The fashion industry isn’t exactly known for its sustainability, but Carbondale’s Green is the New Black Fashion Extravaganza is changing that, stitch by stitch, as it presents its 12th fashion show Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s surprising how many popular and mainstream designers are slow in committing to sustainability, but it is creeping into the fashion industry in a good way,” said Amy Kimberly, the show’s director. “Lucky for us, we have talented designers in this valley and state who are devoted to upcycle and reuse for their lines, and it’s exciting to see what they create.”
The sold-out fashion show at Carbondale Rec Center features 49 models, 29 Colorado designers, 19 dancers, and 11 additional performers. With more than 600 tickets sold per night, proceeds benefit Carbondale Arts’ education programs, which include free after-school arts classes, curriculum-based arts education, youth scholarships, bilingual piano, and the traveling Rosybelle Mobile Maker Bus.
Kimberly saw the power of the runway and how music and choreography can heighten emotion during her five years as the executive director of the Telluride AIDS Benefit, which used a similar format to raise money. Her aim in bringing a sustainable fashion show to Carbondale, in addition to highlighting creative makers, included bringing awareness to Mother Earth by asking designers to fulfill sustainable requirements of employing upcycled or recycled materials or using fabrics generated sustainably, such as organic cotton, hemp, or recycled plastics.
“We have a very strong contingent of designers who have grown with us,” she said.
Not the least of these is Akomplice Clothing, started by brothers Mike and Patrick McCarney in Carbondale, who began with T-shirts and have since expanded their operation to work out of Los Angeles.
“Every year, they make efforts to be sustainable, and they’ve made huge strides in becoming a more sustainable company,” said Laura Stover, show stylist, projectionist, and costume designer.
She will also showcase 10 of her sustainable pieces — this year made from 40 decommissioned tents she received from Steamboat.
“When you’re getting started, one of the easiest things to do is to go to a thrift store and take things apart and see how they’re made,” she said. “It’s hard to be 100% sustainable, especially when you have a very specific vision you’re bring to life. I’m always trying to find something that’s sustainable or upcycled. Sometimes you do have to buy something new, and that’s OK. The most important thing with this show is that you’re making an effort to be sustainable, and we’re doing that more and more.”
Organizers are excited about Lilian Lara’s debut. The mixed-media artist and costume designer often draws on her Mexican roots to create unique pieces and will teach a workshop on wearable art at Anderson Ranch Arts Center between June 26-30.
Skye Barker Maa is another Front Range-based designer who “does gorgeous high fashion sustainably,” Kimberly said. Ironic Dilemma Designs is yet another company, which generates purses and jewelry, in addition to clothing, from recycled, upcycled, and natural materials. And Bespoke Fashion handcrafts made-to-order menswear.
“They make immaculately-tailored, gorgeous clothes,” Stover said. “It’s hard for us to find sustainable menswear.”
In addition to the sustainable designs, what makes this Carbondale fashion show stand out is its quality in production — and the fact that it has been dormant for three years during the pandemic. Organizers canceled the 2020 show the evening of dress rehearsal. Now it returns with a twist on its 2020 “Mirror, Mirror” theme.
“Mirror, Mirror” originally explored themes of good and evil in fairy tales, but the show now revisits the story line through the lens of the hero’s journey, where dark and light are part of us all.
The production combines rousing music, aerials, hip-hop, and other dance with runway models and interactive video projections in which, perhaps, a woman might “dance” with golden balls of light, all while adventuring into an inspiring theme.
“Because the show is a really high quality and high caliber, we often hear, ‘Wow, this is as good as anything I’ve seen in New York.’ The show itself takes you on a journey of visual delight. It makes you think, and it’s a lot of fun,” Kimberly said. “We leave it very open for the audience to take away their feelings and thoughts, and the audience definitely takes away more than just a show. That’s why we sell out because people come away with a feeling that they’ve experienced more than just a fashion show. In fact, when we say ‘fashion show,’ we don’t think it does it justice because it sounds kind of shallow. They come away with (a sense that) good things are happening in the world, and they want to do more around sustainability. They feel they’ve seen something extremely moving. This is the prevalent feeling. It creates a very strong community within our valley.”