‘This Is It’ Moment for Sustainable Fashion Visionary

Senior fashion design student uses lessons from distinctive fashion program to make her mark

Meet Frances Brunner, a senior fashion design student with a distinct focus on environmental fashion and a finalist for the prestigious 2023 Redress Design Award. When it comes to the fashion industry's future, Brunner is shaping up to be a force to be reckoned with.  

Brunner originally wanted to be a stockbroker because of her innate problem-solving abilities. After researching Kent State University’s wide variety of programs and discovering that math is not her strong suit, Brunner realized fashion design was more her style.

“It's not an art school,” Brunner said. “It goes across the board. So, I really wanted to immerse myself in different perspectives because not everyone that you design for is in fashion.”

Brunner wearing her work

Brunner deeply values sustainability in fashion and aims to create products that could last a lifetime. She was inspired by Archana Mehta, associate lecturer at the School of Fashion, to look at the textile industry.

“Professor Archana had mentioned there was a lot of innovation in textiles, and I got really inspired by textile research,” Brunner said. “So, I took a trip to Cotton Incorporated, and I saw insulation that was made of recycled denim. That started a ‘this is it’ moment, and I knew I was going to start with this inspiration and move forward.”  

Mehta also introduced Brunner to the Redress Design competition, which is the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition. Brunner initially did not plan on applying for the competition, but since she had previous work from a scholarship application, she decided to take her chances and try her best.  

Try her best she did. Out of the 600 international applicants, Brunner placed in the top 10 finalists in May 2023. This made her the highest-ranking competitor from the United States, while also representing Kent State.  

Her Redress Design collection, titled “It's All Fluff,” was heavily inspired by her experiences in textile research. The gender-neutral, five-piece collection explores how the ego is expressed through fashion and its effect on day-to-day life, Brunner said. Using a self-made recycled denim textile, the product’s end-of-life stage allows it to end up in insulation or other products rather than in landfills.  

Frances Brunner's designs on the runway

Brunner was also featured in the October 2023 issue of Hong Kong Vogue because of her success in the Redress Design Awards.

Currently, Brunner is working on her Bachelor of Fine Arts collection, one of the tracks that fashion students can take. The seven-piece collection for her senior project furthers her exploration into the ego’s expression in the individual’s internal narration and sustainability. Before graduating, Brunner reflects on how the fashion program at Kent State helped her feel confident in herself.  

“I was so intimidated by fashion because of how the industry is depicted in the media,” Brunner said. “But when I showed up, they were so inclusive and really take you step-by-step. It's not only incredible to see the growth from my freshman year projects to now, but also how I’m confident to step into myself as a designer.”  

Brunner also mentioned the help she received from her professors and peers, connecting her to external resources like Cotton Incorporated and the overall dedication of the fashion program.  

So, what are Frances Brunner’s post-graduation plans? Brunner explained that she desires to take a break, that as a creative she needs to recharge her battery to be able to continue designing. But after her break, Brunner wants to broaden her mission from sustainability in the fashion industry to encouraging the transformation of the entire fashion supply chain and eventually the world.  

“I think I’ll end up piecing it together,” Brunner said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a one-size-fits-all but really starting this conversation with not just designers but the entire community. Everyone has clothes, so there is a bigger influence than what meets the eye.”

Brunner also plans on applying to the Redress Design Awards again for 2024.

Visit the Redress Design Awards.

Visit Kent State's School of Fashion. 

POSTED: Friday, February 16, 2024 10:29 AM
Updated: Monday, February 19, 2024 08:17 AM
Paul Burlinghaus, Flash Communications