Student turns textile scraps into wearable art

A jacket with an interpretation of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” painting on the back.
A jacket with an interpretation of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” painting on the back.

When Kiah Conway first walked into a Washington State University storage room filled with hundreds of pounds of fabrics, remnants, and scraps, a sense of overwhelming possibility hit her hard. That hasn’t changed, even nearly a year later.

“Every time I go into that room, I see why some of it has sat there so long,” said Conway, a junior double majoring in apparel design and merchandising. “But sometimes I find something that’s so gorgeous, I’m shocked to see it. The more you dig, the better it gets. It feels like scavenging, but you can find gold in there.”

Conway recently created two garments, a dress and a jacket, using almost nothing but leftover material from the storage closet. The closet is full of donated fabrics and remnants, sewing supplies, and scrap materials from different student design projects in WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles (AMDT). The materials are kept so they don’t go into landfills.

“Our professors really push sustainability and the need for it in our industry,” Conway said. “I wanted to explore how to utilize what we have on hand within the department.”

She went to her professor, Armine Ghalachyan, and they talked about possible projects and how to make something usable — even beautiful — from scrap fabrics.

A storage closet full of fabric.
Materials in the storage room Kiah Conway used to make her garments.

“I think I spent about $6 of my own money on these projects,” said Conway, a native of Omak, Washington, who transferred to WSU from a school in Alaska specifically for the AMDT program. “Otherwise, it’s all made of garbage, essentially.”

She created the jacket with an interpretation of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” painting on the back; the dress was inspired by legendary designer Vivienne Westwood. Conway presented both garments in WSU’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) earlier this year.

The two projects had completely different starting points. For the dress, Conway had a rough design in mind and dove into scavenging through the storage room with an idea of what she hoped to find. Inspiration for the jacket began as she learned a new technique called layering, which brought impressionist paintings to mind. Wanting to create something using her new skills, she found fabric she liked.

“The colors I found reminded me of “The Starry Night” — the fabric looked like art,” Conway said. “I based the jacket’s design off what I found. Then I followed the design very closely once I had the material.”

The dress was more improvised because she could make changes as she worked. The dozens of hours she put into each project produced remarkable garments.

“It was extremely fulfilling to make these,” Conway said. “I had a blast working on both. I’ve always been told about the importance of upcycling, and having the chance to put those lessons into practice left a big impression.”

Conway plans to enter a collection in the 2025 WSU AMDT Fashion Show using treasures from the storage closet and the fabric waste generated in the AMDT design studios. Before senior year, she will spend six weeks this summer at an internship in Florence, Italy, on her first intercontinental trip.

“As long as I’m in a position to design, I hope to be a part of sustainability,” Conway said. “We have to minimize waste and find ways to create better consumption habits.”

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