Eco Trash Couture
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From trash to couture fashions
By Ann Haver-Allen
January 1, 2010
Clothing made using paper, aluminum, nails, car wiring and tape cassettes—anything is game for Nancy Judd’s unique recycling.
Nancy Judd is not your ordinary recycler. Sure, she does the ordinary recycling things, but Judd’s Earth-friendly actions go way beyond ordinary. She has built a successful business around the idea of extreme recycling.
Judd creates haute couture fashions out of trash and garbage. She displays her Recycle Runway fashions at airports nationwide.
“I love the challenge of making garbage beautiful, glamorous and sexy,” Judd said. “I strive to transform the concept of ‘waste’ into ‘resource’ and encourage individual responsibility for the environment in a fun, playful and positive context.”
Judd has had commissions from many corporations, including Coca-Cola, Target, Toyota and Starbucks. Each original hand-sewn garment takes between 100 to 400 hours to make and the finished product becomes part of the Recycle Runway Collection.
“The garments are displayed in airports nationwide and continue to ‘work’ capturing people’s attention so that I can talk about environmental topics,” Judd said. “So the companies get to be associated with the environment, art, fashion and youth in front of tens of millions of people through the airport exhibits, the youth presentations and the associated press.”
The airport exhibits encourage people to rethink their definition of “waste” and inspire people to consider the impact of their choices on the Earth. “I want to change the way the people think about their relationship to the environment,” Judd said.
“I want them to realize that it is the culmination of each of our individual moment-to-moment decisions that has caused the polluted air, the polluted water and the polluted land as well as the global warming and species extinction that we hear about everyday. Likewise, it is our moment-to-moment decisions at home, at work, at school, at church and in all our social activities that can mitigate the damage we have created.”
Judd began Recycling Runway 11 years ago. She was working as the recycling coordinator for the City of Santa Fe and realized that art and fashion could be used to raise the consciousness of the public about recycling in a fun and positive way.
She started the Recycle Santa Fe Art Market to provide a forum for recycling artists to share their creations. The Art Market always opens with a recycled fashion contest.
“I would make a dress every year to promote the contest,” Judd said. “Soon, I had a wonderful collection of recycled garments and I started to get invited by other recycling coordinators around the country to give recycled fashion shows in their communities.”
She did that for about two years. “I realized that I could reach more people with my message of sustainability in airports,” she said. “I also wanted an audience that was not already environmentally minded.”
Education is a big part of what Judd does. “The focus of everything I do is environmental education,” Judd said. “In addition to the airport installations, I also give presentations to youth. I encourage people to change at least one thing in their lives to benefit the environment.”
As part of her education effort, Judd plans to make an Eco-Youth dress.
“I ask youth to take a pledge, to do just one thing for the environment,” she said. “These pledges will be made into the Eco-Youth dress.” But where, you ask, does she get the ideas for her garments?
“My design sensibility is influenced by fashions from 1900 to 1950,” she said. “I get most of my ideas from watching old movies and poring over fashion books from that period.”
When she is commissioned by a company to make a garment out of specific materials, she begins by thinking about the properties of the material and how she might transform them into something beautiful. “At the same time, I am looking in my vintage fashion books and the two sources of information seem to come together in a daydream—and a dress is born,” Judd said.
She said the most unusual material that she has recycled into a garment was car parts. “Toyota commissioned me to dig through their recycling containers,” Judd said. “They recycle between 80 percent to 95 percent of their garbage, so there is not much in their trash cans to choose from! This garment proved to ME that I could make anything elegant…even car parts!”
The Toyota two-piece suit was made using two different convertible soft tops. The “faux fur” on the lapel of the jacket is made from electrical wire. The hat is made from a front-end mask and accented with electrical copper wire. The purse is woven out of electrical wire and metal paper that is wound around electrical components.
Judd’s ingenuity incorporates a vast collection of garbage and recycled materials, including old rusty nails that are sewn and glued to a 1950’s style cocktail dress. The accompanying hat is made from canvas remnants. Completing the outfit is a vintage purse and a matching pair of shoes, also adorned with old rusty nails.
Judd made a 1920’s flapper dress from an old cloth shower curtain that features aluminum teardrops and circles cut from cans and hand sewn onto the material. She created a stylish coat from old cassette tapes that were woven into the fabric of a thrift-store coat. Discarded video tape made the collar and cuffs. The coat’s lining was once a prom dress.
Her “Fan Mail Dress” is made from junk mail that she folded into fans and sewed onto a skirt and dress made of scrap canvas. The Spanish influenced dress has a matching mantilla for the hair and vintage shoes that are covered with old postage stamps. Although Judd is no longer directly involved with the Recycle Santa Fe Art Market, she still shows a new garment in the fashion show each year.
“A number of people in Santa Fe follow my work, so it’s always fun to debut my latest piece there,” she said. “This show has become one of Santa Fe’s celebrated arts events. People come from all over the country to both sell artwork and shop.” Judd said that change starts with small steps and while many people already recycle, she wants to build on this.
“I have a very strong belief that if we pay attention to what is interesting, to what makes us curious, to what is fun and to what we love to do then we find ourselves in some amazing places,” Judd said. “This has been my experience and it has led into this incredible career. I share this message with the thousands of kids that I talk to but I think it is applicable to anyone! I feel so fortunate for this unusual, fun, meaningful and very fulfilling career!”
In February, Recycle Runway will be coming to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The show will run through August.