Paper Princess/Yoshi Matsuzaki Photo; Michelle Sin Design Paper Princess/Yoshi Matsuzaki Photo; Michelle Sin Design

This is the first in a four-part series on Project: Trashion, a student-led initiative at the University of Waterloo that examines issues of sustainability in the fashion industry through art and design. For more information, and to purchase tickets to Project: Trashion’s fashion show on Sept. 30 in Kitchener, check out their website.

Part I – Design

My final project in twelfth grade was simple: create something you are passionate about, we were told. Due three weeks later; worth 20 percent of my grade.

Moments after the bell rang, I found myself deep in a dumpster scraping rotten pasta salad off a Styrofoam plate. Inspired by my two loves, fashion and the environment, I had the perfect idea: a Trashion show.

Before long I had turned my parents’ house into an art studio/dump site. The trash that people couldn’t wait to get off their hands soon became the treasure I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. When I smelled garbage, I smelled…couture.  

Piece by piece, my collection came to life. In my hands, sweaty t-shirts and period-stained bedding were transformed into flowy bohemian sundresses; foam fruit netting became statement headpieces; and cardboard boxes became ballerina-style tutus.

Still, I needed a showstopper.

Inspiration came soon after in class. I impulsively covered my classmate, Claire, in newspaper. Wrapping her in tape, I papier-mâchéd the entirety of her body, and spent the next three hours regretting it as we waited for the newspaper to dry. Yet using a broken hula hoop as a structural support, I covered the base of what was becoming a skirt with paper bags and a hundred sheets of scalloped paper fans. As Claire stepped into the five pound skirt and squeezed into the mâché bodice, we crowned her with a scrap wire tiara, transforming her into the Paper Princess.

After weeks of dumpster dives and glue gun burns, I saw my vision come to life as classmates walked down a makeshift runway. At 11:15 am in my high school atrium, I held my first Trashion show.

What I thought would be the pinnacle of my likely short-lived “Trashion career” was, to my surprise, just the beginning. That eventful lunch hour show eventually lead me to partner with CD Sonter Environmental Consultants to exhibit this and other pieces in what soon became my growing collection across Canada.

'Plastic Planet' – pallet wrap and plastic bags/Yoshi Matsuzaki Photo, Michelle Sin Design

The Trashion Collection

From gym benches to shopping mall runways, my mission stayed the same: inspire people to rethink waste. With each outfit, I hoped to shine a light on the uncomfortable environmental and social truths behind our clothing. Most of all, I hoped to challenge my audience to take steps towards more sustainable fashion.

Boho Flow, a patchwork dress reconstructed from fabric scraps, highlights ways to reduce textile waste. Plastic Planet, an evening gown made of shopping bags and pallet wrap, evokes visions of our oceans overtaken by plastic and encourages consumers to manage their contribution to this global reality through small changes like using reusable shopping bags.

One of my personal favourites, Shanghai Smog, emerged after I developed respiratory problems while living in a coal-powered region of China. Made from cheesecloth and surplus paint, the gown appears to smother its wearer in cloudy, purple haze, illustrating the air pollution our clothes generates in its life-cycle. Meanwhile, caring for our clothing accounts for half of its carbon footprint. Washing in cold water and hanging to air dry, where possible, are simply two of the easiest ways to reduce clothing-related greenhouse gas emissions.

'Shanghai Smog' – cheesecloth, surplus paint, party beads/Yoshi Matsuzaki Photo, Michelle Sin Design

While fashion may be the world’s second largest contributor to pollution through its water, energy and hazardous chemical use, there are many manageable changes we can make that add up to a significant impact.

How Can I Support Sustainable Fashion?

I like to follow the Seven Rs of Sustainable Fashion:

  1. Reduce – Buy something only if you can commit to wearing it at least 30 times. Reduce energy consumption and maintain your clothing’s longevity by washing less frequently.

  1. Reuse – Shop second-hand at your local thrift shop or online including Kijiji and Facebook groups. Host a swap party or place a clothing swap box at your community centre, workplace, or school.

  1. Recycle – Donate your unwanted clothes since even torn garments can be recycled into new products like home insulation. Purchase clothing and shoes made of recycled plastics or other waste.

  1. Rent – Rather than buy something new for every special occasion, try renting a piece on Rent Frock Repeat to feel like a supermodel and save money. Rent out those fancy dresses sitting in your closet – with Boro, you can make money off your wardrobe and get your outfits back whenever you like.

  1. Repurpose – Even without sewing, you can revamp your old shirt into a stylish outfit, a reusable bag, or a shag rug. Repurpose home textiles such as curtains, towels and bed sheets as picnic blankets, cleaning rags or gift wrap.

  1. Repair – With countless online tutorials, learn to sew a button by hand or mend a seam with a sewing machine. Resole your shoes at a shoe repair shop or at home with some Shoe Goo.

  1. Research – Find out which how top fashion brands perform environmentally and socially with an app like Good On You. Use clothing hacks to extend the life of your closet.

Wear The Change

Fashion is a form of self-expression. Not only does it represent our style, but it also represents our values. Whether donning an upcycled DIY bag, a pre-loved dress or a quality item made to last, we can reduce our environmental impact with the choices we make in our wardrobe.

We don’t all have to dumpster dive for our clothes. Rather, let’s be conscious consumers who wear the change we want for the world.

Michelle Sin is a designer for Project Trashion, a student-led initiative that presents sustainability issues in the fashion industry through art, media and design. She is currently studying Environment and Business at the University Waterloo.   


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