Fashion and fact

Coral reef ecology and high fashion converge for EEB doctoral student Rachael Kaspar.
November 09, 2023

Engaging the public isn’t unusual for scientists, but few can say they’ve been guest lecturer at a fashion show. Rachael Kaspar can. The doctoral student in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior recently offered her insights into coral reef ecology at a runway show in late October for the Joynoëlle 2023 collection, which features a line of coral-inspired clothing by Minneapolis-based designer Joy Teiken.

Teiken incorporated colors and textures that evoke the beauty of coral reef ecosystems, from coral polyp to fish fins. Kaspar, a member of the Wardill lab, studies … how the neuroecology of cephalopods (octopus, cuttlefish, squid) can be used as an indicator for marine ecosystem resilience. By characterizing their predatory behavior and camouflage, Kaspar is identifying how environmental pollutants alter their neural networks and implications for coral reef health. On learning of Kaspar’s expertise, Teikan invited the scientist to collaborate with an eye to adding dimension to the runway event. She hoped to inspire a deeper interest in the threatened organisms – and action. Proceeds from the show went to the Coral Restoration Foundation. 

fashion designs
Designs were pinned on to mannequins before being fitted to their models for the show.

Kaspar, who teaches the College of Biological Sciences’ course on coral reef ecology and has a longstanding interest in the subject, jumped at the chance to share her enthusiasm with a decidedly land-locked audience. For Kaspar, the event presented an opportunity to highlight the importance of marine biodiversity and our connections to coral reefs in a unique way.

“Coral reefs are essentially the rainforests of the ocean,” says Kaspar. “We see all of these textures and colors and shapes and sizes because of high biological productivity and biodiversity. Joy’s clothes with their attention to texture and color create a connection to that sense of complexity. We depend on them in ways that are sometimes hard to see, which makes a show like this all the more important for helping us make those connections and understand our impact on them.”

Check out a feature about the show.

teikan studio space
Teikan collects a wide range of materials for her pieces in her design studio. 
Teiken and Kaspar examine Teiken's collection in preparation of the upcoming show.
kelp jumper
Close up details of this flowy, ethereal and kelp-like jumper.