Halifax: NSCAD fashion department is seeing green(er)

When NSCAD University’s fashion students return to their Seeds Building studio in the fall, the art college will have become a little bit greener: the latest muslin cotton available in the fashion department will be certified organic.

The decision reflects the department’s desire to put into practice its long-standing eco-conscious mindset, one that is shared by many members of its student body, its only full-time faculty member, Parsons alumnus Gary Markle, and Anne Pickard, the department’s technician and an instructor within the university’s School of Extended Studies.

But the department’s green approach, urges Pickard, is more than just in vogue.

“We’re not focusing on this because it’s a hot thing,” says Pickard. “This is not for any other reason than that it should just be part of every consciousness.”

Markle, who strives to uphold a green lifestyle beyond the walls of the art college, agrees.

“We’re both aware of how much damage our industry has done to the environment,” he says of both himself and Pickard. “As educators, we know change has to start here, start in the practice, so that it becomes second nature.”

Instead of bringing in the typical cheap, non-organic factory cotton, Pickard has connected with Laura Chenoweth, a Halifax-based clothing designer who works with certified organic cotton from India. Alongside designing sustainable clothing, Chenoweth is currently focusing on distributing organic fabrics—and NSCAD has jumped on board.

Supplying a valuable fabric (the cost of organic cotton is a far cry from the $2.50/m wholesale price tag slung around the cheaper alternative) to the students will also yield a greater awareness of waste, says Pickard, encouraging conservation and a respect that will trigger a more mindful use of the fabric.

This no-waste philosophy extends further than proper pattern placement: the department urges the use of recycled and salvaged materials before advocating any new fabrics, organic or not. Along with class assignments that encourage working with found objects, this suggestion is supported by Pickard’s dedication to securing numerous textile donations, which often come from unexpected sources. Helly Hansen donates fabric ends to the school, Stanfield’s has been generous with its donations of knit fabric, Bogside Weaving has donated boxes of wool scraps, and the Sisters of Charity have arrived with old bed sheets, fabric and cloth.

This is just the beginning of the fashion department’s green initiative, insists Markle. Opting for organic factory cotton has made an immediate impact, and the pair will continue to find ways—from zippers to pattern paper to light bulbs—to house, teach and encourage sustainable practice.

“We’re on a road,” he says. “We’re trying our best and we’re looking at areas where we can do better.”

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