If you've donated clothing to a Bridge House thrift store recently, you may end up seeing re-imagined versions of it walking down a runway soon. The substance abuse treatment center that runs thrift stores around the city recruited local designers for its Recycled Fashion Show benefit on Friday, Feb. 26. In the style of Project Runway, event organizers challenged the participants to create outfits using materials from its stores to show that fashionable clothes don't have to come from the mall. Although this is the first year for the fashion show, recycling isn't a new concept for Bridge House; a majority of its income comes from its thrift stores and selling donated used cars. The fashion show "so fits in with what we do and how we fund our organization's operating budget. It's just the perfect fit for us," says Leita Barnes, Bridge House's assistant income development director. Barnes talked to Gambit about the nonprofit's inaugural event.
How did this event come to be?
We have a therapeutic work environment where residents develop work ethics and job skills, and in doing some job skills training with one of the individuals in the program, we discovered he was very creative and had a lot of artistic talent. He said that he wanted to create a new special event, and he rallied the support of some staff members and we came up with the idea of having a fashion show.
How does the recycling aspect of the event fit in with Bridge House? Did you recruit designers with sustainable practices?
We realized that much of our income is based on recycling as far as the thrift stores we've had since the 1980s and the used car donations since the 1990s. So much of the clothing that's purchased ends up in landfills. There's a statistic [from the Council for Textile Recycling] that says the average American throws away 68 pounds of textiles per year. Bridge House makes it easy to keep clothing out of landfills. Just because of those concepts, [the designers] really came to us to volunteer. They want to promote [sustainability] in getting to be a part of the show.
What rules did you give the designers?
The designers have been given access to go to the Bridge House thrift stores and choose whatever materials and clothing they want to create their designs. We're giving them pretty much free reign to be as creative as they want. Some of them have been using things like curtains and different materials they've been gathering. The only thing we said is that 90 percent of the materials need to be from Bridge House thrift stores. They're really, really putting in a lot of creativity and these are very unique designs. We have designers from Unique Products, Bayou Salvage, NOLA Couture and many others who donated their time to do this. For some of them, this is their first show they've ever been in and others are regularly participating in fashion shows. And the designs are going to be auctioned at the end of the show.
How have Bridge House residents contributed to planning the event?
The resident who was the one who really got the ball rolling for this, and inspired us do this, designed our logo we're using. The other residents have been working tirelessly calling for donations, and they're the ones who contacted the restaurants and all of the people who have donated auction items. They've been on the phone for weeks now. It's very much a group effort.
What else can people expect from the event?
We have a VIP pre-party from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.; we have the Big Easy Roller Girls, and their emcee Andrew Ward will be there. Mary Anne Marino will perform at the VIP party. We have food from 17 restaurants, and those include Cake Cafe, Juan's Flying Burrito, Boswell's Jamaican Grill, Back to the Garden and a long list of others. We also will have a raffle, and some of the prizes you can win are a year's recycling service from Phoenix Recycling, a six-month membership to the St. Charles Avenue Athletic Club and a $100 gift certificate to Bridge House thrift stores. Raffle tickets are a dollar each. DJ Nate White is going to be our DJ for an '80s dance party.
How will the event benefit Bridge House?
Eighty-five percent of our budget is through the thrift stores, our sales of donated vehicles and various fundraising events. So we're 85 percent self-supporting, and all proceeds will go to Bridge House. It seems like [the fashion show has] been my whole life for the past six months. We have a lot of events going on, but this one being a new one ... the first time you do anything, there are always so many challenges. With the support of some really, really supportive staff people who have been rallying around us, we've been able to make it a reality. We're really excited.
The Recycled Fashion Show is 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26 at The Howlin' Wolf (907 S. Peters St.). Tickets $15.