Eco Trash Couture
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The morning of August 15th I opened my email to discover a very nice note from a guy who wanted a suit for a 30-day project he would soon be starting. Now, I am contacted rather randomly with some interesting and remarkable requests, but this one caught my eye. A link was provided and I was catapulted into the world of Rob Greenfield, though I’m not certain I really knew what that meant yet. His website, robgreenfield.tv contains short documentaries and extensive media coverage of fascinating “ planet and people friendly” projects he has been initiating since 2012. As I explored his site I realized that Rob was another serious environmental educator and his work appeared artful to me. Though I wasn’t sure whether he had thought about it in that way or not, it seemed like performance art, inviting people into a new paradigm and a different way of seeing.
From there we had a Skype call – the project was only 35 days away and if I was to take the job, time was of the essence! It turns out that Rob wanted to spend 30 days wearing his trash; he would eat and consume like the average American which meant producing an average of 4 ½ pounds of trash a day. He needed a suit to hold the garbage that would become a visual billboard for all the waste that he would make. By the end of 30 days he could possibly be wearing 135 lbs of garbage on his body– Oh, my gosh! I really loved the idea for the project and I had tons of questions: How will you deal with liquids and rotting trash? What about glass and toxic substances? Will you be compacting the garbage? There were so many things to consider in creating a garment that would hold this kind of weight, be expandable, wearable, and allow the waste to be visible.
We needed to make a lot of decisions very quickly to produce this garment. My partner and I brainstormed another hour after the call and I high tailed it down to a local army surplus store. After talking backpacks and uniforms for some time with the local retailer, I made an unusual decision and bought a brand new base garment. I usually use 80%-100% percent upcycled materials in my work, but I did not have the time to find a second hand rip-stop military grade coat, pants or strapping. However, most of the rest of the materials were upcycled. We chose to use the clear plastic waste material from Beacon Converter’s medical pouches to create the big garbage collecting pockets, as it was sturdy, see through, and I had worked with it before. Though the plastic would hold the volume of the trash, I knew it could not support the potential 135 lbs of weight. So I used straps that were sown to the suit and an old backpack frame that attaches to the inside of the coat. Everything had to be designed to carry an enormous amount of weight while being conducive to normal day-to-day movement. I had a chance to do some minor testing during the process of creation but in the end, I was not fully certain if the garment would hold up to the beating and the weight that Rob might give it cruising around New York City being interviewed and doing public education; but it did!
Another thing that was very different for me in creating this garment was the fact that I was not making something for a pleasing aesthetic. All of my other work is designed to be beautiful and elegant, both to mask the fact that they are created from waste materials and to be eye catching so that I can engage a wider audience with my environmental education. For this project, I was brought in as a designer with a capability of working with alternate materials. In addition, my design had to have a specific flexibility and strength. It was a bit of a challenge to make the garment that Rob was requesting as well as meet the rigorous standards of my own appeal for line and beauty, but I really enjoyed the process!
Coincidentally, my partner and I were scheduled to be in New York City for another reason only days before Rob needed the garment delivered to begin the project, so we got to meet him and his team of documentary film makers Chris Temple (Living On One) and Gary Bencheghib. I was also able to participate with Rob in a Facebook Live event which launched the #TRASHME project! What an honor! I remember coming away from our meeting with the extraordinary feeling that Rob was a man of true integrity and love for the planet and the fellow beings that share it with him. It was the regard with which he spoke to you and the genuineness of his words. Watch a video about the process of my making the suit created by Chris and Gary.
During his 30-day project, we tracked Rob’s progress, giving shouts out periodically to interviews or education he was putting out into the world. If you follow his Facebook feed, RobGreenfield, from September 19th – October 18th, 2016 you can see his adventures as the “Trash Man” in NYC. You will be able to see a sampling of the extensive press and social media attention this project attracted (they estimate they received billions of international impressions!) The Smithsonian Magazine even wrote a wonderful article about our collaboration. There are also many educational pieces to get excited about in this feed such as, “TRASH ME FAQs,” or ATTN’s video “Unlike Americans, Germans take recycling seriously,” or “5 Tips to Go Near Zero Waste.” In an article for Ecowatch, Rob mentions the fact that most our plastic waste ends up in the stomachs of sperm whales, gulls, and other water creatures. Not only are we polluting our planet but we are the direct cause of the suffering of the creatures that we share it with. I have a great deal of respect for the ideas that he really teased out for us like “Great change starts with small, simple actions,” as well as understanding the order of reduce, reuse and recycle in “The Teeny Greeny” video: “First I reduce my consumption and my needs, then I reuse what I can and lastly…then I recycle.”
Earlier I intimated that I did not fully understand yet what it meant to be catapulted into Rob’s world, but as his project unfolded so did more understanding of the depth of his character. At some point along the way I opened his website and looked on the “About” page. It was there that I discovered “From Drunk Dude to Dude Making a Difference” wherein he described the time line from “environmental nuisance” to daily making different choices to effect personal transformation for himself, the earth, and for community. His personal adventure shows us how anyone can make choices to get themselves off the grid and make their lives a catalyst for positive and loving change!
I am so honored to have been a part of this project and am so grateful that Chris suggested my name to Rob for the creation of the garment– thanks guys! And congratulations on completing an outstanding project that inspired millions of people to reduce their trash and environmental footprint, I can’t wait to continue the dialogue of the #TRASHME suit during my 2018 Atlanta Airport Exhibition!
Photos 1, 3 & 4 by Gary Bencheghib
Photo 2 by Nicole Morris-Judd