Project Runway Winner Erin Robertson has a lot of interesting things to say on fashion and the environment
By Chere Di Boscio
With her colourful, bold style, cheeky personality and talent for design, you’d never know that Project Runway winner Erin Robertson was once a dental assistant. Thanks to her mentor, the poshly named Dr Porche, the fine art fashion designer and textile artist was encouraged her to seek out a more creative path, and so double majored in Fashion and Fiber Art, and was awarded the CFDA Scholarship for fashion students during her sophomore year.
Immediately after graduation in 2016, Erin joined the cast of Project Runway Season 15 and emerged victorious with her weirdly sustainable fashion designs. Why ‘weirdly sustainable’? Well, Robertson thinks outside of the box for her eco-friendly ethos by creating fabric out of distinctive materials like bubblegum, wigs, and…worms. Seriously. Her first ever Project Runway challenge produced a frock fashioned from wigs, gum, and beads – talk about ‘trash into treasure’! In later episodes, not-so-vegan-friendly dried worms and recycled guitar picks were incorporated into wearable works of art.
After she emerged victorious from Project Runway, her concern for the planet was expressed further with “Plashion,” a capsule collection featuring upcycled plastic bags and other recycled materials, to raise awareness about the danger of single-use plastics. Models dominated downtown Boston, wielding rubbish pickup sticks they dubbed “selfless sticks,” a play on the selfie stick, bien sur.
Hers is a rather unconventional approach to eco-fashion, and we love it. But Erin would like to go back to school – specifically to MIT – to immerse herself in a far more mainstream body of knowledge, namely sustainable textile technology via MIT’s Media Lab. (Ed’s note: we’re not so sure about this – Media Lab’s Bionic Yarn has actually turned out to create more problems than it solved, but that’s another story).
Here in this exclusive interview, the designer tells us about the women she’d most like to dress, how plastic plays a key role in her work and how the fashion industry needs to change.
Meet Project Runway Winner Erin Robertson
How would you describe the style of your work?
Quirky. Fun. Sexy. Modest. Colorful.
Why is sustainability important to you?
Because it’s the future. Not thinking about your footprint left one this earth is a little outdated.
In which ways do you feel the fashion industry needs to change the most?
Aside of creating less, I think changing the focus of marketing to not to HAVE to have things. Especially for really cheap. Marketing controls the consumer, so I think if there was a big switch in that it would really help out. There’s a lot of people who aren’t aware of the amount of waste, environmental damage and terrible working factories that humans are exposed to. So change pretty much everything. Haha.
If you could dress any celebrity, who would it be and what would they wear?
Iris Apfel or Anna Dello Russo. Hmmm, I don’t know specifically, but it would be something colorful and textural.
Are you sustainable in any other aspects of your life?
I am. And it’s been a hard transition. I wasn’t aware of how terrible single use plastics were until only a few years ago, can you believe it? I think about the longevity of everything now! I don’t buy what I don’t need. I also buy a lot of clothes second hand.
What made you want to be a designer in the first place?
I don’t know really. It’s just what interested me the most in high school.
Whose designs inspired your journey so far?
I love designers from Bauhaus movement. Neri Oxman, Josep Font, Alexander McQueen, old Balenciaga.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
What were the best and worst aspects of being on Project Runway?
Best: Met amazing new friends, made some pretty fun stuff with their money, realized how fast I could make something. Worst: I feel like I can’t complain because I won. Anything that was annoying (not having a phone for 6 weeks) was all worth it!
You use a lot of plastic fibres in your work. Are you aware of the dangers of microfibers coming out in the wash and contaminating water ways?
I am aware! Most of my stuff isn’t really machine washable though. I’m broadening what I make, clothing that is not as much and isn’t like art, and I’m looking into other material. Or new ways of working with old material. There’s this company called everyone who make stuff out of recycled cotton. And Yulex who make neoprene from a plant. It’s actually very hard to design sustainably! But it’s on the forefront of my brain.
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