Amanda Farr and Lydia Baird drying compost at the FIT Natural Dye Garden.

Sustainability came full circle at the Fashion Institute of Technology this week.

The college has a robust sustainability commitment that manifests itself in many ways, including two projects initiated and run by students: the Rooftop Natural Dye Garden and the Muslin Compost System.

This week, the two projects intersected when the nutrient-rich compost that has been “cooking” for several months in bins on the FIT campus became ready, and was spread on the dye garden to help prep it for next spring’s plants and flowers.

The dye garden was started two years ago as a pilot project to demonstrate that fabric dyeing, which packs a substantial environmental punch, could be done with specific plants and flowers that are grown, then harvested and dried, to become a source of natural dyes.

Meanwhile, Textile Development and Marketing students Lydia Baird and Willa Tsokanis developed the FIT Muslin Compost System to resolve the question of whether the large amount of muslin the fashion industry uses can be recycled. When mixed with organic matter such as food and coffee grinds, the muslin can be recycled, becoming a dense, nutrient-rich substance that can help fertilize and sustain growing plants and add biodiversity. The compost was the result of 300 pounds of muslin and 200 pounds of food from the FIT cafeteria and coffee grounds from the campus Starbucks.

Cotton muslin is free of dyes, printing and finishing, and since it’s only used in the sample-making and design process, it is then discarded.

The prepared compost was brought from the composting bins in one of the college’s courtyards to the dye garden on the ninth floor of the Feldman building. Baird and Tsokanis, along with Fashion Business Management student Amanda Farr, began sifting it, making sure no inorganic material had found its way in, and to create a spreadable consistency.

“These projects provide mechanisms for students to reach back into agriculture as a point of origin, and forward through the supply chain to biodegradation and recycling,” said Jeffrey Silberman, professor and chair, Textile Development and Marketing. “It’s really a cradle-to-cradle learning approach to product development and a circular economy. It enables us to expose the students to every part of the supply chain.”

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