Michelle Smith is an AmeriCorps volunteer with Groundwork Providence, asmall nonprofit urban environmental organization in Providence, R.I. Sheworks on integrating the arts into Groundwork’s environmentalprogramming.

Monday, 4 Mar 2002

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.

Welcome to the final countdown to Runway Earth: Recycled Fashions for a Sustainable World, the fashion show that dares to ask: If you’re not recycling, what are you wearing? This Friday, Groundwork Providence will host this recycled fashion show at AS220, a local arts venue in Providence. Back in November, Dani Simons (the recycling coordinator for Providence) and I came up with this idea as a fun way to raise awareness about recycling and sustainability in the city.

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Although the show will last just two hours, we’ve been preparing for the last few months — getting posters designed, finding models and designers, scheduling practices, finding a DJ. It has been busy, but exciting. This week will be spent in a frenzied rush of last-minute details, from gathering props and decorations to matching outfits with models to sending out press releases.

The show itself is happening in three parts. The first part features clothes loaned to us by the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). NAPCOR’s mission is to “facilitate PET plastic recycling and promote the usage of PET packaging.” “PET” stands for polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic resin and a form of polyester. PET products are labeled with the number one code on the bottom of bottles and containers. Examples include juice containers, peanut butter jars, salad dressing bottles, and household cleaners.

Best in show?

NAPCOR has a fashion show kit they lend to organizations to demonstrate how recycled PET can be used to make many products we might not normally associate with plastics. These items include T-shirts, long underwear, shoes, sweaters, fiber for polyester carpet, sleeping bags, winter coats, and more. From baby blue polyester leisure suits to Patagonia jackets, the first section of our fashion show demonstrates the recycled fashions that we see around us everyday.

The second part of the show features the best finds of used and vintage clothes. This part is being coordinated by Ragtime Clothing, an eclectic vintage/thrift store in Providence. In this section, we are demonstrating that perhaps the best fashions are not found in department stores and on professional runways, but are hidden away in second-hand stores. These clothes are special treasures, because not only do they reuse old clothes and save new resources, they also celebrate a time in the past.

But it is the third part of the fashion show that we are most excited about. This section features clothing made by local designers, from professionals to those who sew their own clothes as a hobby. All designers have somehow incorporated recycled products into their clothes. We have managed to gather quite an extensive collection of recycled fashions, from shirts, dresses, and pants made from old T-shirts (including a fabulous country-western dress made from, that’s right, old country-western T-shirts) to dresses made from crushed beer cans and a skirt knitted out of plastic bags. We also have hats made of cereal boxes, skirts made from old corduroy pants and blankets, and our favorite, the “lemon dress” — an old green dress decorated with broken plastic lemons, made by a high school student. Like that enterprising youth, all of our designers have lent an excitement to this show that is all their own.

Stay tuned this week as I share all the details of our preparation and what it takes to put together a fabulous recycled fashion show. This is our first time organizing something like this, so it should prove to be an interesting week!

Tuesday, 5 Mar 2002

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

Four days until Runway Earth: Recycled Fashions for a Sustainable World! Weeks ago, I thought I would be a wreck at this point, worrying if models would show up, if the clothes would be ready in time, and if the DJ would forget his music. Although I have not quite reached that heart pounding, frantic state, there is a definite feeling of nervousness and excitement around here. The fashion world is a busy one, even for recycled and DIY fashions.

The blue leisure suit: Recycled for 2002.

I’m constantly checking and updating our “To Do” list for the show, and it seems that there is always something to add. As I sit here at my computer, looking out at a sunny yet achingly cold day, I somehow feel reassured that everything will work out. Everyone with whom we have worked and talked about the fashion show has had a very positive response. I had no idea how many people in this city not only make their own clothes, but also make them using reused materials. Undeterred by what is “in vogue” this season, many people are creating their own ideas of fashion — from an old pair of pants cut up and stitched into a skirt or old T-shirts torn apart and reborn as a beautiful blouse.

One of the reasons I am glad we are putting together this show is that it gives people a chance to show off their hidden talents to the world (or at least to Providence!). Many of the designers who are contributing clothes have never had their items on public display before — in fact, many of them had never even thought about it. Yet we have already had requests from people interested in purchasing some of the fashions.

But getting back to the details. Yesterday was a busy but very productive day. After writing my diary entry for Grist, I hopped in our organization’s green and lumbering pickup truck and headed down to South Kingstown, RI, to the University of Rhode Island campus. Here I met my friends Katie and Matt, who have been helping me put together and edit a video for the fashion show. During the show, we will be projecting a video as a backdrop to the models on the runway. Piecing together different scenes from recycling and landfill videos distributed by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), we put together a montage of recycling how-to’s, shots of our overflowing landfill, and images of “Maxman,” the state’s recycling mascot, who encourages everyone to “Recycle to the Max!”

