Recycle the Runway: Anne Coleman discusses her sustainable collection for USC Fashion Week

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Photos by Christian Hinty

WHEN ANNE COLEMAN WALKED INTO COLLOQUIUM CAFE TO MEET ME, I WAS SURPRISED BY THE PERSON WHO SAT DOWN AT MY TABLE. HER IMPECCABLE MAKEUP, SLIM COMPUTER BAG AND TASTEFUL JEWELS ON HER WRIST AND IN HER EARS LED ME TO WONDER IF SHE WAS A BUSINESSWOMAN ON A LUNCH BREAK. IN A SENSE, COLEMAN’S ALREADY A WORKING ADULT — SHE’S A SENIOR TAKING SIX CLASSES AND WORKING ON OPENING A BOUTIQUE AFTER GRADUATION. “I THOUGHT ABOUT GOING TO GRAD SCHOOL, MAYBE GOING TO SCAD,” SHE SAYS, “BUT IN THE END I DECIDED IT WOULD BE MORE BENEFICIAL TO SEE WHAT I COULD DO ON MY OWN.”

On her own, she’s already accomplished quite a bit. Her portfolio site, which has a sleek and professional design, contains photographs of past collections, both high fashion and ready-to-wear. She’s designed for several runway shows and theater productions over the past few years, usually working unconventional, recycled materials into her pieces. Several of her designs have walked the Reclaimed Runway, such as a skirt and top made from 1940s playing cards, a dress made of hot-glued, cut plastic bottles and a hand-woven cork and twine corset created on a self-made loom.

Coleman is a retail and fashion merchandising major paired with a theater minor. This unique combination allows her to learn the ins-and-outs of running a business while getting hands-on experience in the costuming department. “When I came here, they told me there was no major for fashion design, but I get basically the same training when I work with costuming,” she said. “The only difference is the structure — like right now, we’re designing for ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ so every outfit has to match the period. Next year, I’ll have more creative license with my clothes.”

From a young age, Coleman and her mom have been involved in community theater in their hometown of Chester, South Carolina. “It’s a really big influence on my career path,” she said. “With community theater, you don’t have a giant budget, so you’re constantly looking for ways to improve things. For example, we’ve got a dress from the ‘30s and we need to make it ‘40s. How do we do that? Do we change the hem, or the sleeves or make accessories? It’s all about using the resources you have.”

This is Coleman’s forte — upscaling and recycling clothing. Her collection this year, which must somehow relate to the “natural” theme, is called “Tropical Boho,” and it’s primarily constructed of donated T-shirts, which she dyes, cuts into strips and knits into shape. 70 percent of her collection must be created, but she thinks hers is closer to 90 percent.

“When I worked in retail, it was crazy to see how much material they threw away,” she said. “My co-workers started calling me “tree-hugger” because I’d always ask to take things that they were planning on throwing out. I’m going to Florida over Spring Break, and my friend and I plan to spend most of our time at thrift stores and antique shops. Right now, I’m working on creating business cards for my store out of old promotional materials. I’m hoping that, top to bottom, my store will reflect my passion about upscale, recycled clothes.”

I asked if she would sell or design high-fashion pieces at her boutique, like the hoop skirt made from a curtain from 2014’s Fashion Week.

“I’m trying to focus on more ready-to-wear pieces,” she said. “I love designing high fashion, but it’s just not a practical business model. [A curtain hoop skirt] isn’t something that normal women would look into their closet and choose to wear on a daily basis.

“I’m also passionate about making my clothes accessible to women of all sizes. Only three percent of women in the United States have the same proportions as fashion models. The girls wearing my Tropical Boho pieces aren’t petite or six feet tall; I’m working to make recycled clothing a fashionable option for everyone.”

As we stood up to leave, I asked Coleman if I could get pictures of her pieces before the showcase. “I don’t know about that,” she smiled. “I do my best work when I’m up against a deadline. Last Fashion Week, I changed my entire collection three weeks before the show because I didn’t like it. I don’t want to put my work out into the world unless I’m 100 percent sure it represents me.” Judging by her creative, independent spirit, her perseverance and practicality, and her passion for the environment, Anne’s Tropical Boho collection seems to represent her perfectly.

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