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Sustainably Chic

A senior fashion design major aspires to create long-lasting classic clothes that are good for the environment.

Isabelle Collins adjusting a dress on a mannequin.

Isabelle Collins ’22 is studying the process of zero waste and circular design production and using sustainable materials to create a fashion collection.

When you think of high fashion, the words mushroom leather or hemp may not necessarily be the first thing you think—but senior fashion design major Isabelle Collins ’22 is hoping to change that. Collins, a student in the School of Design in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), spent the fall semester with her Senior Collection class taught by Professor Todd Conover at the University of the Arts in London. She’s studying the process of zero waste and circular design production and using sustainable materials to create a fashion collection.

Isabelle Collins sculpture collection illustrations

Collins is designing a collection of six to eight pieces using all-natural materials that is inspired by the environment.

“I think every effort that we can make to soften the burden of fashion on the planet, or use existing materials, would help tremendously in reducing carbon emissions,” says Collins, who is currently designing a collection of six to eight pieces using all-natural materials that is inspired by the environment. “I’m trying to create sustainable fashion—to be part of the solution—instead of the typical fast fashion polyesters that are made up of microplastics that make their way into the environment and into human bodies.”

To go with the collection’s theme, Collins is taking aerial photographs of an environment changing over time—from a green forest to farmland to a city. “I want to inspire hope that cities will incorporate more green spaces and what that’d look like, but in a more abstract way.” Now back on campus, Collins has begun to physically construct the clothing to go on display at the end of the spring semester.

Eventually, I’d like to start my own fashion brand. Syracuse University is preparing me for my career goals by providing me with the knowledge and skills I need to have a career as a fashion designer.

—Isabelle Collins ’22

Collins received a grant of $5,000 to aid in her studies from the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (SOURCE). She’s used the funding to purchase and explore materials and for travel to conduct research. When she begins constructing her collection, the grant money will help her buy much needed supplies. “The SOURCE grant has helped me so much. I, like so many students, had a project that I’ve always wanted to pursue, and it really helped make that a reality.”

Isabelle Collins intaglio ballet collection illustrations

When the garments Collins creates are finally discarded, the sustainable and natural materials will not be harmful to the environment and make their way into landfills like synthetic fabrics do.

We recently had the opportunity to connect with Collins and ask her about her interest in sustainable fashion and her experiences at Syracuse University.

Why did you want to pursue fashion design at Syracuse University?

I chose Syracuse because I wanted to pursue a degree in art and design but still have the opportunity to meet all sorts of people at a large university and take a diverse range of classes. I am in the design school in VPA, but I still get to take academic classes from all over the University that interest me, which has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my experience.

The advisors I worked with connected me with alumni to discuss potential career paths. The Orange alumni network is huge and helpful!

—Isabelle Collins ’22

How did you become interested in sustainable fashion?

In 2018, I started learning about the makeup of synthetic fabrics including polyester, their microplastic composition and detrimental effect on the ecosystem. On top of loving fashion design, I also care a lot about the environment and its future, so pursuing sustainable fashion design is an exciting way for me to be a part of the solution towards a more sustainable fashion industry and healthier environment.

I think that it is so important to use sustainable materials in fashion because eventually many garments make their way into the environment usually through landfills. Ideally, garments will be durable and loved enough to rotate through your wardrobe for years but when they are finally discarded, the sustainable and natural materials will not be harmful to the environment like synthetic material fabrics are.

Isabelle Collins and Todd Conover adjusting a dress on a mannequin.

Collins credits Professor Todd Conover with inspiring her to be fearless and adventurous with her designs.

Who have been your most influential mentors and professors?

My professors for fashion design are Jeffery Mayer, Todd Conover, Kirsten Schoonmaker and Sally Tomkins, and they’ve all been great mentors. One thing that Professor Conover says that always stays in my mind is to create something that has never been seen before.

My mentor for my senior collection and SOURCE project is Todd Conover. He has been extremely influential in encouraging the fashion students to experiment and be adventurous in our designs. He also taught us that a lot of the design process comes from the act of making itself, where you may discover or create something you wouldn’t have thought of if you didn’t just start fearlessly.

Isabelle Collins digitally drawing a collection.

Collins plans to one day start her own fashion brand of clothing made from sustainable materials.

How has the SOURCE grant helped you with your research?

Purchasing materials for my project—creating a sustainable fashion collection through circular design and zero waste—is important. The high quality and durable natural fiber fabrics are more expensive than the alternative synthetic polyesters which are harmful to the environment. The SOURCE grant has allowed me to fully explore different types of materials and sustainable fabrics I want to use for my senior collection.

The grant has also been helpful not just for materials but also for transportation, paying for access to museums and books. SOURCE is amazing. It allows students to try out their ideas while they are still in school and offers a supportive community to give feedback and expand on ideas. It’s exciting and inspiring to learn about all the different projects everyone is working on through SOURCE.

The SOURCE grant has helped me so much. I, like so many students, had a project that I’ve always wanted to pursue, and it really helped make that a reality.

—Isabelle Collins ’22
Isabelle Collins holding a lamb.

Collins received SOURCE funding for her project, which she used for materials and to conduct research, including on a sheep farm in Ireland where she learned how wool fabric is produced.

What organizations are you involved in on campus, and why?

I have had the opportunity to try so many things through Syracuse’s vibrant community. I am in the printmaking club and the running club. I have been involved in the Orange Shorts animation club and FADS, which is the fashion and design club. I joined these organizations to try out activities I was interested in and to meet new people. I have met a couple of my best friends through these organizations.

What are your career goals and how is Syracuse University preparing you?

I learned so much from my experience studying abroad, which is something I would recommend to every Syracuse student. I learned a lot from my classes at the London College of Fashion, a Syracuse Abroad World Partner Program, and I’ve also learned about different cultures from visiting seven countries. London especially has been a wonderful experience—I have really enjoyed learning its history and exploring the historic city.

I think every effort that we can make to soften the burden of fashion on the planet, or use existing materials, would help tremendously in reducing carbon emissions. I’m trying to create sustainable fashion—to be part of the solution.

—Isabelle Collins ’22

My goal post-graduation is to be a fashion designer for an innovative and sustainable brand. Eventually, I’d like to start my own fashion brand. Syracuse is preparing me for my career goals by providing me with the knowledge and skills I need to have a career as a fashion designer. The Career Services team is also great in critiquing students' resumes and conducting mock interviews. The advisors I worked with connected me with alumni to discuss potential career paths. The Orange alumni network is huge and helpful!

Lisa Maresca

This story was published on .

Also of Interest

  • College of Visual and Performing Arts

    Home to the visual and performing arts at Syracuse, VPA supports the creative process and professional development. The College is divided into seven areas: the School of Art; the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies; the School of Design; the Department of Drama; the Rose, Jules R. and Stanford S. Setnor School of Music; the Department of Film and Media Arts; and the Department of Creative Arts Therapy.

  • School of Design

    The School of Design is an inquisitive community of students and faculty that addresses firsthand the issues of the world around it.