IN 20-plus years of writing for free newspapers, I occasionally see my work resurface long after the current issue has been replaced with the next, its content as dated as the brittle autumn leaves relinquishing their hold.
Often, it’s at the bottom of a cat box.
It’s the disposable nature of news, and I harbor no illusions about this ephemeral business of keeping up with the latest and greatest. It doesn’t vex me a bit to find my carefully crafted linguistic labors repurposed in any practical capacity, such as Windexing a glass door free of toddler fingerprints or enrobing a delicate piece of your deceased MeeMaw’s china.
Once an event has passed or a controversy forgotten (anyone remember cruise ships? What was that baseball stadium thing again?), the only value these dubiously poetic natterings have left is in the paper they’re printed on, and y’all might as well use it. Your MeeMaw wouldn’t want you to waste money on bubble wrap when there’s a perfectly nice stack of old Connects creating a fire hazard next to her collection of crocheted doilies.
(Now, I know plenty of you are probably reading this on a screen, and we can wring our hands all day about how newsprint has outlived its relevance in this new dawn of the slow scroll. But ask yourself: Who’s ever successfully lit a charcoal grill with a Kindle?)
Newspapers may well one day evaporate in the Great Cloud of All the Things, and if I’m lucky, I will still have a job uploading raw thought to a robot editor that vamps it into clickbait. Until then, it’s an honor to know these words might insulate your water heater or become a papier-mâché anteater in some industrious third grader’s science diorama.
By far, the most distinguished reincarnation I could ever imagine comes this Friday, when the first-ever Starland Fashion Night launches with DISPOSABLE, a showcase of fabulous frocks tailored completely out of past issues of your favorite free independent newsweekly.
Inspired by Andy Warhol’s paper Campbell’s Soup dress of the 1960s, Art Rise fashion director Nathan Saludez revitalizes the concept to draw attention to society’s obsession with fast fashion, a $3 trillion-a-year industry that exploits workers and creates an ungodly amount of waste. The 2013 collapse of a Bangladesh clothing factory killed over 1100, and more than 10 million tons of those trendy-for-a-second H&M balloon capris and Old Navy tank tops end up in the garbage every year.
“People think fashion is superficial, but it has tremendous impact on the environment and on human labor—these things are not disposable,“ says the lovely and lithe Nathan, a former SCAD student who spent several seasons working with manufacturers in New York’s brutal garment district.
“The idea is to show not how quickly we can throw something away, but how many ways we can use it.”
For his own elegant flapper cocktail dress, Nathan and assistant Steph Cherico diced up tiny squares and glossed them black; you can barely detect last month’s Free Will Astrology horoscopes under the shellac. Its creator sees it not only as an artistic statement but a symbol of local fashion’s economic development potential: He’s not the first to suggest that this city is begging for a mill or sample house that could capitalize on its textile-minded talent and the growing American clamor for non-sweatshoppy attire.
“The industry is changing. People want things that are local and ethical,” he says as he adds pins to a dressmaker’s mannequin in his small studio, surrounded by vintage copies of Vogue and fresh flowers.
“I’d love to see Savannah become a hub for sustainably-made clothing.”
He’s found plenty of enthusiastic esprit de corps in our collaborative arts community. For DISPOSABLE, he enlisted adorable Savannah Arts Academy ingénue Sami Salas, who dropped jaws at last year’s Junk 2 Funk fashion show with her award-winning design.
Starland Fashion Night will also feature the STAINability with fibers genius Courtney Crews, who uses veggie roots and peels to create rich fabric dyes, plus vintage glamour from Gypsy World and House of Strut. (If you must miss it, there’s another chance to glimpse the glam at the Warhol Factory Party at Non-Fiction Gallery on Oct. 16.)
International stylist Ashley Borders is also contributing a reclaimed pièce de résistance to the show, a high collar coat with a pleated train that appears to have repurposed my headshot in the crinkled layers.
Another native who rocketed out and came full orbit, Ashley dressed celebrities and supermodels from Milan to Abu Dhabi before landing back in town recently with a renewed sense of responsibility about what we wear on our backs.
“The question in couture is changing from ‘how much did you spend?’ to ‘where did it come from?’” she reports from the fashion front.
“The industry is being forced to change its practices, from labor to the environment.”
In addition to making little accordions out of my face, Ashley is also busy this week planning another reclaimed fashion extravaganza for Goodwill’s 50th Anniversary. Amazing ensembles sourced from the charity’s bank of donated clothing will grace the runway at the private event, and all the looks will be on display at Goodwill’s local outposts throughout the month. (Have you thriftanistas checked out the snazzy new Pooler location yet? You’ll also want to bounce over to the Junior League Thrift Sale this weekend at the Civic Center.)
Ashley regularly consults with Goodwill clients to help them dress for success on job interviews, and while she’s used to handling Jimmy Choo shoes that cost more than a mortgage, her passion is to show how style can be affordable, sustainable and original. She’ll offer simple sewing classes through Goodwill later this fall, with an emphasis on deconstructing and altering garments to make them unique as well as reducing our carbon footprints (which are way less messy if you scored those Jimmy Choos at Goodwill.)
“You don’t have to be a couturier to make clothing, not when there is already so much of it in the world,” she tsks. “Nothing’s ever broken.”
The magnanimity unfurls further: Savannah’s design scene is still far livelier than it is lucrative, but both Ashley and Nathan say that they’re content to participate in projects that stir their souls than work at jobs that cut others’ throats.
“I don’t see other stylists and designers as rivals,” says Ashley. “I root for everybody.”
There you have it, the latest trends for fall: Collaboration is the new competition, and repurposing is the new black.
So whether you fold this column into a fancy hat or line your birdcage with it or watch it turn to ash in the first fire of the season, isn’t it great to know you’re at the height of style?