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     Local nonprofit Ragfinery's Upcycled Fashion Challenge proves one person's trash is another's treasure.

Stella Harvey

The room buzzed with excitement and awe as roughly 200 audience members watched 26 models gather on the runway to show creations made from reused materials.

At the end of the stage, two young children jumped up and down, cheering. Their faces beamed with delight as their eyes trailed up and down each unique garment.

Ragfinery’s fourth annual Upcycled Runway Challenge took center stage at the Leopold Crystal Ballroom on Saturday, April 14. The event was sold out, with several people on standby in hopes to get in.

“[Our theme] celebrates our natural world in all of its beauty and wonder," 

project manager Shan Sparling said.

The event is a yearly fundraiser for Ragfinery, a local nonprofit that diverts unwanted textiles from landfills so they can be used for new creations, according to its website. 

“Flora and Fauna,” the title and theme for this year’s event, challenged participants to take inspiration from the natural world, according to Shan Sparling, project manager at Ragfinery.

“[Our theme] celebrates our natural world in all of its beauty and wonder and inspires us to think about our own potential to have an impact on the local environmental issue of textile waste,” Sparling said.

She said the night was about more than creating beautiful designs from reused materials. It was also about raising awareness about the mission of Ragfinery and how individuals can create real change.

“We as consumers have the real power to change things,” Sparling said. “We have the power through awareness and our choices to make a huge difference.”

Some attendees dressed for the theme, wearing whimsical flower crowns, colorful floral prints and embellished garments. As people shuffled into the reception before the show, an audience member with ferns in their hair was greeted with awes from across the room.

According to Ragfinery’s information table, over 5,000 gallons of water are needed to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. On top of the industry using a great deal of energy to cheaply produce garments, it is also extremely toxic for the environment.

The apparel industry accounts for 10 percent of all carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change.

However, the outfits on the runway were a fashionable contradiction to these statistics. According to Sparling, 99 percent of materials used in all designs were diverted from landfills through Ragfinery. 

For some designers, their creations were the first full-scale sewing project they had ever completed, according to the event program. For others, it was a new opportunity for creative expression through a local organization.

Diane Lundberg, designer and model for a piece entitled “Butterfly Metamorphosis,” said her passion for Ragfinery’s mission is what inspired her to be a part of this year’s event.

“Ragfinery is amazing because we are keeping all of these textiles out of the landfill and I can’t tell you how important that is,” Lundberg said. “We just repurpose and renew and it’s beautiful!”

Each creation was greeted with applause as models strutted down the runway. Designs ranged from mythical creatures to direct representations of nature.

Marcy Plattner, owner of local business Garden Spot Nursery and one of four judges for the show, said her love for the natural world led her to participate in this event.

“This is the first year I’ve ever done it, and I am really enjoying it! The work is very impressive,” Plattner said.

Local gardener Patricia Zahorsky said she was drawn to this year’s event because of her love for plants. As an artist, she said she enjoys seeing others’ interpretation of the theme and use of materials.

“I was really inspired by the creativity and I am particularly interested in the subject matter this year, because I am a passionate gardener,” Zahorsky said.

At the end of the evening, nine winners were chosen based on their interpretation of the theme, the concept of each design and the creative use of materials. Categories included best expression of theme, biggest transformation and best runway presentation. Each judge chose one winner based on this criteria.

Marcy Plattner chose Julie McPheters’ design titled “Raven.” McPheters design was a literal representation of a raven, with differents shades of blue and black scraps pieced together to create feathers and wings. Plattner said the piece was “repurposed, creative and fun.”

Enthusiastic audience members also got to choose a winner.

Patty Robinson’s piece “A Spring Garden Wedding Gown” took home the audience’s award for representing nature in a one-of-a-kind wedding gown. Sparling closed the show by thanking the audience for supporting Ragfinery and reminding everyone of the organization's goal for the event and the future.

“Ragfinery celebrates connection, community and creativity,” Sparling said. “We are a little nonprofit with a big vision: to make a significant positive impact on the environment and our community through giving people the information they need to make informed decisions, and inspiring them to act to protect this beautiful natural world we love.”

One piece emulates the spirit of a bird.
Some contestants took the theme very literally.
Audience members snap pictures as a model walks down the runway in a floral dress.
An intricate back-piece completes this model's look.

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