Ready to wear again.

Needing something to do during the two hours it takes to copy the footage to videotape, Katie and I took the opportunity to take off for Crazy Burger, our favorite vegan/vegetarian restaurant in South County. Indulging in a scrumptious meal of tofu and avocado sandwiches and berry and rice milk smoothies, we eagerly discussed the fashion show and the different “model walks” Katie could do on stage. (She is modeling a piece made by one of our designers).

After that, I picked up our completed video tape and headed back to Providence, where Dani informed me of the fashion show happenings I had missed during the day. She had confirmed our hairdresser and makeup artist for the show, arranged to pick up some more clothes we had been waiting for, and had even tracked down a few more models. She also found the much sought-after clothing rack we had been looking for. I worry most about the little (but still important) details, and was happy and relieved to find that Dani had taken care of a number of them.

I spent the remainder of the day organizing the outfits and putting accessories together. Today seems like it will be a busy one as well: working on the program and script, getting literature from local environmental and sustainability organizations who will be at the show, finding even more last-minute models, and tracking down raffle prizes. The good news: So far, everything seems to be working out with no major problems.

Wednesday, 6 Mar 2002

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

This morning it’s cold and windy, with a slight hint of a possible snow shower in the air; biking to work required thermals and several layers of clothes. A little bleary-eyed and sipping a grapefruit juice, I gaze at the world outside our office windows. We are located in the center of downtown Providence, which means it is always busy outside our window. It can be pretty distracting when you’re working at the computer in the front of the office, as I am right now.

Dani wears a warm winter hat and gloves made out of recycled PETE #1 plastic.

But now is the time to focus. Three days and counting until show time, and there are still fashions to be taken care of, hairstyles to worry about, and set decorations to choose. In the world of recycled fashion shows, the drama is in the details.

Yesterday was a relatively calm day. I have a feeling that things will not get crazy until late Thursday, because people have a tendency to wait until the last minute to realize everything they still have to do. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; sometimes it works out for the best and everything seems to fall into place. But it does mean we are at a weird point in the fashion show preparation process. There is not that much left to do right now, because Dani and I have done most of what we can for the moment. She is working on the script and program with Luis, our fabulous MC, and I am taking care of last-minute details like finding a few more models, getting set decorations together, and buying supplies.

Keli wears a pink and red blouse made by a designer using old blouses.

Beyond that, we’re basically waiting for other people to come through for us. We are waiting for designers to bring in outfits for our remaining models. We are waiting for someone to build us portable stairs so the models can get on stage. We are waiting for our raffle prizes to be dropped off. We are waiting for slides from some high school students who designed recycled outfits, but did not actually make them. (We will be projecting their sketches on stage, along with the video.) All this waiting is fine with me, because it gives me a chance to breathe and think clearly. The real pressure will come on Friday morning if we’re still waiting for some of these things to materialize. But — knock on wood — that will not happen!

Yesterday I finished organizing the clothes we have and called designers for some final information to put in the program. I also went shopping for makeup, barrettes, a video cassette, and other supplies we’ll need on the day of the show. Today I will not have too much time to devote to the fashion show, because I have a meeting later this morning and an after-school environmental program I run this afternoon. At some point, though, I do need to figure out what I’m going to wear on Friday … !

Thursday, 7 Mar 2002

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

Runway Earth: Recycled Fashions for a Sustainable World is tomorrow. It has not really hit me, but I do have that nervous tension in my stomach; not panic-nervousness, happily — excited nervousness.

Today is the day of details, the day we need to make sure everything is ready to go. We need to get raffle tickets, food and refreshments for our models, and materials to build the stairs. We need to give all our models and designers reminder calls and confirm everyone’s participation. So much glamour, so little time.

Keli in the “lemon dress.”

Yesterday, I had a meeting and an after-school environmental program with middle school youth, so fashion show worries had to be put on hold. I did get a chance to talk to our DJ, however, to make sure he has all the equipment he needs. I also did some trouble-shooting, since one of our designers backed out of some outfits we were expecting and a model cancelled due to illness. This did not really set us back, however, because we have so many outfits (50 or 60) and some models will wear more than one. With the exception of three or four pieces that still need to be matched up with models, the outfits are all set and ready to be shown to the world!

