Making coal fashionable in upper Dauphin County

For most of the 19th century, through the first half of the 20th, coal mining, and the soot that came with it, were part of life in the upper Dauphin County community of Lykens. It is hardly an inspiration for fashion design, unless, like Zachary Wertz, you grew up there.

“I've always tried to find the beauty in things and that was one of my characteristics in my project,” said Zachery Wertz. “Taking the beauty out of the coal, which is usually dirty.”

For 23 year old Wertz, it was a chance to use his chosen profession to pay tribute to the small coal mining town he calls home. It was his final project at Parsons, the New School of Design in New York City. His five pieces were inspired by the town's history of economic and environmental hardships.

“As designers, we're always taught that you shouldn't automatically see the inspiration on the surface of the design,” he said. “It should be buried underneath.”

Pointing to one outfit, Wertz explained: “It's black and white and it's supposed to symbolize the coal dust laying on the town and covering and blanketing the town.”

On some outfits, there are hints of anthracite coal using hundreds of hand sewn frosty crystals. He calls his collection a mix of somber and elegance. A practical design meant to be worn.

“I wanted to have something that was really high end and elegant, but I also wanted to represent a piece of me,” said Wertz.

His project also included a video explaining the source of his inspiration. It is a homemade presentation that gained local and national followers on Facebook and Youtube. It is a personal look at Lykens' past, present, and hope for its future.

“My ultimate goal would be to possibly bring back factories and garment manufacturing and give jobs back,” he said. ” So I see promise when I drive through town.”

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