Sexy cocktail dresses constructed from used bicycle-tire inner tubing, secondhand men's neckties and spent plastic gift cards. Chic blouses made from used Japanese kimonos. Jewelry fashioned from golf tees.
These are just a few of the trendy treasures to be unveiled April 25 at Fashion the Mind: An Eco-Makeover. This Earth Day showcase of wearable "fashion art," made entirely from recycled materials, will exhibit contributions from businesses like The Broadmoor, Metro Rides, Envi, WabiSabi Wares, Goodwill Industries and Starbucks Coffee.
"Recycled materials can create beautiful fashions — and that can inspire people to reuse materials differently," says Christina Brodsly, marketing and outreach specialist for Metro Rides, a grant-funded program that advocates eco-friendly modes of transportation by educating the community on the benefits of carpooling, telecommuting and bicycling.
Describing herself as "green in moderation," Brodsly shops at thrift stores and recycles. "People should know you don't have to be hardcore. I really believe every little bit helps," she says. "I get ideas on how to 'go greener' all the time."
One of those ideas spurred her tangible contribution to Fashion the Mind; it's a hand-stitched halter top and skirt combination made from bicycle inner tubing. A tribute to Metro Rides, she's named it "Rockin' Rider."
With no prior clothing design experience, Brodsly snatched up the inner tubing from bins at Old Town Bike Shop with a thumbs-up from owner John Crandall. Although it took her five weekends to design and craft the two-piece dress, Brodsly says, "The materials were a dream to work with. The tubing is soft and easy to sew."
For the "Rockin' Rider" runway debut, stylists from J. Gregory Salon will be integrating snips of the tubing with Brodsly's makeup and embellishing her hairstyle with a bicycle cog; Brodsly's also created thematic jewelry, like a bike-chain necklace from recycled bike parts.
What has she learned from her participation in the show?
"How much clothing is wasted every year," she replies without hesitation. "And how many chemicals are used in the making of fabrics."
Environmental impact aside, outfitting oneself from reclaimed items also sports the added benefit of frugality.
"Going green is actually surprisingly affordable," says Marci Featherstone, founder and co-owner of Envi. Envi incorporates 75 percent recycled materials in its women's and men's clothing, accessories, art, jewelry and baby-wear. Featherstone, an avid supporter of stores like Goodwill, encourages thrift shops to keep prices reasonable, which she feels increases community patronage, and thereby, upcycling.
The vision for a dress Featherstone will premiere at Fashion the Mind came from a similar idea she had for women's shirts. While the shirt design never jelled, its evolution is a fun and flirty success. Little more than a recycled woman's full slip and a collection of assorted men's neckties, it's an expression of Featherstone's ingenuity and has inspired her experimentation with similar dresses made from vintage scarves. (It will later be available for purchase at Envi, as will several other participants' wears at their respective sites.)
When she isn't designing dresses, Featherstone mulls other novel recycling projects, such as tote bags made from album covers.
"Anything can be recycled," she says enthusiastically.
Not so ugly duckling
Rick Brown, retail visual coordinator for The Broadmoor, exercises his artistic muse daily, creating visual displays in the hotel's retail shops to promote and sell products.
A Broadmoor employee for 18 years, Brown zealously boasts about the hotel's green initiatives, a comprehensive list including certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary golf courses, and an $800,000 project to convert 30,000 light fixtures to lighting alternatives that will reduce electrical consumption by 5.3 million kilowatt-hours annually.
A recycled lampshade, with its beautifully scalloped edges, is what inspired Brown's formal gown, which Brodsly calls a "visual masterpiece," so incredible that detailed descriptions of the dress are being kept under wraps until its unveiling at Fashion the Mind.
Brodsly and Brown divulged that the gown has been assembled from oddities like an umbrella and old Christmas decorations. Also unique: the underskirt. Made from an old spa bathrobe, its pockets are ideal for holding sundries like makeup and a cell phone.
Accessories for the Swan Lake-themed creation include a clutch fashioned from a Broadmoor shopping bag and matching jewelry made from golf tees. With the help of old wire hangers, Brown was even able to create a swan-shaped hat.
"It's like the ugly duckling story," he says. "The ugly duckling becomes a swan. These recycled items people have discarded are like the ugly duckling, and they've been turned into a beautiful swan."
Those who have had the fortune of an early viewing, Brodsly included, have hinted Brown's work of art would be perfect for any formal event and would make an exquisite wedding gown. Excited by the responses he's received so far, Brown laughs: "I can see Sarah Jessica Parker in it — the hat's perfect for her!"
With a degree in fine arts, Brown's passion to create art from recyclables has inspired unique collectibles like old-fashioned Santa figures made from recycled Coca-Cola bottles, or points of conversational interest, like the realistic-looking breast enhancements he makes from old nylon stockings and poly-fill. With an eye for the beauty in discarded items, Brown seems to have limitless creative vision.
If anything, he hopes Fashion the Mind will inspire others to take a second look at potential trash before throwing it away:
"I've seen great hats made out of chicken buckets."