Ellen Dayan Redefines What We Consider Trash
Ellen Dayan, Phoenix-based designer and owner of Tiger Lily Dress Shop, recently launched her Eco Couture line to lessen the crushing burden of textile waste on the planet. She does this by using what she calls “virgin reclaimed fabric” to make custom-made women’s clothing. I first connected with Ellen at the Arizona Eco Fashion Week, April 2018, where she was a participating designer. We instantly bonded over our shared passion for fashion and preserving the planet. I was captivated by Ellen’s enthusiasm and talent for designing garments with fabric scraps, essentially trash.
Shortly thereafter, Ellen and I collaborated to design my very own custom garments. I requested we only use reclaimed fabric scraps — again trash. She agreed to the challenge, and transformed drapery fabric damaged by a bolt of water into a couture garment – nothing short of breathtaking. I sat down with the sustainable fashion designer to discuss what inspired her to develop a sustainably-sourced business model, why she uses ‘virgin reclaimed fabrics’, her vision for the future of fashion, and her Remarkable Women Series.
Laura Madden: Ellen, up until last Spring you had a traditional fashion business model which involved sourcing new fabrics from manufacturers. Today, your brand paints a different picture. What changed it all for you?
Ellen Dayan: There were three major turning points for me, all originating at AZ Eco Fashion Week. The first was participating in the Refabricate Project, where local designers showed “zero waste” creations made from factory scraps from AZ Fashion Source’s cutting floor. This showed me the possibility of making something beautiful from “trash.”
Second, I saw a screening of the documentary, The True Cost, recounting how socially and environmentally destructive the fashion industry is on the planet. I had no idea. I cried! I decided then to change how I made fashion.
Lastly, you and I first connected there, Laura. Our conversations about the injustices of fashion and the environmental burden of textile waste opened my eyes. I’d been collecting fabric scraps from thrift stores for years to use only as practice materials. After completing your custom couture designs I realized these ‘scraps’ had potential beyond ‘practice.’ I experimented for months and voila! Tiger Lily Dress Shop’s Eco Couture collection was born.
LM: The fashion industry has a dirty little secret that most people either don’t know about or don’t want to talk about: fashion is the second most polluting industry on the planet. How does using what you call “virgin reclaimed fabric” lessen the carbon footprint and environmental burden?
ED: I learned from Fashion Revolution that ‘Americans throw away over 14 million tons of clothing every year.’ Even if all fabric manufacturing stopped today I believe we would still have enough fabric on the planet to clothe every human for a decade.
Instead of purchasing brand new fabric, today I use “virgin reclaimed fabric,” which I hand select from unworn and unused yardage (‘virgin’), and from stock that’s unusable in manufacturing due to irregularities and destined for landfill (‘reclaimed’).
Diverting already existing fabric from landfills to be used for my couture garments reduces the burden of textile waste on the planet. I find all I need to create beautiful well-made clothing from the mounds of discarded yardage that can and should be reclaimed. Resourcefulness, creative thinking, and strategic design can solve this problem. I believe this is a viable path for emerging designers of the future.
This model also makes it possible for me to reallocate more money to labor costs, so I can easily afford to keep production in the USA and pay a fair wage to skilled American sewers, which is extremely important to me.
LM: You recently published the photo series Remarkable Women, choosing professional women over professional models to show your clothes. Why is this important for all women, everywhere? And what’s next?
ED: I created the Remarkable Women project because I believe the women who wear my clothes are more important than the clothes themselves. This is my brand and these are the women modeling my line both on and off the runway. My ECO COUTURE designs are featured on the Remarkable Women Series on my blog and will also become the Remarkable Woman fashion show sometime next Spring. You’ll have to stay tuned for details!
Laura Madden is a fashion advocate, model, and creator of Laura Madden Lifestyle, a lifestyle brand and blog that inspires a life of style, sustainability and self-esteem. Visit laura-madden.com and follow her on Instagram @lmlifestylist for sustainable shopping tips and her sustainable fashion finds.
Photography: Jenny Kaufman
Photo Editing: Ellen Dayan
Hair: Tawny Meyers
Make-up: Diana Anghelus
Clothing Design: Tiger Lily Dress Shop