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Sustainability is the future for Canberra’s up-and-coming designers

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We meet some of this year’s CIT fashion and interior design graduates.

At the CIT end of year exhibition last week, the talented 2018 cohort presented their graduating collections, with several looks from each of the fashion students modelled on the runway and the interior student’s work on display around the room. A collaboration between the two faculties, the exhibition’s theme ‘Weave’ perfectly described the cross-disciplinary community the students had built throughout their studies.

“We came up with that name before we even started collaborating with the fashion students,” explains Interior Design graduate Mel Riley. “We were talking about how as students we’re woven together in the way we help each other and support each other, and as we’re going out into the workplace we will become part of that fabric, too.”

But that’s not all the graduates have in common. In her final designs, Mel used recycled flooring and furniture to hark back to a golden era of Canberra hospitality. Karen Aguilera-Gibson and Chelsea Hayes, both aspiring fashion designers, are focussed on how they can make their mark on an industry obsessed with fast fashion.

“I feel like there are so many clothes out there, I don’t personally think we need more,” says Karen. “We’re looking for something that’s different, that’s special, that’s unique. What’s going to be the thing that’s going to make my design stand out?”

Chelsea Hayes’ designs on the FASHFEST catwalk.

“I’m very much on the same page,” Chelsea adds. “I want to be environmentally conscious when I’m putting stuff out there.”

To the class of 2018, the importance of sustainability is obvious. But in Australia and around the world, the fashion and interior design industries are just starting to catch up.

“I think we’re all looking for things that are more real, because we’re doing so much digitally these days and the contrast its making us more interested in touching and feeling in real life,” says Karen. “I think that’s the reason why we’re into everything being handmade: slow food, slow fashion, just going back to the practices that we have lost a little bit.”

The fashion students were given a fitting theme for their final collections: activism. Each student chose a cause to make a statement about through their work. Karen took on the mammoth task of critiquing gender inequality, playing with male and female silhouettes and incorporating elements of her South American heritage into her poncho-inspired designs.

Chelsea, on the other hand, explored the idea of mental health.

“I was really inspired by the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, where you repair ceramics with a precious metal seam, so I took that concept and expressed that in my clothes.”

Designed by Karen Aguilera-Gibson.

Both Mel and Karen decided to study their passions at CIT as mature-aged students, and the experience has made them even more dedicated to pursuing a new career.

“I’ve been out of school for over twenty years now, and its taken me this long to go ‘Hang on a sec, designing is what I really want to do,’” says Mel. “Its always been there, but it took a lot of guts to go back as a student in such a late stage of my life.”

After graduating from high school and spending the last couple of years working in retail, Chelsea isn’t any less keen to start putting her skills to work.

“It’s really exciting, that we can go get jobs that we actually really like and where we can make a difference.”

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