Arts & Entertainment

Fashionable Recycling

Feather Foam Tee Dress, foam circles and plastic sleeves on recycled tee Photo: Victor Tawagi @victor.tawagi Model: Molly Clare @mollyclaref

Op Shop Chic first became a thing in the 1980s when pop stars like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna became unofficial ambassadors for pre-loved couture. Second-hand stores then became the go-to for those who wanted that touch of quirk, or for period-themed fancy dress parties, or simply for students and people with limited wardrobe budget.

However, in today’s heightened social sensitivity towards better environmental practice and reduced waste, recycling, repurposing and rebirthing has become a mainstream ideology and emerging industry.

When it comes to recycled fashion, it doesn’t get more literal than clothing made from cardboard. Artist and designer, Jeff McCann used to make theatre sets and props at university and, constrained by budget, turned to the cheap and bountiful resource of cardboard.

“That’s when I realised I could get as much of it as I wanted to, and I could afford to experiment with it,” he explains. And experiment he did.

Working with the natural flexibility and textures, McCann gradually devised a line of bags and jewellery and began selling pieces online and via word of mouth. Overcoming initial customer objections like “oh it’s not gonna last” and “what happens when it rains?” and “why would I pay $200 for just some cardboard?” McCann eventually positioned his product as bespoke art fashion. The bags are satchel style, brightly painted and varnished. As for the question of durability:

“I’ve done lots of testing…like leaving my bag out in a storm, my friend has accidentally put one of his necklaces through the washing machine and it survived.”

He uses standard corrugated cardboard, sourcing boxes mostly from his local Lucky 7 convenience store and a bike shop in Glebe.

The progression to clothing items came by chance when McCann mused over the scraps he had been keeping and thought “hey this could actually be cool as a texture.” The scraps came together to make a dress. From there, McCann widened his scope and sought out other materials from places like Reverse Garbage. Here he found hundreds of discarded festival wristbands which he tied together and fashioned into a coat that ended up being worn by Montaigne for her performance at Groovin The Moo. Another great example of Jeff’s work is shown on our cover which features a feather foam tee dress made from foam circles and plastic sleeves on a recycled tee.

Since then McCann has had a constant flow of work – in demand for festivals and markets and being commissioned by musicians.

The sustainability element of his products are of paramount importance to himself and, he is discovering, to customers.

“I do a lot of markets and festivals and I feel that people are definitely wanting to make an ethical choice.”

Making this ethical choice has never been easier, especially with August 27 to September 2 being National Op Shop Week. Now in its sixth year, the event aims to encourage people to donate clothing and other goods to their local charity and second-hand shops and to also buy from them. Australia ranks among the highest countries in the world for per capita production of waste. Buying from op shops and second hand stores significantly reduces landfill, minimises negative environmental impact, decreases manufacturing related energy and pollution costs, and can mitigate personal and social stresses related to fast turn-over consumerism.

Not only that, but op shops are a viable source of revenue as well as a way to engage with community for many non-profit organisations.

“I think it’s a very worthwhile thing for our volunteers to feel involved as well,” adds Kylie McKendry, Communications and Marketing Coordinator for Cat Protection Society in Newtown. She explains that donors, purchasers and volunteers can all feel like they are contributing to the cause in some way.

Cat Protection Society is a non-profit organisation that helps re-home cats, provide information on health and general care (including free Winter Cat Care talks), promote responsible cat ownership and celebrate all things feline. They have run their op-shop for more than 30 years and it has been integral in boosting finance and morale. The shop receives and sells homewares, clothing, CDs, books, ornaments and, of course pet paraphernalia (there are strict guidelines, so consult their website before donating), Over the years they have seen many odd and delightful treasures, but “the most notable was a set of ABBA outfits which proved very popular with customers,” said a spokesperson from the shop.

Street markets have existed for millennia and have operated in virtually the same way since they began. They are a place of trade for artisan, antique and trash come treasure and a place for community to congregate. It’s that tradition that has inspired the inaugural Designers And Fleas market sponsored by the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). The brainchild of Creative Producer UTS Special Projects, Carolina Totterman, Designers And Fleas has been modelled on a similar market in Williamsberg, Brooklyn. Totterman sees a lot of similarity between Brooklyn and Pyrmont Ultimo and wants to stimulate the potential of the precinct.

“Part of this is to inject a bit of vibrancy and colour and tap into all the creativity that is behind closed doors,” says Totterman.

Designers And Fleas will be held on a vacant lot under a large marquee within the bounds of the UTS campus. The fully curated market will feature three exhibition spaces with around forty vendors including emerging local designers, artisans and vintage ware sellers.

More activities and vendors are being negotiated so there are bound to be surprises. The market will be completely plastic bag free and focused on local businesses, creatives and goods. The event coincides with UTS Open Day and Pyrmont Growers Market, so you can make a full day of it.

National Op Shop Week, Aug 27 – Sep 2,

Cat Protection Society, 103 Enmore Rd, Newtown,

Designers And Fleas, Aug 26, 9am-2:30pm, 634 Harris St, Ultimo,

Jeff McCann, or Instagram @jeffmccann

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