Sustainable Style

My Journey Into Green Fashion

A Project Runway star launches a new column.

By - Feb 26th, 2014 03:00 pm
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Timothy at age three.

Timothy at age three.

Hi! I’m Timothy Westbrook, Tim if you’re talking to me informally, and Timmy if we’ve known each other for a few years. I’m going to be writing a new column for TCD on sustainable style or green fashion, if you will.

First a word about me. I’m a visual artist working within the fiber art genre. I repurpose materials to transform them visually and physically — far from their original form — in order to tell a conceptual story. Most of my creations are wearables that I showcase in fashion show style presentations that are heavy with conceptual metaphors.

I moved here as the first out-of-state Artist-In-Residence at the Pfister Hotel in March 2012. I was also the youngest and the first non-painter. In my early conversations with the hotel they asked me about eighty bagillion times if I was ready, basically saying that if I was to bail I would ruin the opportunity for any national or international artist thereafter. Between that pressure and a blog post that was written about how I was a big bad New Yorker coming in to steal this opportunity away from Milwaukee, I was terrified. I thought I was coming into a city that had no interest in having me. Immediately after landing I discovered a loving and supportive art community and creative city. So I decided to stay here and I’m not sorry. I love it.

A little about my recent journey: In February 2013 my work caught the eye of national sustainability analyst group GreenBiz. I spoke at their annual conference in New York City. In the audience were sustainability directors and advisors for McDonalds, Wal-Mart, L’Oreal, Sprint, Best Buy, Walt Disney, and the like. I was at the top of my game. But the following day my grandfather, the inspiration behind much of my work, lost his five-year battle with cancer. I crammed all of my grief away into a dark corner of my brain, attempting to convince myself that everything was fine because I had just given the presentation of my life. Then, at the end of March my residency at the Pfister ended. I slumped into a depression and a month’s worth of a temporary studio space.

Timothy Westbrook on Project Runway.

Timothy Westbrook on Project Runway.

Things went like that for some time with many highs and lows. I moved into my semi-permanent studio in Milwaukee and had a pre-grand-opening, went back to New York State for my grandfather’s memorial service and then two days later was off to being filmed for the national television series “Project Runway.” Did I mention that my dog died two weeks before I would be at home to see him? Needless to say my mourning was out of whack and my success was confusing and after 40 days and 40 nights of filming Runway and being crucified after three episodes or days depending on your perspective, I was spit out the other end a broken, confidence-free artist. But I had to create an exhibition of my work at the end of September and somehow pushed through while never dealing with my feelings and all the while attempting to identify, “What is my goal? What is the journey?”

That’s a struggle for me as I’m sure it is for all of us. My work currently revolves around weaving fabrics out of discarded cassette tapes and plastic bags. I by no means invented either of these processes, however it was an authentic experience when I wove the materials for the first time. This sense of repurposing gives me the feeling of inventing and moving an industry forward. And that led me to the idea of creating a column that will navigate my journey through sustainability — and the progress of that entire movement — within the fashion world at large.

Timothy working with non-electric machine in fictionalized studio the northern Adirondack Mountains in New York State. Concept: regression technologically is progression environmentally. Photo by Krstin Rheder.

Timothy working with non-electric machine in fictionalized studio the northern Adirondack Mountains in New York State. Concept: regression technologically is progression environmentally. Photo by Krstin Rheder.

Sustainable style is in many ways the opposite of traditional or “fast fashion,” as you might call it. Season after season the fashion industry pumps out another grouping of looks that declares that what you were wearing three months ago is already out of date. Fashion seasons include Spring/Summer, Resort, Fall/Winter, and Holiday. The expiration date from last year’s attire arrives quickly. A sustainable style is something that lasts, unlike a quickly dying fad. It can keep itself alive. And it can have an environmental impact. I am on a journey to figure out how putting on clothes everyday and refreshing our personal aesthetics from time to time can actually benefit the greater good. What if every time we zipped our zippers we harnessed that energy to charge our cell phones? What if our hairspray was actually an air purifier rather than a chemical can coating the inner reaches of our lungs? It’s possible, I tell you as a person who believes in unicorns, anything is possible.

On a local scale, this column will identify and highlight stars and personas of Milwaukee’s entire fashion scene (not just those doing sustainable fashion). There were more than 24 fashion events in Milwaukee in 2013 alone. This column will keep you updated on all of the fashion shows, introduce you to the principal faces of Milwaukee’s fashion community, write features on the upcoming events, and document the crazy antics my brain and thoughts navigate me through, as I continue my life’s journey through a world I hope will increasingly embrace sustainable fashion. I look forward to writing for you.

Timothy Westbrook Studio at the Shops of Grand Avenue.

Timothy Westbrook Studio at the Shops of Grand Avenue.

Upcoming Fashion Event: 

I’m excited to announce what is sure to be one of the most memorable shows in Milwaukee fashion history. Fellow Project Runway alum Miranda Levy will be presenting “Return to the Runway” at the InterContinental Hotel on Friday February 28th. You can find more information at www.returntotherunway.com

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