Byline: Allegra Holch

NEW YORK — “Plastics.”
That’s the now-legendary career advice Dustin Hoffman’s character got in the 1967 film “The Graduate,” and if you ask Wellman Inc., it wasn’t such a bad idea — as long as it’s recycled plastic.
For four years, the fiber company has been producing Fortrel EcoSpun, a polyester fiber made from recycled, post-consumer (PET) plastic bottles, and it has been steadily gaining recognition with designers.
One reason could be Wellman’s Master-Apprentice Programme, a joint effort of Wellman and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), now in its second year, that pairs designers with students for week-long apprenticeships. The results — one outfit designed by the master designer and one by the apprentice — are shown side by side in a full-scale runway show under the tents in Bryant Park during Fashion Week. Wellman’s only edict for the designs: They must feature fabrics that contain Wellman’s Fortrel EcoSpun.
Like the fiber, the event is growing in popularity. This year, the number of participating designers grew from 26 to 34; Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta and Richard Tyler were among the newcomers. Two schools — Rhode Island School of Design and Kent State University — also took part for the first time, joining last year’s group that included the Fashion Institute of Technology, Otis College of Art and Design, Parsons School of Design, Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science and Pratt Institute.
The show, held in the Pavilion, drew a crowd of more than 800.
Waving a plastic water bottle in the air, Jim Casey, president of Wellman’s fiber division, said, “This bottle could have been in a landfill, but it’s not. Most of the fabrics in the show today were made of Fortrel EcoSpun, our recyclable polyester fiber. These students will definitely have a major impact in the next millennium. There were 18 seniors in last year’s show, and all 18 now have jobs in the fashion industry.”
Casey then presented Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, with a check for $10,000, Wellman’s contribution to the CFDA scholarship fund.
On the runway, EcoSpun fleece fabrics made a strong showing in bright colors such as orange and fuchsia, and in bold buffalo checks. And while the fabric is usually thought of for sporty outdoor gear, some students and designers showed it in more dressed-up strapless dresses and dramatic, sweeping coats with feathers, fur or hand-painted designs.
Others opted for the minimalist route, with clean-cut pantsuits in denim, twill and herringbone tweed fabrics, all containing EcoSpun fiber.
Participating designers gave favorable reviews to the program and the fabrics.
“Helping students take their first steps as designers in the ‘real world’ is the most meaningful aspect of the Master Apprentice Programme,” said David Chu, president of Nautica International. “Second to that is the opportunity to design with an environmentally friendly fabric like EcoSpun.”
“The future of fashion depends on our becoming more environmentally sensitive,” said designer Jill Stuart. “Fabrics such as EcoSpun polyester are a perfect example of how designers and fabric companies can come together to support this cause.”
“Working with man-made recycled fabrics has been an unexpected pleasure,” said designer Eric Gaskins. “They are every bit as elegant as natural fibers, and they are clever and useful answers to the abundance of wasted materials.”
Fabrics in the show were donated by 13 domestic mills: Brookwood Cos., Consoltex, Cotton Plus, Coville, Delta Mills, Draper Knitting, Dyersburg Fabrics, Eco Sport, Evo Manufacturing, Malden Mills, Stillwater Mills, Summit Knitting and Swift Textiles.

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