Product Runway 2017: The Fountainhead

Most people would never think that an architecture firm would compete in a fashion competition, but at Product Runway, VLK got to do just that! IIDA's (International Interior Design Association) Product Runway is a yearly competition that challenges architecture and interior design firms from all over Houston to create avant-garde garments. That, in itself, sounds difficult, but what amps the competition up even more is that the whole costume is made out of building materials! Sounds crazy, right? How can you make a garment out of materials that are typically used for buildings?! As tricky as it sounds, I found that it's possible!

This amazing competition is one that I learned years ago because it merged my childhood dream of being a fashion designer with my current love for interior design. Since VLK had never participated in Product Runway before, I was nervous that suggesting our involvement would warrant no real excitement. After one information meeting, there was overwhelming interest and participation. Our team of five included Krista Thomas, Michelle Elbers, Sydney Alford, Scott Dailey, Chris Lyner, and me as the team's model. Everyone was a huge help throughout the entire process.

The competition itself was a great way for VLK to give back to the community. Not only is it a fashion competition, but it is the IIDA's Houston City Center's main charitable fundraiser for the year. All the profits from ticket sales go towards The Houston Furniture Bank which is an organization that helps families in need furnish their homes and supports the Texas Association for Interior Design. It's not just the tickets sales that make up the fundraising dollars. Each competing team is tasked with not only making a fabulous garment, but also with raising their own funds to donate to the cause. This year, our VLK team decided to have an office bake sale, and everyone was so generous! We are actually already talking about our fundraising for next year!

This year's theme was 'Cover to Cover' and the competition was fierce! Each design team was assigned a book, and two vendors: one hard goods vendor, and one soft goods vendor. In a blind selection, the VLK team got the book 'The Fountainhead,' and vendors, Staron Solid Surface and Mohawk Carpet. While our book selection was not nearly as well-known as 'Harry Potter,' or 'The Hunger Games,' we were excited because 'The Fountainhead' tells the story about an architect who doesn't want to conform to society.

Each vendor's products presented quite the challenge for us. We really had to brainstorm, challenge and push ourselves with these products. This competition truly challenged us to be innovative in our design catering specifically to the details within the book and to test the materials to learn how to repurpose them, causing us to think differently when the solutions weren't successful at first.

Mohawk Carpet was able to provide the team with the materials used to create carpet from all different kinds of carpet backings to a variety of carpet yards including metallic threads! The immediate issue we found was with the carpet backing. While it has a fabric like appearance, it was actually 60% plastic which made it difficult to run through a sewing machine. That also made the material quite itchy to wear, which in turn influenced how the material was worn. The red cape we designed took special spray paint which team member, Michelle, had to find! And the detail work, oh the detail work! Once we figured out that we could treat the carpet backing just like you would a cross stitch fabric, we created the design details on the skirt portion of the garment by hand stitching them.

The toughest problem we faced, however, was the solid surface. Solid surface is made of acrylic with pigment and aggregate mixed in. It's used for countertops and other hard, durable surfaces. This means that it is extremely hard to cut, bend, and break and is also extremely heavy. We were at a loss until our awesome Staron representative asked one of their preferred fabricators if they would be willing to help us out! Solid surface can be cut and formed, but you have to use special industrial type equipment, which we did not have, to do it! If it weren't for Phoenix Millwork, we would have been trying to crush up the solid surface and then attempting to glue the carpet backing which would have not resulted in a quality looking costume. Once we started working with Phoenix Millwork, the top went through some more design development to accommodate the weight of the garmet. The finished piece ended up being only a few pounds, which was great for walking down the runway.

Despite our challenges, everything worked out in the end. This was a great opportunity to get to know my co-workers better, and was definitely a great team building experience! I think after this experience, we all feel like we can face any design challenge out there! The garment came out looking amazing and the event was so fun and exciting! The team did an excellent job not only creating the costume but doing hair, make-up, and helping me to actually get into the garment before show time! Being on stage was exhilarating! I don't think I've ever had an adrenaline rush like that before. Team member, Scott, was my model escort on stage, and he did an amazing job. There was a great turn out from the VLK Houston office, and it was so awesome to look out in the crowd and see everyone's excitement and support! Plus, we've received such positive feedback from the design community!

The Product Runway process was a rush from start to finish, but I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we are already excited for next year! It was a joy to be able to help support IIDA and their mission while discovering new ways to express ourselves creatively. The entire VLK team did an amazing job and I know we could not have come up with such incredible garments without everyone's help, collaboration, and commitment. '