Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.
Most fashion students don't use their senior thesis as an opportunity to improve global issues, but Angela Luna isn't like most fashion students. After researching the refugee crisis, the Parsons School of Design student decided to develop a clothing line to help Syrian refugees as they journey across borders to safety, and to raise awareness in the process.
"I felt this overwhelming sense of empathy and desire to offer whatever I can to help these people," she told A Plus. "But I live in New York. I study fashion. Besides donating to a refugee charity, it did not seem like I could do much. The next day at class, as my professors and classmates were discussing the latest runway shows, I found myself reflecting on how distant this issue was from our daily lives. How could we be sitting in this classroom, acting as if people are not dying on the other side of the world?"
Luna began questioning whether or not she should continue working in the fashion industry or change her career path altogether. This experience inspired her to change her senior thesis and use it as a way to help refugees.
"I could no longer just sit by, doing nothing while innocent people die by the thousands," she said.
"At that point, I had no idea what the end result would look like, I just knew that I wanted to help, and since my skill set was in design and fashion, I had no other choice."
So, Luna began researching some of the problems that plague refugees by reading articles, examining images, and watching videos. She also conducted interviews.
"While I was doing the project, I tried desperately to get to a refugee camp and conduct firsthand research, but never made the right connection," she said. "I was able to interview several field workers who had volunteered at different refugee camps, and take their feedback into consideration."
After extensively researching the problems that face refugees, the next step was figuring out which ones could be addressed through clothing design and throughout the course of her thesis.
"Every single piece in the collection has a purpose. There is no garment that is there, just to be there. Everything, even the smallest detail, has a reason," Luna said.
The collection she presented in her thesis consists of seven transformative outerwear pieces that can be worn by both men and women and are one size fits all. It includes: a jacket that converts into a sleeping bag, a jacket that can be used as backpack, a jacket with a removable harness to carry children, a garment that doubles as an inflatable life jacket, a reversible jacket that's entirely reflective on one side and camouflage on the other, and two jackets that transform into full-sized tents. One can fit two adults while the other can fit a family.
While each of these garments were created with refugees in mind, Luna ensured each jacket could be functional for consumers interested in purchasing the clothing for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
Luna has since graduated from Parsons, but has continued to work on this project. She is currently working hard to get the collection into the hands of refugees.
"My goal is to donate sometime this winter. I'm working with smaller nonprofits in the hopes that things will move more quickly. Right now we have a bunch obstacles to get through first, but it is definitely still our plan to donate the most useful garments," she said. To help reach that goal, Luna is funding product development through CrowdRise.
In the longterm, she's greatly considering moving the brand over to Germany because the response to the refugee crisis has been more positive there than in the States. She hopes to employ resettled refugees in various aspects of the business including production, finance, marketing, design, and business operations.
"I think that this could happen sooner and much more easily if I was in Europe," she said.
Luna hopes people who see her work will be inspired to make a difference using their own skills and experience.
"By all means, I know that the refugee crisis or the violence that caused it cannot be stopped by convertible jackets, but by using an unexpected platform to discuss this incredible problem, the project can create awareness about the issue itself." she said. "I hope it gets people talking about the crisis and researching more. I also hope that if they feel touched by this issue or another, that they learn from my actions and find a way to use their talents to help."
As for her, she knows she'll never be the same after embarking on this project.