You may know Libby as the founder of Common Threads: she's tall, beautiful, blonde, funny, kind, and smart as a whip. But you may not know about the incredible event she started nine years ago in Boulder; here, some of Libby's thoughts about Recycled Runway.
The first year was small-about ten kids-and we had no idea what was going to happen. Sarah (Tracy) ran the sewing program at Common Threads and had worked with kids in New York and we had this idea to create a program for kids to design, create and present fashion from trash. Sarah would teach and I would be the organizer—getting the community involved, recruiting volunteers, and putting together a strong team to produce and support the event. We presented first at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, and a small crowd (about forty people) showed up. What stood out was that the kids' outfits were amazing. Everyone who saw the designs was like, “Oh my gosh. You need to keep doing this!”.
The next year we didn’t have any money, so we showed at Anthropologie, which was cool because I feel like Anthropologie has a similar vibe: you know, a focus on sustainability, craft, community. The third year we had some pretty big growing pains: it was getting big but it wasn’t quite “done” yet. Anyway, the lady who runs the Boulder Theatre saw us and fell in love. She offered us a killer deal on space rental and after that, the whole thing started to transform from “Well, let’s just throw this together,” to “Wow! This is a show!”. We never thought we could fill the Boulder Theatre, and we didn’t sell to capacity for a couple years, but last year we sold out and this year we sold out in one day. It’s kind of amazing to think about. We had 33 kids presenting this year.
I think the coolest thing, and this is why I love Recycled Runway, is that it started out as something for the kids and the community and we’ve managed to keep it that way. The focus is clear: we want this to be a place where kids step up. There’s not that much out there for kids in the community anymore, especially in arts programs. We feel like we fill a void: this is a place where kids handle a creative process without being overshadowed by parents or teachers (so the kids learn things like good communication, deadlines, problem-solving, presentation). And maybe because of that, there's an impact: the girl who won the first year- she made a dress out of her geometry homework, it was one of the best designs I've seen- went to art school in Baltimore and is working in Brooklyn. Tanya’s daughter Audrey is at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), and another girl is going to FIT next fall. We’ve had quite a few go on to design school, and the cool thing is they keep in touch-Kate, Carly-they stop by the store when they're back home. There's a unique bond. And that’s rare for retail—to have such a strong community thread—everyone is kind of tied together through this thing.
At this point it's a great, polished event but I want to be sure we always stay true to the intention. I hope in nine more years the heart is still there, because that’s what has kept it pure. I don’t want it to be this crazy, competitive…I think you can ruin things by becoming too big or losing focus on what’s important. What’s important about Recycled Runway to me, what makes me want to do it every year, is what it provides for the kids, and how the community rallies to support them. It feels like I’m making a difference.
Next week: further discussion with Rachel Lubanowski (teacher and mentor for RR participants) about the design process and work with students.