Casey Barber had begun working on her sustainability-driven senior thesis collection when the opportunity to join Remake’s “peace corps” journey to Cambodia’s garment making communities came up. An all expenses paid flight to actually see garment factories? An opportunity to deeply connect with her purpose in the fashion industry? She was in.
Luckily, Casey was one of the Parsons School of Design students selected to join Remake in their journey, Made in Cambodia. Her experience meeting the women who make the clothing she will one day design forever changed the way she views her fashion career.
Casey had just begun to work on a series of looks that focus on kinetic draping and sustainability to lower the environmental impact of fashion. She used creative patternmaking as a tool to combat her frustration with the oversaturation of clothing in the market.
“I wanted to design cool clothes that are versatile, comfortable, and sustainable, through new and thoughtful making processes,” she said.
While in Cambodia, she was inspired to think further than the environment and integrate social well being in garment production.
“The trip opened my eyes to the connection between environmental and social sustainability, and the global importance of transparency of supply chain. It made it that much more important for me to incorporate a transparent sourcing model in my work,” Casey said. “It really showed me how much power we have as designers and educators in this industry, especially with our influence on social media to such a wide audience. So the more I raise the bar for ethical and sustainable practices, the more others will be encouraged to do the same.”
All of the clothing in her thesis collection is made from “really amazing sustainable fabrics,”– from recycled plastic bottles and even fishing nets that pollute the ocean. Seeing the human impact of each aspect of our fashion drew her to textile companies that show complete transparency of supply chain and those that provide job opportunities for people in small communities.
By knowing exactly where her fabrics came from, Casey was able to educate others about the positive impact of ethical fashion.
“I was able to have very exciting conversations with people about my work because I was able to educate them on the textile companies I was working with and how they made their materials… Being able to show how my fleece starts with local plastic collection programs in Haiti and Honduras and ends with manufacturing in the USA, sheds light on sustainable practices that are often in the shadows of supply chains,” she said.
Casey sourced fleece from Thread, which is made of 100% recycled PET and celebrates the individuality of its makers. “They have amazing stories on their websites of their workers, it connected to our experiences in Cambodia. The trip was so personal because we got to meet and speak with so many women and men employed in the industry,” Casey said.
“Through sourcing these sustainable materials, I wanted to prove that clothing — synthetics in particular — can be made much more consciously by using reputable, sustainable textile manufacturers,” the new graduate said. “Through my making process and materials, I tried to define what conscious design means to me.”
As Casey transitions from student to fashion designer, she hopes to work for a brand with similar values, stating that it’s more important to work for a brand that is standing up for environmental and ethical rights than it is to work for someone cool and trendy. She is also taking aim at keeping the conversation around ethical fashion going.
“My biggest takeaway from the Remake experience was the importance of keeping the conversation going, educating as many people as possible and sharing my thoughts and experiences. We were so fortunate to have this amazing experience, so it’s our job to share it and show others how they can actively participate in changing our industry.”
Casey also recognized the need to change the way we talk about problems within the fashion industry, to shift the conversation from one of tragic hopelessness to one of positive empowerment and encouragement:
“One of things I anticipated about this trip was feeling hopeless after completing our itinerary. It is such a heavy and complex issue and sometimes as one designer — especially just graduating — you cannot help but feel so small and powerless,” Casey said.
“Although we saw and heard many stories of unfair working situations and labor practices, I found myself coming home speaking about all of the amazing women I had met and how empowering it was to meet such inspiring women. And this is what I find most powerful, sharing stories — making the connection to these women personal; woman to woman.”