements from old clothes make an awesome new outfit.”

“I’d like people to think more about what goes into the clothes they’re wearing,” said Alexis. “Taking an hour from Saturday afternoon to make something for yourself can really have an impact on the environment. A little change every day can really add up.”

See Alexis Giger’s blog at ecouturieracg.wordpress.com.

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