Curbside Couture

Trash to treasure

What do discarded newspapers, Target, Walmart and CVS shopping bags, empty soda cans and tabs, old CDs, used pillowcases, Styrofoam egg cartons, plastic garbage bags and gently used sweaters, t-shirts, denim and dresses have in common? They are all materials that can be used to recreate new, fun and fashionable items of clothing. These and other recycled items, highlighted with some unusual buttons, ribbon, feathers and glitter, and pulled together with thread, duct tape and lots of ingenuity, can be used to transform "trash" into treasure.  Some of these inventive garments were highlighted in Curbside Couture, a successful community benefit last month sponsored by the Clinton Foundation in Little Rock, Arkansas.
 
The second of what will now be an annual event, Curbside Couture was first envisioned and organized by Little Rock fashion designer and artist Connie Fails, who has mentored students in the ways of fashion in the past. Teachers in various middle and high schools throughout the state were invited to oversee students in art classes to create inventive entries using discarded materials.  The resulting work was then modeled on the benefit runway in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center by the designer students and their friends before a sold-out crowd and offered for sale along with more recycled fashions by other vendors at a Bazaar following the show. Twelve schools and over 100 students participated. The M.C. was Korto Momolu, a Little Rock native and a Project Runway favorite, some of whose recycled designs were also featured, as well as some recycled fashions created for the occasion by Fails and two other Little  Rock designers, Erin Lorenzen and Missy Lipps.  Curbside Couture will take place again in Little Rock next spring.
 
Students came up with many clever ideas, such as a fetching skirt made of white Styrofoam egg cartons sprouting small flowers; a skirt and bodice decorated with shiny CDs; and items of clothing made of flattened soda cans or decorative plastic juice packets; not to mention sleeves of sweaters connected to parts of others in complimentary colors (or contrasting colors that still work); in one case soda can tabs were used to make chandelier earrings, chain mail armour for a male "gladiator" in another. Ms. Momolu contributed a special Plus Size dress made out of old Clinton Library banners.
 
Funds were raised for several deserving projects.  One school donated all of their money to Our House, a homeless shelter for women and children in Little Rock.  Two schools put their proceeds into an art fund.  Two Haiti charities received funds also: the Clinton Haiti Relief Fund and Beatitudes, a Little Rock church program that helps Haitian artists with their designs and marketing.
 
Teachers, parents and the students themselves attested to the positive effects for students achieved by the project.  In their remarks at the event, Ms. Fails and Ms. Momolu spoke about how such a project could inspire students, and how it instilled self-confidence and fostered self-esteem.  One parent, Jim Pfeifer, whose daughter participated and who attends Episcopal Collegiate  School in Little Rock, wrote to Joy Schultz, the school's Art Director and Upper School Art Specialist: "I feel that the Curbside Couture project . . . has increased our child's self-confidence and self-esteem.  The importance of such motivation to a teen cannot be overstated.  Teachers and community leaders who care enough to identify kids' skills, encourage them and assist them in developing those skills, then recognize them for their achievement, are saving lives.  Teen suicide, drug use and other self abuse in our society can be curbed by increasing a child's sense of self worth.  Curbside Couture does this in very beautiful ways.  It speaks to the environment, teaches skills as they apply to the marketplace and creates beautiful art, while it builds self-confidence in students.  It was the absolute highlight of the year in my family and we are grateful for it.  It has reinforced our child's interest in her grades, the prospect of attending college and her future."
 
Patricia Carroll, Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Weiner High School in  Wiener, Arkansas, had students in 7th, and 10th-12th grades participate as designers and models as a special project. She was extremely enthusiastic about the project, which in her case had to be completed in only two weeks.   "When I told them about it, they were ready to dive in right away and started throwing out ideas on what they could do.  A few days later, we all went to a local thrift shop, and the official creations began! They were so inspired with this project. Even more so than any other project they had worked on all year! . . . I was able to teach my students skills that we haven't covered in other projects. It helped them to really visualize how clothing was pieced together and how it could be taken apart and repurposed.  Next school year, I will definitely encourage more students to participate . . . Who knows . . . some may even pursue a career in the fashion or sustainability industry because of this experience." Her students matched her excitement.  Lucero Baena stated: " This experience was amazing for me. I learned many new ideas on how to make clothes out of recycled things, and I would like to do this again.  It's a good way to help the world."  Kailie Lewis said it allowed her to realize two of her dreams, to make her own clothes and to be a model.  "Also, I got to take old things that someone nowadays wouldn't want and remake them into something trendy and fun.  We recycled and helped protect our environment by instead of just throwing these clothes away, we reused them and we got to be creative!" Asa Walker and  Wesley Creasey both agreed that "it was a fun and great experience." And Destiny Hicks declared: "It was the best thing I have ever been to and I didn't know there were so many things that you could make out of recycled items." 
 
Other organizations around the country have organized events similar to Curbside  Couture. Portland, Oregon based Junk to Fund, a collective of artists and social innovators, started the Junk to Funk Fashion Show in 2006, mixing sustainability, fashion, art, and in their own words, "a little bit of weird."  Their most frequently participating designers who help steer the direction and growth of Junk to Funk call themselves The House of Trashion. Bridge House Thrift Store in New Orleans puts on a fashion show featuring clothing from the store that has been "tweaked" by local designers into fashionable outfits.  Their next event will be on Jan. 31, 2014. The Recycle Santa Fe Art Festival has been presenting the Trash Fashion and  Costume Contest, with adult, teen and child categories, for 14 years, transforming from "garbage to glamour;"   The next one will be held November 15, 2013. Oregon State's School of Design and Human Environment's recycled fashion show, entitled Runway Rubbish, is a competition between various universities through Recycle Mania.  It encourages students to advocate for a waste-free community. And in 2012 the 7th annual Recycled Fashion Show at Young at Art Museum in  Davie, Florida raised money for the museum's teen and at-risk youth programs.  The theme was "Architecture Restyled;" their show's fashions reflected the relationship between buildings and the environment.
 
For further information on Curbside Couture see clintonpresidentialcenter.com or call Connie Fails at the Clinton Museum Store at 501-748-0405

For more information about the other events, please visit the following links:
http://www.junktofunk.org/ 
http://www.bridgehouse.org/events/recycled-fashion-show/
http://recyclesantafe.org/fashion-show/
http://www.facebook.com/pages/OSU-Fashion-Organization-Recycle-Fashion-Show/179411948762731
http://oregonstate.edu/admissions/blog/2013/02/06/osus-recycle-fashion-show/
http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-12-07/news/fl-cn-recycle-1209-20121207_1_fashion-show-museum-hosts-teen-designers

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