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Sustainable Fashion Comes to Chicago

Fashion and recycling come together tomorrow night at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Sustainable Convergence is an annual event, and this year's focus is clothing and accessories that might just rival the butterflies. Professional designers from Chicago and across the country as well as do– it–yourself-ers have created objects of beauty out of industrial leftovers.

Chicago Public Radio's Gianofer Fields reports.
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It may be hard to imagine that the delicate beige dress is actually made of corn: husk, silk, kernels and cob. But that's the goal - to make us rethink what we call trash. Some designers look the farm, others to the junk yard.

KOLBUSZ: Alternator wires and rubber gaskets and aluminum transistors and resistors. 

Melissa Kolbusz is a jewelry designer.

KOLBUSZ: All the pieces are based on the materials that I find. The design never comes first; it's always the material that comes first.

Melissa says a lot of her time is spent building relationships with local manufactures. She wants to be first in line for the scraps.At first glace, her necklaces appear to be small rubies strung on wire. Imagine one of the jewel - encrusted collars worn by Queen Nefertiti. Look closer.It's really tiny computer resisters strung together with silver wires. As beautiful as they may be, Melissa says it takes some people a while to wrap their heads around the concept. In fact she gets a few complaints. 

KOLBUSZ: Oh I can't believe you are charging this much money for trash! And you know…you thought what you say was interesting. At some point you have to consider that that in of itself has value. 

Tomorrow nights event is called the EcoModa Sustainable Fashion Showcase. Peter Nicholson organized of the annual event. We met in a little coffee shop on the north side and I wondered what was in the big box he brought to the table.

NICHOLSON: That is an umbrella that is made out of a kind of cool material that is both audio tape and fabric.
 
He says that value is fairly simple concept.

NICHOLSON: There is more than one kind of value in the world. There is economic value, which one we tend to focus on the most. But there is also environmental and social value for instance. So what we are trying to do with this show is show different approaches to this idea of sustainability. Basically how can a piece of clothing be both, create social value for those people who make it, and distribute it? Can create environmental value for those people who wear it so in kinds of the dying process it's impact on the environment and then economic value for the manufacturers in terms of the profit they make in selling it.  

Another designer taking part in tonight's showcase is Donna Piacenza. She says inspiration came early for her.

PIACENZA: It all does go back to my childhood, walking through my father's machine shop and just not distinguishing between the final piece and the process. And the scraps left over but really seeing value and beauty in all of those things.

Those scraps were undulating cream colored ribbons that became necklaces, bracelets and rings. But Danna says her work is about more than beauty.

PIACENZA: Some people might look at diamonds and gold and think that's valuable but I'm more concerned about the treatment of the people actually doing the work.   
 
These designers realize that necklaces made from computer parts and bracelets made from plastic shavings probably won't save the world. But maybe, just maybe these fashions will someday cause manufactures to rethink what they now consider worthless.

I'm Gianofer Fields Chicago Public Radio.

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