Recycle Runway – Red Carpet Ready?

I was connecting through the Atlanta airport last week and noticed the Recycle Runway special exhibit as I moved between terminals. Atlanta is the country’s busiest airport, with over 43 million passenger boardings in 2010, so I imagine a lot of you have seen the exhibit as well.

Recycle Runway is the work of artist and environmental educator Nancy Judd. It features clothing—dresses, coats, shoes, and hats—made from discarded materials, such as yellow police crime scene tape, pieces of aluminum cans, and plastic grocery and dry cleaner bags. A piece commissioned by Delta Airlines entitled “The Environmental Steward-ess” was made completely of discarded items from a plane, including worn leather seat covers, Delta magazines and safety cards, old plane tickets, airplane blankets, and even pretzel wrappers.

I love fashion and I freely admit that two guilty pleasures of mine are watching shows like Project Runway and reading fashion magazines when I am on plane trips, so this exhibit caught my eye as I passed. The “Jellyfish Dress” in particular started me thinking. The dress’s skirt is meant to resemble the tentacles of a jellyfish and, if you didn’t know to look closely, you might never realize it was made of plastic bags.

My first thought was “no one would actually wear those on the red carpet!” I had visions of an environmentally-intentioned starlet in the midst of a Björk-swan-dress disaster or one of those wacky Project Runway challenges where they have to make a dress out of lettuce or pet supplies. Could creating fashion out of discarded materials truly be a viable, widespread option for reducing waste to landfill and getting the most use from the materials we use? Will these types of recycled material dresses ever be publicly embraced and a common sight at proms, weddings, and movie premieres across the country? I just couldn’t imagine it.

Then I realized: though we definitely need more waste recovery solutions, the point of Recycle Runway isn’t to be realistic and wearable. The point is not to divert materials from landfill to supply clothes to a recycled-fashion store at every mall across the country. The point is to be outrageous and grab attention. The Jellyfish Dress might not appear on the red carpet at the Oscar Awards later this month, but it definitely raises awareness about plastic marine debris. And that goes a long way towards educating people to think twice about the materials they buy and discard.

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