One of Jacob Olmedo's plant-growing designs.

Through a collaboration with Till, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainability, environmentalism and community, experimental textile designer Jacob Olmedo is welcoming strangers to his new design studio in Redding, Conn.

Till’s founder Jane Philbrick has turned over the first floor of her house there to the Parsons MFA textiles design student. Philbrick is a founding partner in Till, an acronym for Today’s Industrial Living Landscapes, which looks to repair brownfields naturally to create a place for a community to build on. Saturday was opening day for Olmedo’s studio for explorative textiles design. The idea is to create textiles that are sustainable that can interface with technology while remaining wearable and usable. The concept is meant to keep humans connected not only to the world, but to others and nature, Olmedo said. “The idea is to create clothing for the community by the community,” he said. “They are invited to come into the studio, and to learn about the process of how clothing is made, and to be part of the process.”

For his thesis at Parsons, he engineered a hydroponics textile that grows plants while people wear it. “That is a textile that I am definitely integrating in this studio in Connecticut,” said Olmedo, adding that his MFA program is “a hybrid of cross-disciplinary work that will involve further exploration into 3-D printing, biomaterials. Everything I make, I try to make biodegradable,” he said. He described his new set-up as “a fashion hub that explores and deepens our knowledge and understanding of our vital impact of clothing and the health of our planet in the 21st century.”

Needless to say, research material was scant, when Olmedo was looking for insights as he developed his thesis. After earning his BFA, he questioned why more designers weren’t looking at textiles in a 21st-century way. He pointed to the Dutch designer Diana Scherer, who grows roots to use for textiles, “which is kind of fascinating.” And next year, Olmedo will have “the great privilege” of having his work near hers in a Pratt exhibition.

Liz Spencer of The Dogwood Dyer, who forages nature to create natural dyes, and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin, who started community sewing circles years ago for a person-to-home business model, intrigued him. He connected with Philbrick, an artist, writer and educator, through Parsons where she is a part-time lecturer. The space is a first for the New York-based student, who is doing the reverse commute to Fairfield County. “It’s exciting to come into a community to invite people to be part of something that they thought they couldn’t be part of. They are really curious and they don’t know where to go and what to do,” he said, adding that visitors are welcome to help sew the garments, too. On Oct. 10, he will speak at a Till-hosted symposium, “Connecticut Retooled: Leveraging Connecticut’s Knowledge Communities to Grow Prosperous Knowledge Economies” at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn.

“I’m really excited to explore. I love to look at technology, whether that be biomaterials or 3-D printing to make sure we’re being responsible about what we’re doing and what we’re creating,” he said. “Everything I make is natural, but it’s technological.”

Till has also tapped him to design uniforms staffers can wear for key appearances. The group is working to rejuvenate a brownfield that was once a 56-acre former wire mill site in Redding into a multifunctional community initiative. The intersection of environment, stewardship and premier art is part of the ares’s heritage, Philbrick noted. The effort is reminiscent of an artist collective started by Katherine Dreier that included Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and others.

“It wasn’t a bunch of Sunday painters in the Connecticut countryside. One of the things that was so important to me was that as an artists’ collective, they saw themselves as educators. They were teaching the American people about the art of the day which was then European modernism.” she said. “I feel so strongly that as a 21st century artist, the art of our day is reinventing how we live on earth – our systems of energy, mobility, our built environment, fashion and industrial agriculture, These systems have to be reinvented. It’s going to take these people who can imagine the future for real. What I love about what Jacob is doing is that it is absoltuely analogous to what we are talking about with the environment.”

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