New York has its fashion week, and so does Paris and Milan.
But they're no competition for Orlando this week as student designers who helped kick off NPE 2015 with recycled plastics inspired fashions Monday morning.
Showcased as part of the opening ceremonies, the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show aimed to place a spotlight on the importance of plastics recycling from the get-go at NPE.
Seniors Adewunmi Adetayo and Siobhan Mulhern of the Savannah College of Art and Design's Atlanta campus were excited, but not nervous, in the minutes leading up to the show.
It was their work — along with those from seven other student designers — that was on display Monday to help kick off NPE. The students spent their fall semester designing dresses and accessories made from recycled plastics. And, yes, they did receive college credit for the work.
“I think we all went in with closed minds and they were gradually opened to the idea of using plastics,” Mulhern, of Gainesville, Fla., said. “I learned the breadth of options that you can do with plastic materials because there's such a huge variety of plastics.”
For Adetayo, of Lagos, Nigeria, there was similar trepidation early on.
“At first, going into it, it was a little bit scary because you don't know what to expect,” she said. “It was just cool to work with a material that you would not otherwise think of as fashionable and come up with these results that are pretty awesome.”
For the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., the trade group that owns and operates NPE, the fashion show was a way to highlight the importance of plastics recycling this week.
“We wanted to create something that was engaging and interesting and people would come away with a unique experience at NPE,” said Kim Holmes, senior director of recycling and sustainability at SPI.
“We want to expand people's image about the potential of recycled plastics. I think, through the fashion show, by incorporating items that we use every day, it's definitely going to challenge people from the start of the show to begin to think about these things in a new dimension and in a new way,” she said.
Tenley Gilstrap is resources and project coordinator for the School of Design at SCAD's campus in Atlanta, and was responsible for overseeing the show for the school.
“We did a lot of shopping at thrift shops. We did a lot of eBay-ing, and SPI donated a lot of materials right off the bat,” Gilstrap said.
A couple of old parachutes from the 1960s found on eBay were used as part of three different garments highlighted at the show.
The school also had a drive to collect material at the beginning of the project.
“We had people bring in everything from yoga mats to shower curtains to plastics bottles,” Gilstrap said.
“I think sustainability has grown in the forefront of fashion. I think it's still one of those things that's being explored more and more,” she said. “I feel like they were able to do some really innovative, cool stuff. They got to work with the plastics. One of the techniques that they did, they did a lot of melting of the plastics. I feel like it really showed them that fashion doesn't always have to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful fabric and the best of the materials right off the bat.”
Holmes, who worked with SCAD on the project, said she saw students' view of plastics expand beyond just packaging during the course of the work.
“I think it just opened up a world of potential for them. And their perception of the material changed as well,” Holmes said. “It really opened their eyes.”
Putting the fashion show in the opening ceremony is no accident as SPI used some of that time to showcase the need to consider plastic recycling.
“We really have invested a lot in our recycling initiatives that Kim's been spearheading for our organization,” said Lori Campbell, director of trade show operations for SPI. “We thought that would be a great initiative to open the show with that. Once again, it's all about the recycling.”
Fashions from the show are being displayed during the week on the stage in the lobby of the West Hall. They also will be in the Zero Waste Zone, a space dedicated to engaging show attendees regarding the reuse of plastics, in the South Hall.
“I think it definitely sets the stage for people who do want to come back to the Zero Waste Zone and learn more about the recycled materials and process,” Holmes said.