They arrived smudged and smelly, pine needles and twigs poking their heads; and they were all naked, in desperate need of clothing. It was time for “Barbie Spa Day” and Trashion Fashion.
“We clean them, sanitize them, shampoo them and clean things out of their hair. We give them the full treatment,” said Eric Jackson, creative programs manager at Sonoma Community Center.
Trashion Fashion, now in its 11th year, has grown in popularity since its inception. The annual event is based on recycling and repurposing items – so-called trash – for artists to create outfits for Barbie dolls and humans who model their creative couture on a catwalk.
In 2019, the last time the event was held in person, there was standing-room-only attendance and people had to be turned away. The 2020 pandemic disrupted the continuity, but in 2021 Trashion Fashion is back.
Like many other events, Trashion Fashion cannot be held in person, but the popular fashion show, demonstrating what can be done with what has been thrown away, will be live broadcast on Saturday, April 10. Leading up to that will be a series of other events including artist talks; demonstrations on how to create baskets, gifts and other items out of plastic, cardboard and other recyclables; and, of course, the Barbie Gallery.
Why Barbies? The dolls have “a short life span and cannot be recycled,” Jackson said. “So we use them as a base for a new work of art.”
Through a partnership with Recology Sonoma Marin, dozens of Barbies are diverted from the landfill and set aside for Trashion Fashion. Recology’s new public education manager, Marie Kneemeyer, helped facilitate the collection of the dolls.
“I was able to work with our operations team and able to procure a barrel of Barbies,” she said. Delivering them to the community center “was really funny, like some shady backdoor deal.”
Kneemeyer will be a judge for the designer runway competition and is also a featured artist in the Artist Talk series. On April 6 she will demonstrate how to weave a basket using plastic bags. A full list of events is online at sonomacommunitycenter.org/trashion-fashion-week-2021.
“I’ve always been really, really passionate about zero waste. I’ve done different kinds of upcycle trash art pieces throughout my life,” Kneemeyer said.
Plastic bags have always “frustrated” her. They get into streams, fill landfills and can gum up recycling machinery. “I’ve seen them floating in our ocean and tumbling down the street. It breaks my heart to see that.”
The next best thing to not having plastic bags exist at all, she said, is to reuse them. She will demonstrate how to use “plarn,” plastic yarn, which is basically strips of plastic that she will weave into a basket.
As one of the judges of the fashions coming down the catwalk, Kneemeyer said she’ll be looking for creative uses of “found objects and materials” that can create patterns and textures. She’ll look for how the form of the outfit complements the human form.
“That kind of play between the human form and the found object on the human body,” she said. “I love seeing a really strong use of color. Whether it’s like a very exciting fun palette or more monochrome, just a smart or creative way of using color.”
She is especially interested to see how designers use techniques to “trick the eye” into creating a “cohesive piece that doesn’t look like trash.”
Spencer Morton, a Sonoma high school graduate and previous Trashion Fashion participant, returns to the runway after attending a Manchester Fashion Institute in London where they (preferred pronoun) studied fashion promotion.
Morton’s entry this year has a “long history” in the family. What started as a tablecloth became a table runner and curtains and was “used around the family home for the last 15 years,” Morton said.
“It truly is up-cycled,” Morton said.
The material is now a gown with a matching headpiece that Morton will wear down the catwalk.
Another artist returning to the catwalk is one who is responsible for bringing Trashion Fashion to the Sonoma stage 11 years ago. Margaret Hatcher, who was in charge of fiber arts at the community center, launched the first Trashion show.
She says she didn’t develop the concept, but “thought it would be a fun idea one time. It was so popular the first year it never stopped,” Hatcher said. Trashion is a “fun way of repurposing things instead of just sending it right to the landfill. Not everything is recyclable,” she said.
Participating as an artist made her aware of how much gets thrown away. “It made me ultra aware of the byproduct of being human right now, with all the packaging” we generate, Hatcher said.
Her 2021 entry is made from plastic soil-amendment bags. “They’re very colorful. I see it almost as (fabric) yardage.”
Her outfit, which she wants to keep a bit of a secret until the catwalk unveiling, is “very thematic,” she said.
Hatcher’s work will be judged by three judges including a newcomer to Sonoma, but one well-versed in designing for dolls. Singaporean Barbie doll collector Jian Yang turns ordinary toilet paper into “impeccable work,” Jackson said. Yang’s toilet paper garments are haute couture, and one will be submitted in the Barbie gallery.
Jackson said he “was blown away” by the craftsmanship this year and though he is disappointed that Trashion Fashion can’t be in person again, going virtual has opened up other possibilities for expanding the audience.
The Barbie Gallery is open at Trashion Fashion now through April 10, selected hours only at the community center, at 276 E. Napa St.. A docent will escort groups of four at a time; those interested can sign up for a 20-minute limited-audience gallery appointment.
Zoom-based artist talks and demonstrations are daily April 6 to 8, and a “sneak peek” of the runway show and a behind-the-scenes look into how designers come up with their creations is carried via YouTube on April 9.
The live broadcast of the Trashion Fashion Show is at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 10. Tickets are $10 at https://sonomacommunitycenter.org/trashion-fashion-week-2021/.