Shred to Sell

A practice in sustainable design

Shred to Sell focuses on sustainability, design, and community―but most of all it is an experiment in the making. This past spring, Fibers students from the University of North Texas agreed to try out this idea, one that was inspired by an art center on an island.

Maho Bay Camps was a creative, sustainable “camp” in the heart of the US Virgin Islands. Maho started on St. John in the 1970s, with a vision to create an eco-friendly vacation destination that nurtured the environment. As tourists came, so did their refuse - mainly in the form of glass bottles, linens, and kitchen waste. Without a recycling program on the island and no landfill, the problem of this trash found a creative solution. The Maho Bay Art Center was conceived and grew to employ full time artisans who used glass blowing, weaving, and ceramics to turn this waste into functional products and fine art. For more than a decade, it became a self-sustaining operation that routinely created work for corporations, nature organizations, and many visitors to St. John. [1] 

The ability to take waste from tourists, transform it, and then sell it back to tourists was a wonderful example of a creative sustainable design practice. During my stay at Maho, I worked alongside AnnaLisa Jensen, the textile studio director, in her tent studio surrounded by piles of sheets, blankets, and woven yardage. I learned about this closed system of sustainability and how it has the potential to serve as a model for other places, communities, and waste. So the idea was brought back to UNT.

In an effort to engage my Fibers students in this idea, we developed an initiative alongside the UNT Office of Sustainability, christening it Shred to Sell. The focus of this project was to experiment - to take ideas surrounding contemporary product design development and present an experience that took their work outside of the classroom. Through this project, each component of the Maho Bay Art Center model was addressed: sustainability, good design, and community.

Sustainability

In December 2012, students met with Nicole Cocco, Outreach Coordinator with the UNT Office of Sustainability. In our goal to replicate the Maho Bay Art Center model, we brainstormed waste materials found throughout the UNT campus that could serve as a material to transform. After several dead ends, we landed on abandoned tee-shirts. Departments, clubs, and organizations throughout UNT produce tee-shirts for special events every year, leaving behind piles stored in closets across campus. This perfect solution was not only a sustainable approach to a material, but the cloth had the ability to be completely altered through techniques learned through our Fibers Department: dyeing, shibori, printing, stitching, weaving, and more.

Good Design

To transform this material is not enough; the end result has to be good design. We piled 200 plus tee-shirts on the studio tables and stood back. Each student was asked to bring inspiration images of what they coveted. These were spread across the table; pinning the ones we love, discarding the ones that did not make the cut. Throughout this time, the discussion centered on developing products specifically geared for UNT students and faculty. In the end, each student was assigned an object to make in a series of 10, beginning the process of designing, prototyping and constructing.

Community

The Maho Bay Art Center was a success because of the community surrounding it. Volunteers breaking up glass bottles for the glass blowing furnaces, tearing and stitching ends of sheets for weaving, and countless other ways they assisted in the process. The works from the Art Center made their way to corporate offices and boutiques across the islands; through their presence, engaging consumers in a dialogue about sustainability. One of the important elements of the UNT project was the community engagement; taking the conversation surrounding sustainability and entrepreneurship into the local community. Through the effort of graduate student, Chesley Williams, we hosted a panel discussion titled Sustainable Entrepreneurship, participated in an exhibition of Shred to Sell works at the SCRAP Denton ReVision Gallery, and hosted a pop-up shop alongside UNT Earth Day events.

This entire project was an experiment; many things going right, others going wrong. Despite product labels arriving late, poor marketing, and forgetting to set up a Square account, we learned a great deal and were able to see the Maho Bay Art Center model work at UNT. Most importantly, our experiment was tackled as a team, giving new insight into the possibilities that exist through the pairing of textiles, sustainability, and students.

[1] I am using past tense, because in May of this year the 36 year long lease ran out at Maho Bay Camp and the land was sold, leaving this model of sustainability with an unknown future.
 

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