PHOTOS BY BOB WILLIAMS

STORY BY RYLEIGH NORGROVE | PHOTOS BY BOB WILLIAMS

COTTAGE GROVE – Usually, if you tell someone their dress looks like a potato sack you’d be in big trouble – but the designers of the annual Opal Center Trashion Show wouldn’t have it any other way. 

The 2022 Opal Center Trashion Show opened on Earth Day, wowing the sold-out crowd with a two-hour show that exhibited the talents of 13 designers’ garbage-infused lines. A total of 25 models strutted the catwalk and sashayed past front-row audience members in a night of thought-provoking fashion and fun. 

“Consume, consume, consume these gorgeous looks!” said Matt Schaft, one of the show’s emcees, peeking under his trash can lid sombrero. 

Designers used everything and anything to create their looks – smashed bottle caps, bubble wrap, tents, dart boards, fertilizer sacks, pool noodles, bike tires, dryer sheets, six-pack rings and so much more. Every item on stage was, formerly, trash. 

The show was titled “Project Re-emergence” – the first show after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’re still here!” said Michele Rose, Opal Center’s creative director. “And what we’re passing on to the next generation is a lot of garbage. It’s scary how much of a disposable society we are. We’re filling up our planet with all this trash, and so we’re putting this show on Earth Day to heighten awareness.” 

Rose’s granddaughter, 4-year-old Tallulah Thoms, is the youngest designer in the show. She wants to be a “supermodel when she’s older,” and said she “loves walking the runway.” She created her look from garbage bags and a little help from mom, Tesla Thoms, who also wore a dress made of plastic bags, “dedicated to the hours she spends shopping and cooking for her family.”

The night was fun and fabulous: A figure of mother-nature danced to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” dressed in a gown made of dryer sheets and an 8-year-old in a gas mask flipped her hair with supreme confidence. There was camping-inspired drag and skirts made of used tents. A ravishing picnic table-inspired skirt was delicious. Models embodied snails and rainbows and huntresses and queens – each look more inventive than the last.

Teresa West is one of the show’s original founders. She’s a “Trashionista-Dumpster Diva” who transformed “waste/rubbish/debris/junk” into wearable art. She used “bewitched scraps,” and “street crud” to create looks full of “scrapyard grace,” asking the audience to “behold the world, covered in plastic.” West showed six looks, and wrote original poetry to accompany each outfit. She stole the show with her creative energy and talent.

“This show is a combo of being political and having fun,” she said. “And when it comes to working with these materials, you can’t really force them to be anything they’re not. You kind of have to make peace with the plastic.” 

“People don’t realize how much plastic they throw away,” said Carmen Dowell, a local recycled-materials artist and Trashion Show vet. “We are celebrating the earth, and asking people to take a second look at what they have.” 

Dowell rarely walks in the show herself, but this year is different. She’s dedicating her line to her late mother, who was famously fond of peacocks. 

“I’m walking this year dressed as a peacock to honor my mom,” she said. “I’m even using some of her crafting materials in the look. She’d always been in the audience at everything I do, so ... it will be really special to feel like she’s with me this year.” 

The Trashion Show message revolves around reusing, recycling, and creative repurposing. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the message of awareness. 

“Our show is a creative way to get people to pay attention to the fact that there’s so many other things they can do with waste,” Rose said. “You’ll never see anything like it.”