There is a definite buzz in the air about the fashion show. Providence is a really small city, so word spreads quickly. When, I stopped at a local coffee shop this morning, six different people stopped me and said they were coming to the show and very excited about this event. It makes me really happy that so many people are enthusiastic about the show. It is not only a great opportunity to showcase what designers in Providence are making, but it is also a chance to promote recycling and sustainability. So many events are fundraisers, so it’s nice, for once, to have the opportunity to organize an entertaining and educational show without the pressure of having to make money off of it.

And then there’s Adam. You might remember him as the model showcasing the lovely polyester blue leisure suit. Adam refused to model in the show. Adam did not want to sell tickets at the door. As a result, he has been railroaded into the role of personal assistant to the show’s coordinators — Dani and me — on the big day. From cold drinks to tofu burgers to cloths to wipe the sweat from our brows, Adam will be at our beck and call. So everything looks set to run smoothly. The only problem? I still don’t know what I am going to wear!

Friday, 8 Mar 2002

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

Runway Earth: Recycled Fashions for a Sustainable World was a huge success! Fashion world beware: Recycled fashions are here to stay. As we all bask in the afterglow, it is hard to believe the show happened and is over.

Friday day was spent in a state of hurried excitement, as Dani and I raced to pick up last minute raffle prizes, safety pins, bobby pins, and other fashion show necessities. (Including a beautiful vintage dress for me. It is silver and glittering, with sheer arms and metallic flames darting up my shoulders. It was a perfect complement to Dani’s stunning black number, complete with a thick belt of rhinestones.)

Around 3 p.m., just as we started gathering everything to head over to the performance space, we received a call from National Public Radio (NPR) in Boston; a reporter wanted to come to the show and interview us! I calmly gave her directions to the venue, hung up, and shrieked in excitement with everyone in my office. This call sprang us into action! We threw everything into our truck and van and raced over to AS220 to begin setting up.

A hat, skirt and handbag made entirely out of strips of cereal boxes woven together.

We spent the next few hours setting up the stage and decorations, putting out the food and drinks for the models, laying out all the clothes in order, and setting up the video projector. Pretty soon the models began to arrive, then the hairdresser and makeup artist, and before I even realized it, backstage was a chaotic frenzy of clothes, hairspray, and mascara. I was running back and forth, showing models where to walk on stage, making copies of the program, finding someone to sell raffle tickets. Several last minute changes were made in the script, as some models did not show up, although a few did at the very last minute — including one who arrived a full minute before she was supposed to go on stage; miraculously she made it! Dani and I talked to the reporter from NPR about the show, its purpose, and some of the outfits that would be worn that night. Before I knew it, Dani and Luis, our MCs were onstage, explaining the show to a packed audience. I peeked around the curtain and saw a sea of faces, eagerly awaiting a night of fabulous recycled fashions!

Thanks to Jen, who runs the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program and the R.I. chapter of the Conservation Law Foundation, and shares office space with us, the models were lined up and ready to go onstage in the right order. The first part of the show, which displayed clothes made from recycled PETE #1 plastic bottles (lent to us courtesy of NAPCOR) went off without a hitch, highlighted by several models carrying newspaper, plastic bottles, and juice cartons onstage with them, to be dropped in the appropriate recycling bin at the end of the red-carpeted runway.

The second part of the show, which featured vintage clothes from Ragtime thrift store, was the most crazed, since each model wore three outfits with about one minute to change. As they came off stage, I literally threw their next outfit at them as they hurriedly changed to make their next stage appearance.

In between each section, Adam and I gave away raffle prizes, which included a fleece blanket, makeup, and a makeover from our makeup artist, as well as recycled canvas bags and several clothing packages from the Blue Dress, a vintage boutique which features recycled fashions by local and New York designers. In the background during the entire show was the video montage we had put together, featuring shots of the landfill and recycling facilities. It turned out to be a great backdrop for the show.

The cupcake dress.

The last part of the show, featuring remade and recycled clothing made by local designers, was the crowd favorite. From the lemon dress to the best in show skirt, the audience loved this part. Other favorites were the “secretary’s dress,” designed by a high school student, made out of used paper and shimmering silver pieces, complete with an old Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup; a skirt made out of neckties; pants made from old T-shirts; and the Madame von Cupcake dress, a gorgeous, handmade pink hoop skirt. This was our final outfit; the model slid out onto the runway, giving away pink frosted cupcakes. It was a great way to end the show.

Then suddenly it was all over. Everyone was thanked, Adam and I gave away the last raffle prizes, I paid the DJ, and it was done. I was finally able to breathe. I was so happy! The show went off perfectly, the venue was just about sold out, and we made it on the news later that night. It was a great experience and many people have asked us if we are going to do something like this again. Maybe we just will …