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Fashion at Calvin
January 13, 2006

Student designers will pair creativity with a social conscience for “What to Wear? A Student Fashion Show,” which commences at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 21 at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center.

The student-directed fashion show is soliciting a wide range of entries.

“Our plan is to leave things pretty open so that students can feel free to create anything that strikes them,” says Rachael Koeson, Calvin’s coordinator of student activities and organizations. “We wanted it to be inviting to as many people as possible.”

Helping Koeson with the show is a Fashion Advisory Board (FAB) and representatives from several student organizations, including members of Calvin Students for Christian Feminism, the college’s Social Justice Coalition and Students for Compassionate Living, to name a few.

The groups are hopeful that the event will be much more than a fashion parade.

“This is part of a broader series of programming aimed at sparking discussion about clothing and fashion,” Koeson says.

She hopes the show will provoke conversation about clothing as a means of personal and artistic expression.

“Why do we wear clothes and how can be present ourselves most accurately by what we are wearing?” Koeson asks, adding, “I don’t really want to normalize fashion. I think that’s kind of what the problem is now. You go to the mall and there are, like, five different kinds of things to buy. You don’t put any thought into it. It’s what is there, and it’s what everyone else is wearing. There’s nothing wrong with that inherently, but we need to give some legitimacy to people who are being creative in the way they present themselves.”

Organizers hope that What to Wear? will spark consciousness as well as creativity, perhaps even inspiring conversations on issues of social justice.

“Where do these clothes come from and what does that mean?” Koeson asks. “If I ’m going to buy a shirt at Old Navy, what does that mean? What impact does that have on the environment? What impact is it having on development in other countries? How does it affect business owners in the United States?”

Those issues are a key reason Ruth Ribeiro, the sophomore who chairs FAB, is involved in the show. Ribeiro, a studio art major, is planning a career in fashion design.

“I’m looking at working in the fashion industry but bringing in the idea of conscious consumerism," she says. "People always talk about being a good steward, and to me that means not only the way you dress but the way it was manufactured."

Ribeiro hopes to apply fair trade principles - already familiar to the worldwide coffee market - to the world of fashion. She also hopes to pioneer an awareness about “buying locally” in the fashion world - encouraging people to buy clothing from local artisans in the same way they now buy food from local farmers.

Ribeiro challenges the stereotype that fashion is a frivolous career for a Christian.

“Ever since I was little I was told that fashion wasn’t a viable profession. I want to make people aware that it is. It would always frustrate me when people would talk about redemption, but they’d only talk about it with a few professions - doctors, lawyers.

“We need a group of people to come out there and say we’re not going to complain about the way people dress. We’re going to encourage the way people dress and give them a viable resource for redeeming fashion. In the fashion industry, there’s a slow murmur of a want for that, but not as much as there should be."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson