Leslee Lunden Lofton is making the most of an opportunity she saw in her own closet.
Inspired by her own old clothes, garments at local thrift stores and an effort toward sustainability, Lofton, a senior in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s fashion design program, is repurposing apparel as she prepares to unveil her line at the Student Showcase and Runway Fashion Show, Thursday, April 21, in Student Center Ballroom D.
Upcycling, or repurposing old objects, is a trend in the fashion industry that has become more prevalent the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and concern over the Earth’s environment, said Lofton and Laura Kidd, an associate professor in the School of Architecture and program director. Lofton’s eight-garment line, labeled Back-to-the-’90s: Thrift-it Edition, is inspired by sitcoms Lofton watched as a child, including “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “A Different World” and “Sister, Sister.”
“Leslee is doing a collection inspired by what I’ve wanted to see a designer do for years,” Kidd said. “She came up with an idea and was shopping for her clothes all summer. She was purchasing tops and bottoms that nobody wants.
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“It’s been great to watch her really start thinking like a designer and thinking outside the box and coming up with solutions. Leslee has put a lot of hard work into this.”
As Lofton, who graduated from Chicago Butler College Prep High School, recently was tearing apart the seams on an old skirt that she never wore to convert it into a top, she explained the importance of sustainability and reducing waste.
“It’s a good way to help the planet – reusing clothes to make something new,” she said. “It started in the summer, and over the summer, I kept the same theme. I spent a lot of time looking at the fabric to see what I could do with it. I’m making a top that were shorts. I have to think of different and creative ways to make something completely different.”
The upcoming event marks the second in-person fashion show as part of SIU’s program she will participate in. As a course requirement, Lofton’s line will feature eight pieces, with eight models who are named for a character from one of the three sitcoms. Designers are responsible for finding their own models and work with them on fittings.
“There’s a bit of pressure to get everything done,” Lofton said. “It’s the process. I have to pace myself. But I’m at the final part of every garment, so there isn’t a whole lot of stress.”
Pandemic played a role
The pandemic prompted people to embark on more do-it-yourself projects.
“When you are stuck in the house you find things to do; the clothing industry has picked up that.
There is an explosion of recycling,” said Lofton, who returned to campus in fall 2021 for her senior year after spending most of the spring 2020 semester and all of her junior year as an online student.
Kidd added there have been discussions within the fashion industry about reducing waste for a long time, but that the pandemic speeded things up.
“People started designing and creating clothing from what they had, what they could find, or they got tired of looking at two or three garments in their closet, so they decided to combine them into something new,” Kidd said.
“And these younger designers, a lot of them are very thoughtful about the waste and trying to reuse things and sustainability.”
A key is ‘patience’
Lofton credits her grandmother with sparking her initial interest in clothing and design by taking her to a few sewing classes while in high school. She came to SIU’s program because it was affordable and one of the few Illinois schools with a fashion design program. SIU remains the only public university in Illinois that offers fashion design as a separate specialization.
While the effort to design and piece together material into fashion can take a long time, Lofton said, the key is having patience.
“You have to enjoy it,” Lofton said. During the pandemic, she began making masks for family and began selling them through word-of-mouth. That blossomed into her own online clothing business, Lunden Leslee, which Lofton plans to expand after she graduates in May. She wants to continue making custom outfits utilizing thrift and sustainable material.
First runway show in three years
Kidd noted that students are excited to be able to return to an in-person event. After the 2020 show was canceled due to the pandemic, Kidd, who has supervised student designers since 1997, opted for photo shoots in spring 2021.
This year, there will be exhibits of student work in the Student Center’s J.W. Corker Lounge and Ballroom C beginning at 6 p.m., including students from fashion merchandising, fashion styling and interior designers. The show is free and open to the public.
The runway fashion show begins at 7 p.m., with five first-year students who will each present a design titled, Dressed for Effect. Those students, with hometowns, are:
- Carbondale: Nicole Robinson.
- Chicago: Aniya Vaughns.
- Herrin: Aaron Elliot.
- South Elgin: Lisa Vasilopolous.
Two advanced students will present fashion designs as part of a miniline collection. Those students, with hometowns and line, are:
- Carbondale: Ingrid Hansen, Gothic Girls, a line of feminine gothic looks inspired by Victorian fashion and embellishments.
- Elgin: Caroline Chwalisz, Sweet Pea Vintage, a practical and feminine line using warm autumn colors inspired by 1940s women’s fashions.
The program is set to undergo a name change to fashion studies starting July 1, which Kidd said will better reflect its offerings. It will maintain its three specializations in fashion design, fashion merchandising and fashion styling.
For more information on the fashion design program, contact Kidd at 618-453-1970 or [email protected].