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Counting Sheep In The Studio of Sustainable Fashion Designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart

Columbus fashion designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart works with wool from Ohio-raised heritage sheep
Jennifer M. Hambrick
Columbus fashion designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart works with wool from Ohio-raised heritage sheep.

Aiden smiles when you say his name. Sugar likes to eat cookies. And RaeRae? Well, she’s the absolute friendliest.

Aiden, Sugar and RaeRae are just a few of the friends Columbus clothing and textiles designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart has made on family farms around Ohio. They’re the star attractions on those farms – the sheep and alpacas whose award-winning fibers Malvar-Stewart uses in her sustainable fashions, like the shrug she was creating in her German Village studio recently.

“I call myself a sustainable designer because I use a model that is not harmful to the environment when I create,” Malvar-Stewart said. “It really means that on all levels of design and production and use and just existence, it’s mindfully thought out, it’s mindfully executed.”

Before moving to Columbus in 2012, Malvar-Stewart lived and worked in fashion hot spot New York City. She was into sustainable fashion there, but it wasn’t quite the same.

“When I was in New York, I would use natural fibers and local wool from different breeders, but I didn’t know the animals and I didn’t particularly know the breeders,” Malvar-Stewart said. “I just sort of sourced what I liked from all around the country.”

After moving to Columbus, Malvar-Stewart realized she could reduce the size of her carbon footprint by sourcing her fiber from the Suri and Huacaya alpacas and the Lincoln Longwool, Cotswold and other heritage sheep breeds raised at nearby farms.

“I only go to local farms, Ohio-based farms, and they’re all family farms,” Malvar-Stewart said. “They’re (run by) women shepherdesses who really love their animals, and they care for them greatly. And (the animals) create these beautiful fibers because they’re all really happy animals.”

Inside the studio of fashion designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart - photo credit Jennifer Hambrick, WOSU Public Media.JPG
Jennifer M. Hambrick
Inside the studio of fashion designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart

Malvar-Stewart often retains the natural colors of the animal fibers in her fashions. But when she wants to dye something, she turns to the plants she grows specifically for making dyes – indigo for brilliant blues, madder for rich reds and airy pinks as well as coreopsis for pastel yellows.

When Malvar-Stewart isn’t creating fashions from wool, she’s often giving new life to old jeans. She said she was distraught when a friend threw away an old pair of jeans. So she published a post on Facebook asking people in Columbus to give her their old jeans to upcycle into new fashions.

“I had literally hundreds of jeans come my way,” Malvar-Stewart said. “And I started to deconstruct them in a way where I brought them back to fiber form and I use every single part of the jean. So I reuse the zipper, I take the studs and I use them for other things.”

Malvar-Stewart still receives several pairs of old jeans each week, and said she enjoys working the energy and memories the used jeans hold into new couture creations. Most of all, she likes keeping otherwise wasted fabric from polluting the environment.

“I love being able to divert that from landfill,” Malvar-Stewart said. “It makes me feel very happy.”

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.