For the past three years, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Seafood and Agriculture Marketing has partnered with the Florida Alligator Marketing and Education Committee (FAME) and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to encourage up-and-coming design students to explore an exotic material they might not have worked with before – Florida alligator leather.
The plan was to choose six students in the SCAD Accessory Design Program to participate in a design contest where each student would receive two alligator leather hides of a lower grade – typically called 3’s and 4’s. They would produce a collection of three accessory pieces utilizing the buttons and scars on the skin into their designs- to work with any blemishes and defects and incorporate them into their finished pieces (instead of hiding them).
The first goal was to give the contestants a “crash course” on all things alligator. FAME sponsored a trip for the students that were interested in competing to the city of Sebring where they toured alligator farms, a tannery and Gatorama. The students were willing, (actually eager!) to see an alligator processed.
Sebring Custom Tanning is the only tannery currently operating in the state of Florida. Dave Travers, along with his son Fraser and daughter Christie, showed all aspects of their tanning business. Students got to touch and feel hides, and learn important things to consider when attempting to cut and sew pieces. They left with some basic knowledge to start developing their designs, and FAME, which is comprised of alligator farmers, trappers and other industry representatives, provided alligator skins for each student to work with.
Gatorama is one of the few remaining original Florida roadside attractions, so it was a perfect choice for the final destination. Tons of gators and crocs call Gatorama home, along with Allen and Patty Register who are the owners. The Registers are fifth and sixth generation Floridians who love sharing their farm with thousands of visitors each year. On the tour, the students got to see an alligator feeding, and those who dared could even hold a live alligator!
Upon returning home to Savannah, the students had about three weeks to plan, design and complete their accessory collection for the competition. They cut and stitched the elements, and the finished products included purses, handbags, clutches, shoes, hats and even jewelry. Contestants included a process book to illustrate what their motivation had been when coming up with the designs.
The finished pieces were featured at the Alligator Leather Design Gala in Savannah, Georgia on April 29th. The students were recognized for their exceptional efforts working with alligator leather. The winners were chosen by the FAME committee and given their own alligator skins for personal use. The competition was well received by all and will continue next year. Congratulations to our winners Amanda and Aishwarya, and to all the finalists who competed!