Shreyas Saboo / The Daily Gamecock

Student Designer Showcase winner upcycles denim

Friends and family surrounded Sarah-Jane Long with hugs and praises for her design while she attempted to greet and thank each person. They didn't know it yet, but in about an hour Long would be named the Student Designer Showcase winner following the week's fashion show finale.

"I've been smiling so much I feel like my face is frozen," Long said.

Long stood by her model and friend, Katie Turner, who was wearing her USC Fashion Week design: a braided denim tube top with a denim miniskirt. 

Attached to the waist of the miniskirt are long strips of denim, arranged in a high-low style. The dress is made from 100 percent recycled denim, Long said, including vintage pieces.

"When I make shorts or anything like that, I don't throw away pant legs or anything and I just have all of this stock, scrap denim, and I keep it just to recycle and make things out of it," the fourth-year retail and fashion merchandising student explained about her design before arranging Turner's skirt.

This year's Student Designer Showcase's theme was sustainability and featured two student designers. Each designer was required to include one recycled material.

For Long, the sustainability requirement wasn’t an issue. Everything she creates is recycled, or, to be more specific, upcycled. Upcycling is the process of reusing materials to make a higher quality product.

Long does this through SJDENIM, her Etsy shop where she sells denim jackets, pants and shorts. A lot of her work can also be found on her business Instagram, @sj_denim.

She began her business when she was in high school and high-waisted shorts returned as a trend.

"I didn't work. I was in ninth grade, so I didn't have a car. I didn't have a job," Long said,,"And so I was like, 'You know I really want these shorts, high-waisted shorts from Urban but I don't have $60.'"

She and her friends got their moms to take them to Goodwill where she found the first "perfect" pair of jeans she was able to make into shorts. Then she and her friends started making them for other people.

"This is when dip dye was cool and the studding was really cool," Long said. "We did tribal designs on them."

Those trends died down but Long continued to make shorts for herself.

"I haven't bought a pair of shorts in years," she said. "Just 'cause I'm like 'I don't wanna pay for that. I can make it for myself.'" 

Long began making her denim creations for herself and her roommates again during her second year at USC. She posted photos of her work to her own social media platforms and eventually decided she could make some money from this. The summer after her sophomore year she opened the Etsy shop.

Long and her friends describe her apartment as a workshop, with miscellaneous denim scraps and racks of finished work scattered around. 

"I've been to her house, the coolest place ever. She literally has a room full of denim, it's like everything you would expect," Long's friend Liv Lein, a first-year public relations student and Fashion Board member said.

Prior the the runway show, Fashion Week attendees took photos, ate hors d'oeuvres and checked out clothes and accessories from local vendors. In the crowd, Turner displayed Long's denim two-piece design, holding up a number so attendees could vote for their favorite design. 

At showtime, Long took a seat in the front row while Turner went backstage to prepare to walk in the Student Designer Showcase.

The first and main event featured local retailers' designs on the runway modeled by USC students. After the main event ended, both student designer pieces hit the runway. The first piece was by Valentina Giraldo — a full-length white gown featuring red floral accents on the dress and in the model's hair. 

Long's upcycled denim piece hit the runway next. 

Shortly after Turner strutted the runway, a Fashion Board member announced that Long won the Student Designer Showcase — winning a private design lesson with London and Lace, a local bridal boutique, and a dinner for two at the Capital City Club. After the show, Long's mother and friends all ran to her, showering her with hugs and congratulations.

After graduation, Long said she's considering going to graduate school or a design school, because design is where her passion lies. She said she'd love to work on a design team for a big company one day and still focus on sustainability.

Long said sustainable design doesn't require drastic changes to the process, it simply means "we're being a little bit more conscious of our environment and our planet." 

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