Gum wrappers, empty chip bags and discarded magazine pages may not sound like the elements of a jaw-dropping outfit, but — for the imaginative participants of Trash the Runway — they are as good as cashmere, silk and fine linen.
Thursday’s event that showcases upcycled creations of local middle and high school students will be held at Macky Auditorium — the same venue it was scheduled to take place at in 2020, but was canceled due to COVID.
That year, organizers were determined to create a virtual platform for participants to showcase their work and they did so with pre-recorded catwalk struts that aired on Boulder Channel 8 and online.
“We are excited to have the show for the first time at the beautiful Macky Auditorium,” said Tanja Leonard, executive director of Trash the Runway. “After all the hard work they put into creating their garments, it will be amazing for the designers to showcase their creations in person again. We love the feel-good energy this brings not just to the participants, but the community as a whole.”
This year, 25 designers have clocked many hours at Trash the Runway’s home base of Boulder’s The Creative Lab at Common Threads, where the creating and transformation magic takes place.
“We are looking forward to having a live show this year after having to go virtual in 2020 — after the designers had already completed their garments,” Leonard said. “In 2021, we were not able to have in-person workshops or a show. Instead, we offered four monthly prompts for the kids to create pieces and present them to us and each other on a Zoom call.”
While seeing the various creations on screen was a success, nothing compares to viewing the detail and ingenuity of the spotlighted work up close.
“The designers are once again showing amazing creativity while using trash — anything from coffee bags to inner tubes, there will be some not-seen-before materials on stage,” Leonard said. “Every year, the silhouettes are different. The designers are influenced by what they see around them.”
The program has attracted returning designers that each year aim to overcome new obstacles and set the bar even higher when it comes to their look.
“I have been designing garments for six years now and I love it,” said Lydia Serbinin, a 17-year-old junior at Boulder’s Fairview High School. “I keep coming back because I find joy in the challenge of finding new materials and ideas every year. I look for non-recyclable materials throughout the whole year. There is no other place like it to be surrounded by a community that is so environmentally conscious.”
For Serbinin — like many long-time participants — it’s also about the camaraderie that’s shared around sewing machines and nights of brainstorming and creating.
“Other designers and I inspire each other each year,” Serbinin said. “In the past, I have created garments made from candy wrappers, swim caps, bike tubes, can tabs, bubble wrap, magazines and more. My favorite one was a dress paired with a floor-length bike tube ‘leather’ coat.”
Each Trash the Runway presents a new opportunity to push the boundaries with both materials used and designs executed.
“I am going especially big this year,” Serbinin said. “I have done everything I can to wow the judges and audience. It is extravagant, yet very elegant. Some of the materials I used are Styrofoam, thin plastic sheets and gardening tape.”
While designers are welcomed back throughout the years, Trash the Runway is also a place where new talent shines.
“I have grown up watching Trash the Runway and have had many people I know do it,” said Bridger Kripke, a first-time participant, whose sister and friends Pressley and Margo Church have designed for the long-running event. “The process and show have always dazzled me and I have had the intent of participation for a while.”
Twelve-year-old Kripke, a seventh-grader at Boulder’s Casey Middle School, has always been drawn to the art of fashion.
“When I was younger, I used to take my mom’s old clothes and transform them — using our sewing machine — into outfits for my dolls,” Kripke said. “My mom would give me and my sister challenges like creating an outfit that the doll could wear to the first day of school.”
Not only is this a creative endeavor for Kripke, but it’s also a way for her to reuse items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
“I am very passionate about the environment and what impact humans have on it,” Kripke said. “Combining my love for creation, the inspiring people in my life and my devotion to the environment, Trash the Runway was a huge goal of mine this year.”
Kripke has constructed a hula-inspired skirt made from dried markers as one of her pieces.
“The experience has been amazing,” Kripke said. “The people are so supportive, even if you have to start over about a million times. They are there when you need them to help you learn how to create things you have never created before.”
The right outfit can set one’s mood for the entire day and the creations made by these young designers can certainly act as an armor of confidence.
“This year, my outfit is based on a warrior theme,” said Riley Kingdom, a 17-year-old participant. “It is made mainly from melted milk bottle caps and strips from coffee bags cut in the shape of feathers on the skirt. The base of the skirt is a recycled window screen, giving structure for the layers of coffee bag feathers to adhere and flow. It is a wrap skirt that is fastened with a recycled bike tire tube.”
Kingdom, a junior at Broomfield’s Brightmont Academy, was set to model her produce bag couture for the first time at Macky in 2020, before Trash the Runway’s COVID-related cancellation.
“I wanted to come back to have a complete experience from start to finish,” Kingdom said.
Much like the contestants seen on the hit show “Project Runway,” Trash the Runway participants learn how to make it work.
“Seeing them grow as individuals in their creativity, design-sense and skill at putting garments together is one of the most rewarding parts for us,” Leonard said. “Overcoming so many challenges in the process — from the unusual materials to COVID — they show such resilience and determination.”
In addition to an ensemble, each designer has to create an accessory. Earrings, purses and more will be constructed out of a variety of items considered trash.
“Everything they wear has to be made out of trash, with the exception of their shoes — though some may choose to create those as well,” Leonard said.
From a tuxedo jacket with tin-foil detailing to a textured skirt made from salvaged toothpaste boxes, the amount of stunners that have been made throughout the years is vast.
“Many of our designers have participated over multiple years, so we get to see their growth not only during the eight weeks of working on this year’s show, but over the course of their middle and high school years,” Leonard said.
Tickets for the 12th annual Trash the Runway are $25 and the show starts at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“I love seeing the audience be amazed and inspired by the beautiful garments, seeing the realization that this is what goes in the trash on a daily basis in our city, our country and world,” Leonard said.