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Georgia Sewn Makes a Sustainable Fashion Statement

Sustainable fashion has come a long way from turning summer camp T-shirts into slashed tank tops and knitted plant holders. Aside from nostalgic purposes, recycled fashion has seen a massive resurgence, from the popularity of thrift and vintage stores to major companies toting the “upcycled” brand.

Americans consume nearly 20 billion new items of clothing each year, with about 98 percent of those produced overseas. Fast fashion is all about selling cheap, trendy clothes to be worn for a season, then quickly rendering them “out of style” and throwing them away. With such a quick turnaround, what is the real cost of this cheap clothing? With about 10-and-a-half million tons of clothing ending up in landfills every year and garment factories creating headlines about unsanitary work conditions and minuscule salaries, what we choose to wear and where we buy it creates a serious impact on the environment and the global economy at large.

This reality inspired the Athens Fashion Collective and UGA’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts to join forces to organize Georgia Sewn, a three-day weekend event focusing on sustainable fashion.

“Much of the garment industry moved overseas in the ‘90s and not many places in the U.S. survived, so designers are having a difficult time finding what they need here in the area,” says Sanni Baumgartner, owner of Community and co-founder of the AFC. “That’s when the idea of Georgia Sewn came about: to try to find what is still out there [and] connect these resources with designers, but also with each other to help support and strengthen the regional garment industry.”

The Athens Fashion Collective was founded in 2010 with the goal of showcasing local fashion and putting a spotlight on the creative individuals contributing to this vibrant scene. The group’s most recent event, “Projections,” held at Stan Mullins’ art studio last November, featured eight teams comprised of local boutiques and stylists who created runway looks inspired by the styles of iconic films.

“This year we wanted to take things a step further in reaching out to the regional garment industry with the idea of connecting designers to the sources they would need to create their collections,” says Baumgartner. “This expo will serve as a new initiative to bring together designers, goods and services to strengthen our regional garment industry and educate consumers about sustainable fashion and regional production.”

Georgia Sewn will start at Ciné on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. with a screening of the documentary Cotton Road by Atlanta filmmaker Laura Kissel. The documentary spans the world to uncover the transnational movement of cotton and tells the stories of workers’ lives in a conventional cotton supply chain. Kissel will be present for an introduction and a Q&A after the film.

The following day, the Willson Center will present a talk by Natalie Chanin, owner and designer of Alabama Chanin, in the UGA Chapel at 5 p.m. as part of its Global Georgia Initiative series. The Global Georgia Initiative presents world-class thinkers who address pressing contemporary questions concerning the economy, society and the environment, with a focus on how the arts and humanities can intervene. Chanin will discuss her family of businesses and how a collaborative community along with mindfulness can lead to healthy growth in the fashion industry and improved quality of goods.

The weekend crescendos on Saturday, Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. for the Athens Fashion Collective’s spring showcase at One Press Place. The newspaper building will be taken over by pop-up shops from Georgia designers and brands, regional manufacturers, cut-and-sew facilities and producers of wool, along with educational installations about sustainable fashion and the production cycle of a garment. There will be food, drinks and even a sheep and alpaca roaming around.

The fashion show will feature original designs by Georgia fashion designers Megan Huntz, Elizabeth Hyer and Emily Bargeron of Mamie Ruth, with styles created using sustainable or repurposed materials that are all either handmade or manufactured in Georgia. Community Service will also premiere a new collection of hand-knit pieces with fabric inspired by the Georgia coast. This will be followed by a group show featuring 10 Athens designers who will each showcase one outfit with the inspiration “cotton.”

As more people want their clothes to mirror their own values, sustainable fashion is an alternative that refuses to be ignored. And with fun events and desirable designs like these popping up locally, this trend is likely here to stay.