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An inside look at Urban Oasis: Q & A with designer Janet Bishop

Janet Bishop ’15 describes her work on Urban Oasis during the Patternmaking II class final presentations.
Janet Bishop ’15 describes her work on Urban Oasis during the Patternmaking II class final presentations.
Photo by Julie Michener.

In a challenge that rivals any of Project Runway’s group assignments, a team of St. Kate’s apparel design students created the first collection of Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified fashion to ever hit a runway in the U.S.

For the garments to be certified, everything that went into the design had to be GOTS approved – from the fabric, to the dyes, and even the thread. Under the guidance of their professor Anupama Pasricha, students from the Patternmaking II class accomplished the feat with their 5-piece “Urban Oasis” line, while honing valuable career and life skills along the way.

A member of the design team, Janet Bishop ’15 shares her experience working on this groundbreaking design project — the process, the challenges and the lessons learned.

Tell us about the GOTS collection, where did you start?

We had donated fabric and it was all white. We wanted it to look organic, but not scream organic or “hippie.” We wanted the collection to be versatile for different groups of people. From there, I started doing trend research to figure out what colors were going to be big in the industry this year. We decided to go with a bold contrast to the white with the dark blues and indigos. We wanted it to be very edgy and trendy with all the cutouts that we did and the colors that we were using. We tried to strike a good balance. 

color palette

The team decided on a color palette and chose five final designs (including the one above) from 60 preliminary sketches. Photos by Ashley de los Reyes ’15 and Julie Michener.

What was it like to work on the project?

In comparison to others, this project had a much deeper research component. We spent time learning about the certification — and how organizations and manufacturers gain certification because there’s only a handful of U.S. companies that meet the strenuous standards. 

We also had to look at the dyeing process. With the help of the chemistry department, we learned out how to work with low-impact dyes to get the colors onto the fabric. Normally we’re just designing, so the month spent in research set us back a bit. But on the flipside, I saw this whole other side of the textile industry and all the job opportunities – from dyeing to the chemistry behind the process.

Can you describe the dyeing process?

We rented out the dye lab at the Textile Center and had someone show us how to use all the equipment. There are so many processes to get different looks. You have to put the dyes in certain baths to get them activated, and then in order to use them you have to soak the fabric in water. There was a lot of experimentation!

We came in with ideas. On Pinterest, we found a few different dyeing techniques that we really wanted to try. The result was similar to what we wanted, but at the same time, completely different. For example, on one piece we wanted to do an ombré on the bottom. Because we needed such wide fabric, we dyed each panel separately. When we sewed them together the panels didn’t match on the sides. It worked for our look — that organic feel of not being perfect and going with whatever we had. In other collections, it might not have worked as well.

Outcomes like this really tied in well with the organic theme because you can’t control what you’re dyeing. You don’t know what will happen until it’s already done and dried. You’re committed when you go into a project like that; either it’s going to work out or it’s not but you have to use what you are producing. It adds another challenge to the entire project.

Dye Lab

Megan Buysse ’15, Janet Bishop ’15, Amanda Kaczmarek ’15 and Alisha Caldera ’15 in the Dye Lab at the Textile Center. Photo by Anupama Pasricha.

So, it sounds like even with a clear design vision, things didn’t always turn out the way you expected?

Right! You definitely learn to let go. We had to rely on each other and the group to come up with better ideas. If we ran into a challenge, we had to problem-solve to come up with a new idea or modify a pattern to make it work based on what we had produced.

The apparel design program really teaches students how to problem solve. When I go into an interview, I can speak very highly and strongly about my skills in problem solving, dealing with conflict, and trying to come up with a solution that’s going to benefit myself and the product.

What’s your big take-away from this project?

I think it’s a huge tribute to St. Kate’s — that we collaborate with different organizations like GOTS. We don’t just talk about sustainability in our classes, we’re out there doing the actual, physical work. We’re getting involved with what’s happening in the fashion industry right now and spreading awareness. It’s an opportunity that students in other design schools probably don’t get. They might read or write a research paper about something happening in the industry, but to actually be part of it is completely different.

Sustainable fashion still has a little ways to go. We needed 3 or 4 layers to get the fabric weight we needed to produce an evening gown. At the same time, we showed that you can make it work — you can have a vision and incorporate sustainable practices. You don’t have to conform to society and what they’re giving you to work with.

Bishop recently graduated and is working as an apparel designer for F/X Fusion. Other team members included Megan Buysse ’15, Alisha Caldera ’15, Amanda Kaczmarek ’15, Xee Vang ’15 and alumna Kathy Jerde ’09.

The GOTS-certified “Urban Oasis” collection made its runway debut at the Katwalk: Noir show in May. Reunion attendees will get another chance to see it on June 12 at the Reunion Fashion Show.

Related content:
St. Kate's unveils first GOTS-certified U.S. runway collection

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June 4, 2015 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Alumnae/i, Business, Faculty, Leadership, Students