Fashion designer Andrew Yu has traveled the world for his work over the past 30 years, taking his talents everywhere from the high-end cashmere business to fast fashion brands like Zara.
Yet when the acclaimed designer moved to Bedford during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was struck by a new source of inspiration: sustainable fashion.
“There’s so much waste created by the fast fashion world,” said Mr. Yu. “I understand that thrifting and secondhand clothing is already a big market for young people, and these days, people are very comfortable and confident to mix it up.”
Mr. Yu has partnered with the Community Center of Northern Westchester, channeling his visionary designs into upcycled fashion. In December, he spent a week working with seamstresses at the CCNW Community Studio in Katonah, where he designed a collection of several avant-garde, recycled garments. The pieces sold at a recent pop-up show, and 100% of the proceeds went to the Community Studio.
The Community Center’s sewing and design programs are offered to residents who are financially insecure, and aim to help participants achieve economic self-sufficiency. Sewing and design classes at the Community Studio are offered alongside other skill development courses, such as computer skills and career counseling.
For Celeste Potash, who runs the Community Studio, the collaboration between Mr. Yu and local seamstresses was an opportunity to develop skills and deepen connections.
“Initially, I thought it was just going to be like building a new skill, working with a designer who’s very experienced,” Ms. Potash said. “But I think there’s also a lifting of spirit that happens. Everyone was connected, laughing, working together [in the studio].”
The CCNW started the Community Studio in 2017, and seamstresses initially worked on sewing grocery bags in response to the Town of Bedford’s reusable bag initiative. Materials are rarely in short supply. According to CCNW Executive Director Clare Murray, the organization receives nearly 200,000 pounds of donated clothing each year, leaving seamstresses with tons of material to work with.
Over the years, many participants became more and more skilled through sewing classes, and the Community Studio began offering classes to make everything from clothing to quilts. Ms. Potash said the sewing program has become “a powerhouse for us and the community.”
Designing and fabricating pieces for a contemporary fashion show was definitely a change of pace for the Community Studio seamstresses, Ms. Murray noted. However, Mr. Yu’s “tremendous energy” helped the group reach their goal of creating complex, upcycled fashion, she said.
“He’s hoping to create a slightly more avant-garde, more high-fashion look, which might then appeal to a wider audience,” Ms. Murray commented. “He’s helping to try and expand awareness of our mission in a bigger way.”
The turnaround time for Mr. Yu’s project was extremely quick, which Ms. Murray and Ms. Potash said reflected his ambitious, energetic nature. Mr. Yu originally connected with the CCNW at an event in November and later that month had the opportunity to visit the Community Studio in person.
“He said to us, ‘We should put together a collection and have a pop-up shop in December, and it happened to be two days before Thanksgiving,’” Ms. Potash said. “So, Claire and I were looking at him like, ‘Do you mean spring?’ And he said, ’No, in December!’”
In just five working days, seamstresses at the Community Studio helped Mr. Yu create 15 extravagant pieces. Though Mr. Yu said he used a translator to communicate with the seamstresses, many of whom speak only Spanish, he said the working sessions put the project at center stage.
“I think doing fashion is a common language,” Mr. Yu said.
“Using broken skirts, broken pieces of fabric is another level, another layer of recycling,” he said. “Really, it makes the fashion world more unique, gives it more individuality, as well as reduce lots of waste that is going to the landfill.”
Going forward, Mr. Yu said he plans to keep working with the Community Studio and hopes to continue volunteering with their seamstresses. Ms. Murray said she hopes to put together another collection or event with Mr. Yu in the spring.
In the meantime, Mr. Yu said he wants to continue taking inspiration from his newfound community and exploring sustainable, upcycled fashion.