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Seniors in MECA’s fashion program prepare to show their work on the runway.

Maine has become a brand in its own right, especially over the last few years, but as comfortable and iconic as wool socks and flannel might be, our state doesn’t generally top the list of fashion meccas. And yet, nestled in the heart of Portland students have been studying and creating fashion at MECA, the Maine College of Art and Design, since 2013.

Alysha Kupferer, assistant professor and chair of Textile and Fashion Design at the Maine College of Art and Design. The program at MECA was started in 2013. Photo by Amanda Whitegiver

The Textile and Fashion Design program, which was started with funding from philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, attracts students from all over the country to study the design and fabrication of textiles, as well as a deep dive into fashion itself. For these 21st century makers in training, there’s an element of very modern practicality there as well, connected to durability as well as beauty. “What does it mean to understand this material and all of its aspects, not seeing it as something that’s disposable?” says Alysha Kupferer, assistant professor and chair of the department. “The younger generation that’s coming into college now has a desire to see that. We want to make sure students graduating are completely engaged. We want to help them become engaged citizens within their medium.”

Senior Jordan Carey takes that message to heart as he hones his craft at MECA, and works to prepare his senior thesis: a collection to be featured in the annual MECA Fashion Show. “My work is about transitioning globalized cultures,” he says, “transforming in terms of how we interact with each other. I think unfortunately when cultures hybridize, they default to European British or Italian aesthetics. So that’s what I’m focused on. I work a lot in reference to Irish sweaters, tribal motifs, and fusing them with African wax print patterns and color and making clearly nuanced references to tribe in that way.” Carey mixes aesthetics n unexpected ways, like a down parka the color of a bright blue sea, stitched with seashells, or pairing the vibrancy of dashiki with the warmth and texture of an Irish Aran sweater; in effect, “knitting” together his own heritage.

MECA senior Jordan Carey mixes aesthetics in unexpected ways, like this down parka the color of a bright blue sea, stitched with seashells. “My work is about transitioning globalized cultures,” he says. Photo by Amanda Whitegiver

The program has been incorporating both new and old technologies, helping the students to understand not only the latest developments like digital drafting but apply older techniques when relevant to their aesthetic. One of their latest developments has been an initiative to grow natural dye plants such as indigo. The plants are started from seed in the studio by students in the Introduction to Textiles course and then grown in MECA’s Green Space on Casco Street throughout the summer. “We love this new program because it emphasizes the deep, connected nature of the work we do to both material and history,” says Kupferer. A typical spring day at MECA might see a student watering an indigo plant then printing their own fabric using the same dye or laser etching a new material in the lab. “This juxtaposition of new and old alongside meaningful connections and social collaboration is what makes MECA a unique place to learn and teach,” Kupferer says. And allows students to access their full potential. “While still staying true to the ideals of engagement and citizenship that have long been the tradition within textiles practice globally.”

Cal Murphy creates for the love of sewing and the process itself. Her thesis focus is a slightly satirical take on the juxtaposition of old and new: she begins with classic designs, like a suit and tie, and reinvents them in mesh and a gym sock. Of her inspiration, Murphy says “Most of my inspirations are really sociology based: I love sociology. Fashion itself is kind of a compact pre-existing a language. There are symbols that have meanings, and I like to see what happens to those meanings when I throw different things together.”

MECA senior Cal Murphy’s thesis focuses on a slightly satirical take on the juxtaposition of old and new: she begins with classic designs, like a suit and tie, and reinvents them in mesh and a gym sock. Photo by Amanda Whitegiver

MECA students hit the runway May 3 in the annual showcase of the culmination of their work. This won’t be your standard fashion show, however. These MECA students are breaking away from the rigid mold of your traditional runway show and may well include some interactive components (last year’s show included interactions with a piece of furniture made by a student with a minor in furniture studies). This exhibition opportunity is open to students of every major and grade level. Anyone whose work is best seen activated through movement, interaction, or performance can showcase their work for the live audience.

Amy Power and Amanda Whitegiver are co-founders of East Coast Inspired, a fashion and lifestyle blog. Amy is a mother of two who spends her days dreaming of the ultimate craft room and intending to go for a run. Amanda is a lifestyle family photographer who adores dark chocolate and singing with her two daughters.