“I like thinking about how to use materials differently,” said Trisha Chenney ’17 (Interdisciplinary Sculpture B.F.A.), a finalist in the upcoming Up/Start Venture Competition with her new concept, Upcycle Outerwear. “Being a maker, an art student in general, you want to be aware of materials, of the environment.”
Most people, she said, ignore the details of everyday things, “but artists look at those things and ask, ‘Why? How can I change that and how will it impact it?’”
It was that thinking that made Chenney question the use plastic grocery bags, which she always felt were a big waste, only being used once for a short time. Examining them, she immediately thought this versatile, waterproof material would make a great windbreaker. But the sculptor, who mostly worked with wood and metal, didn’t know how to sew.
When she was home over a school break, she asked her mom to teach her how to do so — and through trial and error and more than 25 hours later, she had a jacket. Upcycle Outerwear was born.
Seeking to challenge “fast fashion” and wasteful means of production, Upcycle Outerwear is a new philosophy of clothing design, recycling and material use. In concept now, Chenney has made two prototype jackets — a windbreaker made from about 80 bags and a heavier lined version using more than 200 bags — and she is working on bag concepts and exploring new options for the “fabric.”
Chenney said there is a growing market of conscious consumers for whom reusing and recycling is very important. And it is important to her to find a way to manufacture these clothing pieces affordably and efficiently “so that anyone who wants to buy it as part of a recycling movement, can buy one.”
She hopes to get people to rethink about how they use materials. “As a student at MICA, you learn how to think differently,” she said. “Someone once told me, and I like it, ‘an artist is an amateur inventor,’ and I think that’s really true.”