Wilson College of Textiles graduate student Caitlin McCall wants to hold fashion more accountable to the environment, so she is leading by example. She recently showed several pieces from an ethereal collection of garments designed from recyclable nonwoven materials, and she has been invited to send her designs to the sustainability-themed Planet Runway show at Johns Hopkins University on March 3.
When McCall was in her late teens, a fast fashion clothing chain opened at the local mall. Initially enthralled with the tightly packed racks of trendy clothing, she began to suspect that the inexpensive garments she was buying were costly to the environment.
“I started researching and realized that…the materials just last in the landfill — forever,” she said. “My interest in fashion evolved from wanting to push back at that and change how we dress fashionably and consume things.”
The Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management (TATM) master’s candidate earned her B.S. in Fashion Design from the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) at the University of Cincinnati in 2015. While there, she interned with designer Azhand Shokohi and Crystal B. Designs, and traveled to a city near Shanghai for an internship with fashion label Elegant Prosper.
McCall returned to China this past December to present her collection during Wuhan International Fashion Week in a competition sponsored by Wuhan Textile University. Dr. Cynthia L. Istook put McCall’s name forward for the competition, facilitated by a connection with Dr. Yingjiao Xu.
“One day, Dr. Istook asked if I had a passport that was current,” said McCall. “I was amazed…it was very exciting and surreal. It was really a blitz trip. I was there and back within a week, and it took me a while to figure out where I was, both going there and coming back.”
The designers had a day to explore the city and then focused on the upcoming show. There was a rapid succession of fittings and rehearsals, and then the show opened to a tightly-packed, sold out show in the long, narrow venue.
“You’re meeting all these new people and you’re talking and telling stories and you think, ‘Right! I’m at a fashion show and I have to go steam my garments,’” she said. “It’s a chaotic mix of fun but work, and then it’s over so quickly. It’s hours that culminate in a matter of minutes.”
McCall was the only designer representing the United States, and found the mix of cultures inspiring.
“You really get a sense of these different perspectives, different aesthetics and designs, different things that are driving people’s culture and ideas and aspirations,” she said.
She roomed with the designer from Germany and they had a conversation about shared concerns.
“We talked a bit about sustainability and the challenges and pitfalls of the fashion industry and the waste that it generates and some pretty extreme hurdles to overcome in many different areas,” she said. “But it’s good to see other people thinking about sustainability, too.”
When she was little, McCall wanted to change the world. She has found her calling as a designer and believes she will make future fashion more sustainable. Her education from NC State has helped her attain some of her design goals — and made her dreams bigger.
“I chose the Wilson College of Textiles mainly for its foundation of science and engineering, and the technologies that are here are indispensable,” she said. “The fashion studio downstairs, all the machines there…we have amazing resources. But the most rewarding aspect of coming here has been the ability to collaborate with people from very different disciplines. Some of those big ideas that you get as a designer seem more realistic and come to fruition with much more ease when you have people with different skill sets who can add their insight and help you build what would otherwise be this unattainable thing.”
After her upcoming graduation this May, McCall hopes to find a position where she can continue her work in sustainability on an interdisciplinary team.