SHIFT: an experiment in fashion design is The Right Brain Initiative’s annual fundraiser and fashion runway competition. SHIFT challenges designers of all ages to think in innovative ways about their process by inviting them submit garments made out of at least 50% non-tradition, found, or recycled materials. This year’s theme was House of the Absurd, inspired by the nonsensical imaginings of the Dada art movement. Designers were also asked to explore this whimsical world of the unexpected. Now in its third year, the event was bigger than ever and featured 28 garments by creatives–from as young as 8 years old to established artists in the Portland community. As a program serving more than 30,000 K-8 students across the Portland metro area, Right Brain is particularly thrilled to feature work from youth designers. The event was held at Leftbank Annex on October 3, 2019.
SHIFT is a fundraiser that is now evolving into a growing platform for artists and creatives of all ages to share their ideas and dreams. Each year, the work of the designers embodies the power of creativity that we here at Right Brain believe in so deeply. Creativity holds the magic of surprise, inspiration, connection, and opens the mind to new avenues of looking at the world. This year’s garments took us on quite the journey. They made us think deeply about the worldwide over use of plastics, find joy in the absurdity of “cow couture,” and sit back in awe of a fluttering performance about manifesting spiritual growth.
As coordinator of the event, I am lucky enough to work with the designers from beginning to end. I am an artist, myself, and it is such a joy for me to witness their process. At our first info session for curious designers way back in April, we met Michal and her son Rhys. They had attended SHIFT the previous year and decided they wanted to apply. Rhys, 11 years old, was shy but incredibly attentive during the information-heavy talk. Michal’s application was accepted and Rhys was her model. Her garment was made out of a plethora of old toys that her sons, Rhys and his brother, grew out of. On the evening of the event, Rhys bravely walked the runway, armored with stuffed animals, colorful childhood trinkets, and a lego crown. To think back to the moment he quietly observed the designer info session and then to see his runway debut was such a special evolution to witness.
Guardians play a big part in youth participation; their involvement in the process is so important in helping make the garments come to fruition. Zeljka was the mama of one of our designers on a team of five 8 year old girls. Their garment was made out of fused beads. Do you remember the tiny, cylindrical plastic beads that you iron together? They’re still around! Zeljka coordinated the hangouts with all five of the girls throughout the summer, and they slowly made small tiles out of the beads that they wove all together to make their dress. Each tile was unique and in the end they used some 30,000 beads!
Many of our youth designers not only create their garments but model them as well. Made out of circuit boards, a hodgepodge of old electronics, multicolored lights, and wires, Quincy’s (15 years old) garment served up some electro-circuit realness. Her piece had a tall collar and an over 6 foot long train of wires snaking their way behind her. Many times the garments evolve from their original application description. That is just the nature of working with nontraditional materials, but Quincy’s vision was true till the end. She walked the runway with robotic grace. It was truly a joyful spectacle.
There is so much story behind each garment and those stories often continue far beyond SHIFT as designers enter garments into gallery shows and performances as part of their artistic practice. It is a joy to be able help provide a platform for creatives, to give voice to their work no matter their age or where they are in their career. Each piece has a point of view and they inspire us in different and unexpected ways. Where will our designers take us next year? (Or, perhaps you will submit a garment!) We hope you’ll join us to find out!
A big thank you to all of our designers, their models, and the folks that support them. Thank you to our sponsors, donors, volunteers, and staff that help make this fundraising event happen and fund Right Brain’s work in schools. It truly is a beautiful expression of cross community collaboration!
All photos by Sam Gehrke Photography.