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Pittsburgh Designer Leads Upcycling Movement Against Fast Fashion

By: Delta Daley

Pittsburgh-based designer Cierra Rauch has launched a local revolution against fast fashion with the clothing designs she has been drawing since she was 10 years old.

Her DIY approach to turning old into new resonates with youth who have converted to thrifting and upcycling old clothes, as she creates one-of-a-kind pieces without sacrificing our planet.

“The materials I use to make my clothes are secondhand… and I don’t make too many pieces that I know I won’t be able to sell,” Rauch, 22, said. “I think everything moves too fast right now, as far as trends go. I think it gets really boring and exhausting.”

With a rising interest in individuality and sustainability among teenagers, many designers such as Rauch are giving discarded garments and fabrics a new life, ultimately keeping those clothes out of landfills. Rauch has been working on her brand, CIERRA*UCH, for the past two years.

Trying her hand at men’s streetwear, she ultimately decided she wanted to create pieces targeted towards women, specifically younger women and artists. Her avant-garde ensembles are a breath of fresh air in the trend-obsessed culture of the fashion industry. Her most recent collection, Convalescence*2, contains dreamy, punk-esque skirts and tops with a deconstructed and skin-baring twist.

The focus is on revamping clothes such as vintage or thrifted pieces and giving them a new life instead of constantly producing new clothing with new fabrics.

“As far as how my brand differs, I hand-make all of my pieces and most of them are one-of-one, and I buy a lot of deadstock fabrics,” she said.

The correlation between fast fashion, inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends, and climate change, is becoming more prominent in culture today as more studies have come out around the effects of fast fashion on the climate.

“The apparel and footwear industries together account for more than 8 percent of global climate impact, greater than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined,” the 2018 “Measuring Fashion” report by Quantis found.

Not only are fast fashion companies producing clothing at a very fast rate, they are also utilizing synthetic fabrics composed of plastics and other non-biodegradable materials.

“Use of synthetic fabrics releases thousands of kilograms of microfibres into fresh and oceanic waterways every day, anything from 240,000 to 3 million plastic bags per day,” a scientific literature review conducted by The Bren School of Environmental Science and Management in collaboration with Patagonia has found.

Teenagers and young adults all across the world have become very concerned with the effects of fashion manufacturing, and are looking for ways to combat it.

“Sustainable fashion is important to me because the fashion industry and textile production has detrimental effects on the environment and the lives of the workers producing the millions of garments made each year,” said Maya Avery, a full time student at Howard University in Washington and the designer and owner of the slow-fashion label Insignia MSA.

“Fast fashion companies produce new fabrics, which takes a toll on the environment,” said Anneli Shadel, 18, a Pittsburgh climate activist who moved to Sweden and plans to study fashion in Italy. “Like cotton, for instance; you need land, which is linked to deforestation, you need fresh water, and fuel just to produce the new cotton.”

When asked what “slow fashion” meant to her, she responded, “Taking time to really think about if a piece of clothing is going to benefit your life and your wardrobe.”

“Slow fashion”’ was a term coined by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion as a direct response to the overconsumption culture seen in society today.

“It is estimated that the average American throws away about 81 pounds of clothes every year,” according to The True Cost documentary.

The slow fashion movement is pushing for the everyday person to put more thought into their clothing consumption, and to support smaller, more sustainably minded brands, rather than the large fast fashion giants that are so prominent in our culture today.

“It is very hard to compete in the industry when there are such cheap alternatives,” Rauch said.

Consumers need to take a step back and analyze who they want to support with their money, and whenever possible, choosing small designers with sustainability in mind is the best way to go, Shadel added.

“Being able to play an active role in changing the way we consume, and the way we produce clothing as designers is crucial to reducing the negative effects fashion has on the world,” Avery said.

Another reason to take part in this new fashion revolution is the experience of dressing like no one else and wearing your beliefs on your sleeve.

“Younger consumers are seriously concerned with social and environmental causes, which many regard as being the defining issues of our time,” McKinsey & Company’s 2019 “State of Fashion” report found. “They increasingly back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favoring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that don’t.”

“I would describe my style as innovative, free-spirited, unique, and badass,” said Taylor Johnson, 21, a wardrobe stylist and creative director who buys from CIERRA*UCH. “What I look for when I’m expanding my wardrobe is mainly original and unique pieces of clothing.”

Anyone can wear name brand clothing in an attempt to look stylish, but a unique wardrobe composed of pieces you can’t get anywhere else has really resonated with the youth today, according to another McKinsey & Company study.

“Gen Zers value individual expression and avoid labels,” according to the report, which was conducted to investigate the behaviors of Gen Z and their influence on consumption patterns. “They mobilize themselves for a variety of causes. They believe profoundly in the efficacy of dialogue to solve conflicts and improve the world. Finally, they make decisions and relate to institutions in a highly analytical and pragmatic way.”

Beyond that, the clothing also has to just look cool, Johnson said.

“What drew me into Cierra’s clothing was the ethereal and intricate designs that she puts into her pieces,” she said. “The prints and patterns are extremely captivating but with the deconstruction of certain parts, it gives the piece that exact edge that I very much love and see within myself.”

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