Recycled to runway: Student’s upcycled designs shown at Portland Fashion Week

Photo illustration by Parker Robb | Collegian Media Group. Editor's note: These pieces of apparel are not Burns' designs.

He started sewing in February, and by August Mason Burns’s designs were accepted to FashioNXT to show at Portland Fashion Week.

Burns is a fifth-year senior in apparel design. He became interested in fashion only recently, but he has been interested in taking things apart and putting them back together since childhood. Burns said he takes a lot of his inspiration from the people that surrounded him in his hometown of Lyndon, Kansas.

In his Kansas town, there was a huge variety of plaids, camo and denim, creating a type of “farmer chic.”

These fabrics inspire his design aesthetic. His knack for deconstruction eventually translated into clothing and has given Burns a name in the industry. For example, Burns may take a graphic t-shirt from Goodwill, rip the sleeves off and attach new sleeves made from a pair of old jeans.

One of his tactics of finding quality denim to transform is by bartering with a contact he has in Kansas City. Burns will bring him loads of graphic t-shirts he finds in exchange for flannels and denim from the ’90s.

Burns focuses heavily on using upcycled materials. His most visited places are Goodwill, estate sales and church yard sales. He is constantly searching for quality materials to use for his clothing that he can buy for reasonable prices.

Burns also looks specifically for items that may not originally be considered clothing.

“I’m a snob about zippers,” Burns said. “I think it was a bowling bag that I first found that had a nice zipper on it, and I [thought], ‘I know enough to rip that zipper out,’ and then it became the front of one of my pieces.”

Genna Reeves, assistant professor in apparel and textiles, helped Burns kick-start an apparel business. Reeves said since Burns’s early confidence in his stylistic choices is one of his assets.

“Designers will start by learning the skills without knowing who they are, but he had ideas of who he was as a designer first,” Reeves said.

Burns has already created a name for his brand which he calls “Projections of the Mind.” He came up with the idea from his experience with graphic design.

“The whole idea is not to revise, just design whatever you can think of,” Burns said.

The process to get Burns connected with FashioNXT was quick. Reeves, who has attended Portland Fashion Week since its start in 2011, sent Burns’s portfolio to CEO Tito Chowdhury.

Reeves said Chowdhury wrote back immediately and said ‘he’s in.’” Chowdhury told Reeves that Burn’s collection was very developed for a student.

Students usually must compete to get a place in the runway show during FashionNXT and Burns got in solely from showing his portfolio.

“We made a rare exception for someone still in college to be on the runway after seeing his advanced vision for fashion-forward streetwear that also incorporates upcycling and sustainability, which is a shared commitment between the K-State program and FashionNXT,” Chowdhury told K-State Today.

After his designs walked the runway at Portland Fashion Week last month, Burns received positive reviews .

“One thing I was struck by as a professional was how supportive everyone was,” Reeves said.

Reeves also said Mondo Guerra, who won Project Runway All Stars in 2012, complimented Burns’s work and other designers offered congratulations and advice to “keep them in mind for custom pieces.”

With a nascent design career, Burns said he already noticed how his work has evolved.

“My ideas are the same, but I’m able to put things together much better and spend time on quality,” Burns said.

Dani Hall, junior in apparel design, said his designs are always impressive.

“It’s amazing how he can see an old t-shirt and deconstruct then reconstruct it all in his mind in a matter of seconds,” Hall said.

Burns is already making plans for his winter collection which will be shown in a popup store in Kansas City.

Editor’s note: The chosen image for this story is a photo illustration and does not represent Burns’ designs.