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Clothing made out of recycled plastic bottles? It’s becoming more commonplace than you’d think. Just look at brands like Adidas and H&M. Apparel from recycled plastic bottles has even made its way to London Fashion Week. Now, the concept is being used as both a tool for environmental awareness and an agent of change.
Fashion designer Tracy Reese has teamed up with conceptual artist Mel Chin to create Flint Fit, a capsule collection that’s got a unique backstory. The fabrics used for the collection are actually the byproducts of thousands of empty water bottles from Flint, Michigan.
Since 2014, thousands of residents in Flint haven’t had clean drinking water. According to Newsweek, the state of Michigan is still spending more than $22,000 per day on bottled water for Flint. And while media attention for the Flint water crisis has dwindled in recent years, Reese and Chen have found a creative way to get it back into the national conversation. Flint residents gathered 90,000 empty water bottles to create the Flint Fit collection. Those bottles were then transported to Greensboro, North Carolina, where they were transformed into fabric by the textiles company Unifi.
"For me, the design process always starts with textiles,” Reese said in a press release. “So designing into options that Unifi was able to create from the Flint water bottles was central to the concept.”
The garments were sewn at the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, where Artnet has reported that survivors of abuse and poverty get education and workplace training. The Flint Fit collection is part of Chin's exhibition All Over the Place, which consists of more than 70 works. Reese said that water and the resilience of Flint were her main sources of design inspiration.
“I really wanted to showcase the most interesting properties of each fabric,” she said.
The twill fabric, for example, is perfect for rainwear and protection from the elements. Its sturdiness and industrial appeal also recall Flint's manufacturing background.
“We dyed polyester jersey a gorgeous watery cerulean color for swimwear, which is a cool contrast to the rainwear,” Reese explained. “The vinyl detailing symbolizes reflection, reflections in water and reflections on the current Flint situation."
All Over the Place opens to the public on April 8 from 2-5 p.m. at the Queens Museum in New York City. A fashion presentation on opening day is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., which will feature models and Flint residents who participated in the project.
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