Current student, Michelle Paganini is working towards three degrees from our department: Technical-Apparel Industry Oriented, Custom Dressmaking/Small Business, and Theater Costuming. Michelle’s path through our programs has made her impassioned about sustainability and sustainable practices. Please enjoy our interview below.

Cañada Fashion Department (CFD): What are your long term fashion-related goals?
Michelle Paganini (MP): Explore, explore, explore and create, create, create. I’d also like to transition from my current career, Medical Device Quality Assurance and Regulatory Compliance Consulting (I help keep medical devices safe and effective), to fashion related enterprises. I am very much an entrepreneur and would like to continue with a business of my own, but probably not a brick and mortar.

CFD: You seem drawn to sustainability. Can you explain why sustainability is so important to you?
MP: When I found out the true social and environmental cost of fashion I was shocked, just shocked. I’ve noticed for years that the quality level of retail clothing (construction, design, and materials) has been declining and seems to be on a race to the bottom. Now I know some of the reasons: “Fast Fashion” aka “who cares if I only wear it once it is so cheap and will be out of fashion soon anyway!” Without realizing that the cost for fast fashion is low due to poverty level wages, dangerous working conditions, sometimes child labor, unsustainable farming, unchecked pollution, bad design/fit, cheap materials, and more. I’m convinced that twenty and maybe even thirty somethings in the U.S. do not even know what a well-fitting quality garment looks and feels like.

When I became aware of these things I felt that I personally could make a difference by foregoing new retail fashion. I developed a philosophy – I play a game with myself every day. The game is called “Thrifted, Gifted, Bought, Made” and refers to the origins of my clothing, jewelry and accessories. The game is a measure of the green factor of the clothing and the art/creativity factor. Here is how it is scored:

Green Factor
High points for:
Reused: Thrifted, Traded, Consignment
Retail that you’ve owned for so long and worn so much that it is now green
Greenest fabric choices (i.e.: cotton is not high on this list unless it is organic)
Low points for:
New retail, mass produced retail
least green fabric choice
Bought as “disposable” (i.e.: “So cheap who cares if I wear it twice”)

High points for:
Bought directly from an artist! (Do it please)
Handmade: By you, an artist, a friend
Remade clothing from your own closet or thrifted, etc.

Glam Points:
High points for:
Great fit
Great style/cut on you
Great color(s) on you
Great accessorizing
You feel great wearing it
Undergarments enhance (not detract)
Low Points for:
The inverse

Ethical Points:
High points for:
Made under fair wages
Made under decent work conditions
No child labor
Processing is not polluting environment
Zero/Low Waste manufacturing
Manufacturer gives back to the community
Low Points for:
The inverse

My best outfit would probably be garments and accessories fashioned by myself or another artist out of recycled materials. My daily goal is to meet all “Glam” criteria and be as green and artistic/creative as possible. Since I now buy primarily from thrift or consignment stores my score is getting pretty darn good.

Because many of my garments are unique I get stopped by people who want to ask me about my clothes or style. I welcome the opportunity to share with them about my philosophy or just about the possibility of buying used and upcycling which are new concepts to many people. People are interested and inspired which in turn fuels my passion.

CFD: What are you doing with the men’s dress shirts?
MP: Currently I am in an experimentation phase with an eye to creating a line of upcycled garment I could sell directly to consumers, and/or create a line of patterns for upcycling men’s shirts, and/or write a book.
As with any art form I find that the more I explore one theme the more I grow as an artist in that area – thank you Mike Baily for that invaluable lesson. I am also preparing a talk on fashion and sustainability and want these garments to demonstrate to my audience what is possible. I’m looking for venues to speak. I have one booked in 2014 already!

Here is a look at some of Michelle’s designs.

CFD: What has been the most important thing you’ve learned in your development at Cañada?
MP: In addition to what I’ve already shared, I’ve been both surprised and impressed with how technical fashion design is, something I did not expect. Many of the classes I’ve taken have required samples and garments and all that practice has paid off handsomely.The foundation of technical knowledge has supported me in my ability to successfully execute a complicated project like starting with men’s shirts, no pattern, and develop a well fitting, innovative and attractive one-of-a-kind garment. Time is my only limit!

CFD: Anything else you’d like to add.
MP: Thank you to the outstanding instructors at Canada. Taking classes with you has been the highlight of my week.

Thank you, Michelle, for your interesting perspective. We can’t wait to see where this leads you. You can check out more from Michelle on her blog here.


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