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Recycled Beauty: Models “Strut Their Junk” in Fashion Show

What do you get if you have used dryer sheets, shattered auto glass, VHS tapes, old shower curtains, empty soft drink cans, and fabric pulled from the mud in the wake of the October floods? If you’re one of the designers who entered the Columbia Design League’s annual Runaway Runway contest, you have the makings of clothes ready to wow a sellout crowd at a fashion show.

“These designers share our belief that good design packs a powerful punch,” said Design League President Amy Shumaker. “It can even turn trash into something so stunning it will take your breath away.”

The contest opened to designers in January, and the key rule is a simple one: materials used must be post-consumer (that is, ready for a landfill). Any use of new materials, even as small as buying a package of plastic cups, would disqualify an entry.

The hard work of the designers was put on display Saturday night, as a sellout crowd gathered at the Columbia Museum of Art for the show and the models prepared to “strut their junk”. Kelvin Davis, a fashion blogger and one of the judges for the show, said choosing the right model is crucial.

“I think you have to choose a model who can exude the confidence of what you’re trying to accomplish,” Davis said. “I don’t think everybody can be a model for ‘strut your junk.’ It takes a special person to put on that recycled gear and to rock it.”

His fellow judges agreed that this was not like any other fashion show, for the designers or the models. “It’s not just about wearability,” said Harriett Green of the South Carolina Arts Commission. “There are a lot of different criteria for sure.”

Alexis Doktor, a judge and professional costume designer, agreed. “I think it’s all about the artistry for me,” she said. “It’s about creativity and finding uses for products you wouldn’t think to put into a fashion scenario.”

The contest is open to anyone, and the designers ranged from experienced to novice. The youngest, 11-year-old Ella Blalock, won the hearts of many in the crowd as she modeled her own dress, made from a South Carolina flag found in the mud as she and her mother helped clean up in the aftermath of the floods.

“You couldn’t even tell it was a flag,” Ella said, adding that her mom washed it a dozen times to get rid of all the mud. Ella’s work earned her one of two “SC Strong” awards, a new prize given to designers who exemplified the spirit of the community and state in recovering from the natural disaster.

Experience paid off for designer Kaitlyn Machos, who won the night’s top prize, the Bruce Bahr Award. The trophy is given to each year’s top designer in memory of Bahr, one of the founders of the Columbia Design League. Machos entered four designs, including an eye-catching dress with straps which appeared to feature sequins to catch the light. A closer look revealed that they were not sequins, but carefully shaped pieces of shattered auto glass from a wreck.

The Design League’s members worked for weeks in advance and all day Saturday preparing for the show, and the money raised funds educational Design League events throughout the year and helps pay for summer camps for kids at the Columbia Museum of Art.

More information on the Columbia Design League, which is open to all for a small membership fee, is available here.

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