Pittsburgh Fashion Week to focus on eco design
Fashion's green side will be on display at Monday's opening night of the third annual Pittsburgh Fashion Week.
Three featured designers who use materials such as burlap, bamboo and bottle caps will show how caring about the environment can be transformed into wearable style.
“ ‘Beauty is in the breakdown' was a phrase echoing in my mind while creating this line for Pittsburgh Fashion Week,” designer Faith Pongracz says. Eco design, she says, is “about making smart choices on how to give back with everything we take from the planet.”
Pongracz, a Mt. Lebanon native who lives in New York City, creates head pieces under the name Faith n' Khaos. She — along with national designer Mary Margaret Stewart, creator of the line Iman B, and Brazilian designer Lana Neumeyer from O'Hara — will grace the runway with clothing and accessories that are recycled, organic, natural and environmentally friendly during “The O.N.E., Opening Night Extravaganza: Green is the New Black.”
Pongracz says she was obsessed with the ideas of decay, distress and consumption in our society, and tried to reflect those themes through the choice of textures and objects used throughout her latest collection.
An eco show has been part of fashion week the past two years, but executive director Miyoshi Anderson and her team decided to bring it to opening night.
“The eco chic shows we have done as part of the past two back-to-back runway shows have done well, so we thought, if we brought it to the forefront, it would do as well, if not better,” Anderson says. “We thought it was a wonderful idea, especially because Pittsburgh is a city that cares and is focused on being green, from the amazing David Lawrence Convention Center to the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel. Pittsburgh realizes the importance of reuse and recycle, and designers do, too.”
Anderson, who has modeled all across the world, says these three designers represent how apparel and accessories can be kind to the environment and fashionable.
“I love all three of these designers from Mary Margaret's European influence to Lana's festive attire in bright and bold colors to Faith's edgy, but with an elegance, headwear,” she says. “They are a nice mix.”
Squirrel Hill native Stewart, who studied at design/draping school in Paris and ran a Pittsburgh retail design studio for eight years, moved to California for a change of scenery. While there, she discovered “the green movement had a large impact on my design and production process.” She hand-paints each piece she creates.
“It was similar to how it affected my equivalent passion for cooking,” Stewart says. “Like in the kitchen, I use the farm-to-table concept in clothes making, using only local sources for fabric and production.”
After several years of designing primarily sustainable dresses for all body types, she has created collections that are versatile to be worn alone or paired with tights, leggings or jeans.
Stewart's pieces are created from organic products such as bamboo, cotton and soy. She also makes use of any remnants. Stewart will show 31 outfits, including a finale piece.
“We need to care about the environment, because this is extremely important for our children,” Stewart says. “There is a lot of waste in fashion that people don't ever realize, and this is a way to eliminate some of the waste.”
Caring about the environment was something Neumeyer learned growing up. She uses fabrics such as chita from Brazil and eco-friendly burlap to create lively pieces so models can sashay down the runway.
“The word ‘recycle' is newer here in the United States, but, in my family, we always recycled,” says Neumeyer, who will show from 20 to 25 pieces.
“From clothing being passed down from the oldest to the youngest, to food you made for one meal, and, if you had some leftover, you combined several leftovers for a meal later.”
Neumeyer took buttons from an old coat and used them as details for three other items.
“I am an architect, and architects are always thinking about the environment,” Neumeyer says. “It is about recycling and reusing and re-creating. If I have extra materials, I think of other ways to use those materials — maybe as a belt or head piece or something. I don't waste it.”
Pongracz will top off her part of the show with 14 hats. She became interested in eco design at the same time she was thinking about her health.
“If I care about what I eat and put into my body, I should also care about what I put on my body,” she says.
While her eco design is important, Pongracz also wants her pieces to be considered high fashion. She uses everything from mirrors to sequins to spikes to anything she finds, and likes to mix elegant with edgy. She will have a surprise for the show.
“It has become popular to save the environment,” Pongracz says. “I think people sometimes think that the fashion world is all about disposable, but we care about the environment. Trash is an inspiration to me. I am a little obsessive because I save everything.”
Part of the proceeds of Monday's opening-night show will go to Free Wheelchair Mission (www.freewheelchairmisison.com), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing wheelchairs for the impoverished disabled in developing nations.
The chairs are made from plastic patio furniture chairs, mountain-bike tires, casters and steel frames. Linda Paterni from Jefferson Hills works for Free Wheelchair Mission and will give a presentation at the fashion show. Her husband, Don, helps her get the word out.
“To see how these wheelchairs can change a person's life, it's an incredible feeling,” says Linda Paterni, who had an injury that kept her from walking for almost six weeks. “During that time, I was unable to walk and needed help, I realized a little bit of what these people go through their entire life. I wanted to help. I am looking forward to being a part of opening night.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7889.