On a sunny day at the University of Arizona last week, a fetching blonde model walked down an outdoor runway, donning a denim coat edged with red tulle.
The model, a golden retriever, was part of Dogs N’ Denim, an annual fashion show organized by students from the University of Arizona.
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Now in its fifth year, each annual show has a theme—in the past, it’s been the “Mutt” Gala and the 70s. This time around, the students focused the show around service dogs—choosing “Here to Help” as their theme.
Elizabeth Heuisler, an assistant professor of practice, fashion industry’s science and technology at the University of Arizona, teaches Fashion for a Purpose, the class that stages the show.
She said each year the students are required to upcycle denim to create the clothing each canine wears down the catwalk.
“It’s all donated denim, from the community and students. And then the students take the [denim] apart and make these coats and whatnot. It’s a really good lesson for the students to see something different that can be made out of denim—here you are taking a pair of pants or a jean jacket, and you’re making it into a dog coat,” she said.
Gina D’Onofrio, a junior at the university, said she created several coats for the show, which she tried to match to the stories the students received about the dogs and their owners, or tie in with current trends.
“One person was mentioning that their dog loves bunnies and always jumps when she gets really excited, or that’s kind of like her cue as a service dog when her owner got really anxious, so I did like bunnies on the coat,” she said. “A few of them I just went with trendy styles, like bows and stuff, if we didn’t really have a story for the dog. I know bows and balletcore are kind of a big thing now, so I did some coats based on that. We’re in Arizona, so I did a cowboy coat, too.”
The students also created accessories for the humans that walked their furry friends across the stage like denim “poop bags” and a purse made specially by D’Onofrio for a young owner.
For Athena Carmona, a fashion industry’s science and technology major (FITS) and first-generation student at the university, having the opportunity to upcycle garments has impacted her outlook on sustainable fashion. She has participated in Dogs N’ Denim twice.
“It’s definitely opened ideas for the future. [Upcycling] could even be a hobby if it’s not part of a job in the future. In today’s world, upcycling is always going to be needed, I think,” she said.
As circularity and sustainability efforts becomes an increasingly important piece of the fashion and apparel world, it’s important for the next generation of students who might work in the fashion industry to learn about it, Heuisler said.
D’Onofrio, Carmona and their classmate Andres Behrens, agreed.
“I think recycling could be the future of fashion,” Behrens, who is also a FITS major at the university, said. “We create, we create, we create, and we don’t reuse. We’re forgetting what we’re creating, and we need to go back to those things and try to repurpose them because our Earth only can supply us for so long before we take all of her resources.”
Behrens’ assessment of fashion’s future aligns with what a number of brands have already begun working on. Mara Hoffman, the luxury fashion label, recently debuted a dress made of recycled lyocell. Meanwhile, brands like Pacsun, Muji and Intermix have incentivized consumers to recycle their denim.
Beyond the work of upcycling the denim, the nine students in Heuisler’s class had a lot of planning to do to make the show a success, she said. The students came together to bring in pet-related vendors, like Peanut’s Closet, which is a dog accessories business run by another University of Arizona student.
D’Onofrio, Behrens and Carmona said they each had a different role in that process. While D’Onofrio sewed the bases for the coats and made posters advertising the show, Behrens compiled a guest list, requested seats and helped with set up. Carmona said she helped bring extra spirit to the event by working with the pep band and a student DJ.
Heuisler said about 200 people attended this year’s event, but many more walked past and stopped for a few minutes to watch.
The annual Dogs N’ Denim show is not the only way the University of Arizona teaches its students how to upcycle materials.
Heuisler said another class at the University of Arizona allows students to use old football jerseys and donated denim to create new garments. The end designs serve as inspiration for Arizona Replay, a company owned by a University of Arizona alumnus that sells retired football jerseys as new fashion.