From Content Writer to Sustainable Fashion Designer
Madeleine Voge’s dive into the fashion design world began while working as a content writer in Denver, Colorado. To further inspire her newfound passion, she enrolled in our New York City Parsons Sewing and Construction course.
After completing the Summer Intensive program, Madeleine now plans to refocus her energy on ethical and sustainable fashion design. Read on to learn more about her journey and follow her accomplishments as a student at Parsons at Open Campus and beyond!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you come to enroll in the SIS program at Parsons at Open Campus?
My name is Madeleine Voge. I'm a creative writer from Denver, Colorado. I graduated in the Winter of 2015 from the University of Colorado with a degree in Creative Writing and Spanish.
For the last few years, I have worked for a number of small businesses, writing content for everything from ice cream shops and small batch spirits to non-profits and radio shows. In 2017, I used my experience in branding to found a vintage clothing company, traveling to 44 states to source rare and valuable vintage apparel. It was during this time that I realized I had a growing interest in sustainable fashion and creating my own thoughtful clothing line. The problem was I had close to zero experience in the field -- before the Parsons Summer Intensive, I couldn't even thread a needle on my own.
I researched beginner sewing intensives that would suit my needs, and the Parsons Sewing and Construction class seemed to be the perfect fit.
Madeleine and professor Joe Pescatore and full class.
What are you most surprised by or proud of in your overall experience in the program ?
I cannot believe how much I grew in hard skills in the Sewing and Construction course. I have to thank my professor, Joe Pescatore, for his attentiveness, patience, and clarity as he taught us everything from threading machines, creating custom patterns, and working with a variety of fabric types. Some days, I would make the same sewing mistake again and again and he would advise me on how to improve for next time.
I feel incredibly proud of the four pieces I created, and I feel a deep sense of ownership over my design process since I was given so much freedom to explore.
What projects did you work on in your class?
On the first day of class, our professor took us on a field trip to The Strand Bookstore where we browsed the $1-$3 book section for design inspiration. We spent the next three weeks creating clothing that tied back to the book we selected. I chose a photo book called The Besieged Desert by Mitch Reardon. It captures the magical and desolate scenery of the Namib Desert, and I used the textures, muted desert colors, and draped clothing as inspiration for my pieces.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Growing up, I was a serious tomboy. My fashion icons were some combination of Steve Irwin and Scout Finch. You might have a cute image in your head of the young Olsen twins in backwards hats and oversized flannels. That gives me far too much credit -- imagine instead a choppy bowl cut, zip-off cargo pants, and an oversized newsboy cap (before they were cool). While designing my clothes in class, I realized that while my style has evolved over the years, I am still drawn to slouchier, and sometimes androgynous styles. I find that I lean away from hyper-feminine looks and more towards my tomboy roots.
Do you have a style icon?
I love this question so much! At the moment, my style icon is Christina Sun. She is the founder of Shop Sunchild and has helped me to grow in my passion and love for small, ethical, and sustainable brands. She is thoughtful and intentional with the brands she features on her e-commerce site, and I just adore the outfits she curates. They are so simple, minimal, and not hyper-feminine. My favorite things!
What is it about ethical, sustainable fashion that speaks to you as a designer?
There is such beauty in thoughtfulness, in detail, in fashion with a higher purpose. I still have questions about my own value as a designer, and how I will engage this lofty mission.
How can we make slow-fashion accessible to those who cannot afford to prioritize quality? What steps can we take to reject a trillion dollar industry built on efficiency and demand? How can we foster care for the planet when so many are not afforded the privilege of experiencing its natural beauty?
I grew up surrounded by nature. I remember humid summer days spent in the wetlands by my house, watching snowy egrets wade in the pond waters and tracking muskrats through the reeds. I didn't know it at the time, but I was falling in love with the Earth. And I believe that intimate contact with nature in early childhood is essential to instilling lifelong care for the environment.
The fashion and textile industries are devastating to the environment. In Bangladesh, they say that you can tell what colors are in-season by the unnatural hues of the nearby rivers and canals. Sometimes they flow yellow, blue, or crimson red. The growing fast-fashion industry operates with a disregard for thoughtful sourcing, sustainability, and often human dignity. The environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry are not just happening a world away. The use of pesticides and chemical treatments in our clothing is affecting air quality, climate, and our own personal health. If our skin is our largest organ, how are the chemicals in our clothing affecting long-term physical and mental health?
I hope to join the ranks of designers and manufacturers devoted to thoughtful sourcing, slow fashion, up-cycling, and environmental education. It may sound like a daunting task, but change begins with baby steps. While I used to shop for the best deals, I now buy from clothing brands that source recycled or more sustainable textiles, commit to ethical labor practices, and encourage quality over quantity. I don't spend any more than I used to; I just buy less often. These clothes were built to last.
The wetlands where I used to play have since been developed, and the pond is almost dried up. Destruction of our planet will not discriminate, but there are steps we can all take to protect our planet and our future. I feel so encouraged by designers and brands that are working to educate consumers and adopt more sustainable and ethical practices. I am choosing to join the ranks as a thoughtful designer in the field, and I hope that we can all find ways, big and small, to care for our planet, neighbors, and future generations.
Was there a favorite project or memory from the program that you’d like to share?
My friend Amy Anstatt is a professional photographer in NYC and she offered to do a photoshoot of my collection at the end of the course. While my first pieces were not perfect by any means, she convinced me of how grateful I would be to document the process. We booked a natural light studio near Parsons and my classmate and friend, Claire Galla, modeled my first ever collection. It was such a joy to collaborate with creative friends, capture my work, and prepare for our final Open Studio day where I shared the gallery publicly.
Clothing modeled by Claire Galla and photographed by Amy Anstatt.
Do you have any advice for another student wanting to take a similar course in the future?
To any student who wants a deep-dive into sewing and designing, this is the perfect entry point. I was concerned that while it was called a "beginner intensive," I would be far behind the other students in the class. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone was on a similar level and we learned so quickly together. The resources, machinery, and course curriculum were exactly what I'd hoped for. I feel I have all the tools I need to continue developing my skills back in Denver.
Since graduating from the SIS Sewing and Construction program, I plan on setting up a studio in my home where I can continue to practice designing, patternmaking, sewing, and sampling. While I will continue on in the field of copywriting, I feel I have all the tools I need now to hone my skills as a designer in my free hours.
For the time being, I have no plans to return to Parsons as a full-time student. I would love to come back for another summer intensive down the road, though! I enjoyed spending 90-100 hours over three weeks learning one skill -- I feel like I learned a year's worth of information in just a few short weeks.
In the coming months, I will create a website and online portfolio in hopes of selling a small selection of my clothing online. Stay tuned! My name is Madeleine Voge and I am chugging along trying to make my designs available to the world.
Written for Open Campus by Casey O’Connell.