Ming DeMers/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

March 12, 2023

Cornell Fashion Collective Members Explain Science Behind Garments for Annual Fashion Show 

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The Cornell Fashion Collective hosted their 39th annual fashion show on March 11, capping off a week of various fashion-related events. The creation of the runway garment is a craft of its own, requiring both fiber science and apparel design knowledge and application. 

CFC’s club structure is divided into four different levels, with new members starting out at level one and working their way up to level four, which tends to be for upperclassmen. 

Angela Lan ’24 joined CFC her freshman year as a level one member and now serves as director of design for levels three and four. In this role, she manages designers and their collections, conducts weekly check-ins on their progress, mentors members during design progress and ensures their garments are completed by the deadline. 

Although Lan did not design any pieces this year, the outfit she made last year required meticulous and creative fiber science techniques. 

“One of my garments last year featured a bunch of tiny cut flower motifs that were supposed to be sewed individually to a pair of pants,” Lan said. “I could not have feasibly cut each of those tiny, one-inch flowers by myself.”

To efficiently automate the design process, Lan chose to use synthetic fiber polyester instead of a natural fiber so she could laser cut the fabric without burning it. Polyester also melts on a laser-cutting machine, allowing any fray edges of the raw fabric to seal off. 

Lan and other fashion design students learned how to pick appropriate fabric from faculty such as Prof. Kimberly Phoenix, fiber science and apparel design, who has served as CFC’s faculty advisor for five years. 

Phoenix teaches Fiber Science and Apparel Design 1450: Intro to Fashion Design, where students learn about flat patterning, which involves creating two dimensional patterns on a flat surface, by using slopers — building blocks that follow the natural lines of a figure.  

In addition to flat patterning, Phoenix noted that many students are manipulating fabric to create their designs. For example, she referred to one student who is adding extra fullness to their garment through quilting and stuffing to resemble a puffer coat, while another student is steaming leather to add more dimension to the flat fabric. 

“With leather, you have to use a different sewing machine,” Phoenix said. “You have to use a machine that has a little more power behind it…one that can pierce through [the fabric].”

In addition, leather requires a needle with knife-like protrusions at the tip in order to penetrate the sturdy fabric and shaving of the seam allowance — the distance between the fabric’s edge and the line of stitching— to accommodate its thickness. 

Choosing a fabric itself requires both scientific and aesthetic forethought, especially as the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply. 

“I personally won’t buy anything that has rayon in it because of the way rayon is made. … I just don’t want to be someone who adds to that industry,” Phoenix said. 

Rayon is a man-made, synthetic fiber that is chemically produced by breaking down cellulose in wood pulp, thus exposing workers to dangerous chemicals that can cause reproductive and nervous system damage. 

Phoenix said the fashion industry has also given rise to bamboo, a chemically-treated, silky fabric similar to rayon in texture and its harm to the planet. 

Despite the detrimental environmental impact of certain fabrics, Phoenix noted that many students are taking sustainable approaches to their designs by repurposing fabrics from thrift stores. 

While thinking about the social-environmental impact of fashion design and production, Phoenix said she hopes fashion show attendees will appreciate both the few minutes a piece is on the runway and the many late nights that designers spend crafting it. 

“The kids work really hard and there are a lot of long nights spent in the studio,” Phoenix said. “People think that [the show is] just clothes, but there’s so much more to think about.”