Artist Zoe Valette of Kalamazoo designs unique clothing out of recycled materials. Her work will be on display at People's Church in Kalamazoo this weekend. Her latest design was a tutu made out of 120 plastic bags.
“I was trained as a classical ballet dancer for the majority of my life and it’s one of the pieces of clothing that I am the most intimately familiar with," Valette says. "So you might say that it’s kind of my default garment.”
Valette has danced with schools in Kalamazoo as well as the Pittsburgh Youth Ballet and the American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey. She says her path to fashion wasn’t exactly straight forward.
“I got tired of dancing after a little while and decided that I wanted to move to New York and work in fashion design. So I did. I was 18 years old. And I took my backpack with an outfit and some supplies and my sewing machine on an Amtrak train overnight to New York City. I didn’t know anybody there. I was just convinced that I was going to talk a designer into letting me intern for them. And I had the address of a youth hostel to stay at. So I did and I convinced the designer to let me intern for them. And I was there for six months and got to work on two fashion shows while I was there. And then I found a paid freelance job. So I guess it was a success.”
Valette recently graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in textile and apparel management. She’s made dresses out old bed sheets, doilies, paper and newspaper.
“The skirt is made out of fans from the newspaper half cut folded pieces and those are all individually sewn on. And my own inside joke with the newspaper dress is that it’s made out of Women’s Wear Daily which is the daily newspaper for the fashion trade,” Valette says. “So it’s a fashion dress made out of fashion newspapers.”
Though most of her clothing is made as art, Valette says she likes making pieces that can be worn.
“I think it makes it more of a challenge and I think it makes it more interesting. Anybody can slap together something that vaguely looks like dress and pin it in to shape on a mannequin,” says Valette. “But it is more challenging to be able to actually make something that is fully wearable, that is truly a garment out of these non-fabric materials. And I find that challenge to be much more interesting.”
Valette says making this clothing gives what we think of as trash new life. But that’s not why Valette does it.
“There are far more impactful ways you can keep things out of landfills than by making them into dresses,” she says. “But it’s fun.”