BY Lynda Grose | December 10, 2009
California College of the Arts graduate Karina Michel turns organic cotton waste into fashion for Indian textile mill Pratibha Syntex.
Twenty two year old fashion designer, Karina Michel, is already drawing international attention for her designs. Karina’s latest collection is A Blossoming, which she designed as part of a 5-month stint at Pratibha Syntex, a 4,000 employee Indian company that produces organic cotton yarn, fabric, and knit garments for export and local markets. Her work, which mixes environmental responsibility with employment opportunities for Indian women, also happens to be beautiful.
Michel was hired to devise new strategies to reuse and redirect the company's waste, which between cutting scraps, overruns of fabric and rejects, currently sits at 30%. Working onsite in India, Michel developed A Blossoming entirely from defective knitting, panel rejects, excess ribbing, unevenly dyed items, and small scraps. Redefining the value of waste, Michel used a reverse appliqué technique: sandwiching fabrics, and stitching through all the layers before selectively cutting pieces away, to create sumptuous and complex patterning.
The line was debuted at the "Go Green, Save the Planet" event in Delhi on May 17 this year and was attended by more than 650 representatives from all parts of the Indian textile industry. Karina’s creations generated stories in the Delhi Times and Hindustan Times newspapers and a wolf whistle from prominent UK designer Katherine Hamnett, who was also present in the audience.
Karina developed her interest in craft and ecology at her alma mater, California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where students are required to take classes in sustainability as part of their regular fashion program. Michel was exposed to the reverse appliqué technique in a college-supported Alabama Chanin workshop taught by Caroline Preibe, (fashion graduate from CCA and a certified sewer for Alabama Chanin). Michel applied her own interpretation to the technique to develop a completely new look comprising 2-4 layers of various colors of cloth organized around a particular geometry. (Look for handeyemagazine.com's article on Alabama Chanin, Good Threads.)
Michel has extended her time in India to help Pratibha Syntex ramp up its recycling program to meet a zero waste goal company-wide, while also expanding the A Blossoming collection in collaboration with local Indian women’s empowerment groups. Michel will work directly with local women to apply fabric hand-working skills to garment waste and create new garments. In the process, the women will earn an independent income -- many for the first time in their lives.
Karina represents a new generation of young fashion designers who are developing skills in craft, humanities and ecology as part of their design education and practice and choosing an alternate route to mainstream fashion for their careers. In conventional commercial design, feed back loops are limited to abstract sales data and consumer buying trends, resulting in a ubiquitous aesthetic, designed for easy production and optimized sales. In contrast, the work that Karina is doing in India provides her with a far broader real life knowledge base, enabling her to fuse design and business decisions with value to local culture and economy, regional craft skill abilities and social and ecological benefits, in one holistic thought. The resulting product has an innate and immediately recognizable value, which transcends short-term trends and nurtures the maker, the designer and wearer. In this context, craft challenges the commodification of commercial products and the commodification of design itself. Craft provides a vehicle to design not only new types of artifacts, but also new prototypes for practice and new ways for society to engage with fashion. This broader view of the role of design, as exemplified in Karina Michel’s work, widens the opportunities for all of us for meaningful work and professional and personal well being.
Author Lynda Grose has practiced ‘sustainable’ fashion since 1990 when she co founded Esprit’s ecollection. She has been teaching sustainable fashion at California College of the Arts for 11 years.