Garbage never looked so good: Haute Trash celebrates 30 years of saving the planet with October shows in Nevada City | TheUnion.com

Garbage never looked so good: Haute Trash celebrates 30 years of saving the planet with October shows in Nevada City

Laura Petersen
Submitted to The Union

Kathi Griffis, "Prima Debris," will never look at trash the same way again.

As a seamstress, designer, and Haute Trash Fashion Show producer, Griffis sees every empty bag of dog food, bottle cap, and used coffee filter as a promising material to reclaim and repurpose for haute couture runway styles.

Griffis is the producer of this year's show, "Haute Trash — Planet or Plastic — 30 Years of Trash Fashion." The event, "celebrating 30 years of diversionary tactics," is an anniversary show and fundraiser for Haute Trash Artists Collaborative, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. The group's mission is to educate folks about the need to reduce and reuse "trash" to create a healthier planet.

The fashion show takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Nevada Theatre located at the top of Broad Street in downtown Nevada City. It's part of the fall lineup of Nevada City Live Series by Paul Emery presents held in the oldest continuously run theater in California.

Upwards of 18 designers and 25 models from all over the country and Nevada County are coming together to show off their original designs, many in the works since January. A handful of the original designers from the first Haute Trash shows will be showing their latest designs.

Haute Trash is a social commentary satire, examining the wastefulness of modern culture and stresses awareness to reduce and reuse. The designers of Haute Trash are ecologically-minded artists who use fashion as a statement to encourage people to think twice about their trash.

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"We need to take reducing and reusing to another level, as we get a bit complacent thinking recycling exonerates us in our consumption," said Griffis. "We're not really preaching recycling anymore … We're all wishful recyclers, but that's not enough anymore."

Every minute, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the Earth's oceans — water bottles, plastic bags, empty cartons of pre-washed organic baby salad greens. Americans recycle roughly 66 million tons of material each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about one-third of which is exported.

Many countries, like China, are no longer taking "foreign garbage." It remains to be seen how the world will deal with the consequence of convenience and the mountains of rubbish left behind.

"A lot of designers like to look at their own trash and ask, 'What am I throwing away?'," said Griffis.

San Francisco designer Nic Griffin, aka "Lotta Rubbish," uses only non-recyclable items in her designs.

Artists find inspiration everywhere. Back in the day, the San Juan dump was the storehouse, and people have fond memories of dumpster diving for lampshades. A third generation seamstress, Griffis was one of those moms who sewed her children's clothing using a treadle sewing machine when the family was living off-the-grid. She continues to store bins full of found objects in her garage with the hope of one day turning them into designer outfits.

Waste from the cannabis industry is a growing local problem, Griffis said. Some Haute Trash fashion designers are addressing this environmental concern by featuring materials like plastic netting, light bulbs, cages, soil bags, felt from grow bags and chicken wire in their creative designs.

Pioneers return to their roots

It was 30 years ago that Griffis and friends, including founder Susan Lamela performed their infamous "8-8-88" show at the Nevada Theatre. They were joined by fellow designers Robin Worley "Rayona Visqueen" and Eve Elder "Eve's House of Original Sin" in black plastic garbage bag skirts for a packed house show that featured over 50 outfits.

The original idea occurred several years earlier, when Susan Lamela was repairing a designer suit and, discouraged by the shoddy workmanship of the expensive garment, claimed she could do better with trash.

Taking on the alter ego of "Polly Ethylena" Lamela created a small fashion show of 21 outfits with simple designs made from trash bags, aluminum foil, plastic wrap and duct tape. In 1983 "The Cutting Edge of Fashion" became part of a Social Science exhibition in Nevada City.

"Back then, it was more about poking fun at society and our wasteful ways. Now it's about educating," said Griffis.

Today, humorous, tongue-in-cheek commentary remains central to the shows that have grown more and more elaborate, drawing designers from around the country. While in recent years, some shows have delivered a pretty serious environmental message, this year's show aims to bring back the fun.

Since September 2002, Haute Trash has put on over 100 shows. In 2006, the collective officially became a non profit 501(c)3 and continues to develop educational programs, fundraisers for other nonprofits and performs at a wide variety of venues and events like the Oregon Country Fair, the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, the Seattle ReStore Art Show, and the American River Confluence Festival.

Curbside trash fashion has become hot around the globe gaining recognition on runways as an unusual art form with many layers — humor, innovation, nostalgia — all displayed with a daring lack of practicality. Duct tape, staples, anything goes.

"There's so many people in the world doing trash fashion. I truly believe we were the pioneers," said Griffis.

Learn more at http://www.hautetrash.org/

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com.

KNOW & GO

WHAT: Haute Trash — Planet or Plastic — 30 Years of Trash Fashion

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City

COST: $35 premium reserved, $25 general admission for Saturday. $30 premium reserved, and $20 general admission for Sunday. For tickets visit paulemerymusic.com

INFO: Visit paulemerymusic.com for more information