When Runaway Runway 2016 takes over the Columbia Museum of Art on April 2, more than 35 designers will be vying for the show’s top design award. Every fashion-forward entry will underscore the same idea: that good design has the power to turn trash into a treasure. The popular spring event is the primary fundraiser for the Columbia Design League, an affiliate membership group of the Columbia Museum of Art. About 10 years ago, the group began offering the show as a way to support the group’s annual educational programming, which has brought renowned designers, artists and architects to Columbia to discuss the powerful effect design has on every facet of life.
Unlike other runway fashion shows, Runaway Runway entries are designed and created using post-consumer trash or items destined to deteriorate in a landfill. Most designers aren’t fashion designers by trade. This past year’s winner, Jamine Santiago, spends more time sautéing and scalloping than sewing and stitching.
A Self-taught Seamstress
Recycling is a concept Jamine learned early. As one of 12 children, reusing was a fact of life. “I got all of my sisters’ hand-me-downs, and they were much taller than I,” she says with a laugh. “When I was 9 years old, my grandmother gave me a sewing machine.” That sewing machine ignited a lifelong passion and gave Jamine’s ever-bubbling creativity an important outlet that would later find her designing swimwear for pageant contestants. As she ripped and stitched, she learned an invaluable lesson about being open to try new things. “I am self-taught. I’ve never had training in sewing,” she says. “I just got in there and did it. That’s the best way to learn anything. Don’t be afraid; you will make mistakes. I chose to embrace them and learn from them.”
Listen to the Tent
Jamine created three and a half entries for this past year’s Runaway Runway Design Competition. The army-inspired collection made use of a 1950s-era tent, blanket, ammunition holder, backpack, buckles and parachute.
The stunning collection included a fitted, two-piece suit modeled by her son, Zach; a sheath dress modeled by Bree Price; a parachute ball gown modeled by Miss Teen South Carolina, Wesley Mitchell; and, finally, a romper and teddy bear joyfully modeled by Ayden, her 1-year-old grandson. “He loved being on the stage,” says Jamine, “and the bear kept him occupied while he waited.” At the show, the judges noted that Jamine’s collection stood out because she used a family of materials in varying ways for each design. One material was more trying than the others, according to Jamine.
“When I got the tent, I knew I wanted to make a jacket. But the material was old, full of rivets, dry rotted and was in a lot of different pieces. It was so complicated that I couldn’t do what I originally wanted to do,” she recalls. “I had to really listen to that tent.” When Jamine finished the jacket and fitted it to Zach, they decided it would look even better with matching fitted trousers. The sheath presented another problem, more for Bree than Jamine. Constructed of wool blanket material, it was ultra-itchy. So itchy that Jamine salvaged some extra parachute nylon to sew in a liner to make Bree as comfortable as possible. “I have parachute nylon for years,” she laughs.
Unlike its sibling designs, the parachute ball gown was a dream. The ethereal shape and slippery material presented no problems for the designer. “I just draped the parachute over a dress stand and looked at it,” she recalls. “I knew I wanted to use the lines, but I wanted it to be different and still embrace what it originally was. I wanted what I made to be graceful and balloon-like — like a parachute. The skirt ended up having 40 yards of parachute in it.”
Ready to Wear
For Jamine, there’s more to creating Runaway Runway designs than just making one thing out of another. “I thought there was something bigger to making the collection army-inspired,” she says. “In the military, you often have to use what you have. I also wanted to show that these items could have a peaceful purpose, too.” While many of the show’s fanciful designs are one-night wonders, Jamine aims to create garments that can be worn off the runway as well.
In fact, Zach, who performs in the local band Dempsey, has worn this past year’s award-winning design to several gigs since his night on the runway. To know the suit is having a robust afterlife thrills his designer mom to pieces. “I like to make something that someone would want to wear to a party,” she says. “It doesn’t just have to be art; it can be wearable art.”
The Reuse Mentality
Jamine’s love of reuse and recycling is a year-round affair. She and a handful of friends have a loose commitment to keep their creativity alive each week through “Recycled Tuesdays,” when they remake and repurpose while scratching their creative itch. Jamine’s recent projects include a cowboy boot handbag and an outdoor porch swing. “I made the swing for my son’s porch,” she shares. “It’s made from more than 12 of his old skateboards, so it’s even more special to him.” It’s no wonder that Jamine is full of ideas. She embraces the inspiration that pervades everyday life, both personally and professionally.
“I’m a caterer, and I was recently working a large event when I noticed these huge fabric signs they’d made for the event,” she says. “I thought the material would make a cool evening gown that’s really fitted and flared.” The next day she called her contact to see if the signs might be available to bring one of her many design ideas to life. Her process is disarmingly simple. “I am always mulling designs in my head. When it finally clicks, I sew.” Her trio of designs took two weeks to create, as Jamine often only had time to work on the outfits at night or after daytime catering jobs. She loves creating so much that her entire upstairs has become a “woman cave” chock-full of potential future designs.
“Everyone knows I love to recycle stuff, so they always ask me if I want things,” she laughs. For the first time in three years, Jamine won’t be presenting her design to the show judges as a competitor. Rather than entering this year’s show, Jamine will be part of the show itself, designing a special garment that will be revealed during the April event at the Columbia Museum of Art. “I have an idea that involves ties, but I don’t want someone to look at it and just see a bunch of ties,” she says. “I want to turn them into some 1970s inspired hip huggers with retro fringe.”
Ready to Have Fun
While she’s not competing, Jamine is looking forward to Runaway Runway 2016 with her twinkly optimism. “It’s such a fun event,” she says. “It’s an outlet to go crazy and let your creative juices run free. You’ll see fashion designers who aren’t designers, models who have never modeled. Everyone has such a great time!” The competition is wide open with opportunity. Past winners have included a mother-daughter design team as well as a team of wild-minded friends billed as the Real Housewives of Crystal Pines. Even high school and middle school-aged students have captured top awards.
“Anyone can compete in Runaway Runway,” she urges. “You should embrace you and do the things you’re interested in doing. If you make something for Runaway Runway and try your best, you’ve already won. Creating art is as close to real magic that we can get.”
About Runaway Runway 2016
Runaway Runway is a juried competition. Selections are evaluated by judges based on design, material reuse, construction, quality, overall effect and appeal, as well as live runway modeling of the entry. The annual event funds design-focused educational programming and is put together by the volunteers serving on the Columbia Design League board, museum staff and community volunteers.
Runaway Runway 2016, sponsored by SCE&G, will be held Saturday, April 2 from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St. Ticket sales are available at ColumbiaDesignLeague.org. Runaway Runway is the primary fundraiser of the Columbia Design League, an affiliate group of the Columbia Museum of Art. The group works to educate others about design excellence, emphasize the importance of great design and broaden the understanding of how good design affects nearly every facet of life. The members gather for an annual series of meetings and welcome guests and nonmembers with an interest in design. To learn more, visit ColumbiaDesignLeague.org.