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Michelle Smith, Jamie Powell and Morgan Meredith all participated in Redress Raleigh, an eco-friendly fashion show that was part of the Hillsborough Street Renaissance Festival.

Raleigh designers repurpose old materials into intriguing new fashions 

Art d'eco

Photo shoot locale
We photographed our models in clothes and accessories from indieNC designers and Powell and Meredith's Redress Raleigh collections at Durham's Golden Belt campus. The former textile factory was used from the early 1900s to 1996 to make cloth pouches and packaging for Bull Durham tobacco. The buildings have been repurposed by Scientific Properties into a sustainable, funky mash-up of work, living and retail space, making the campus a fitting backdrop for the eco-friendly fashion.

For a self-professed introvert, Michelle Smith is very outspoken about supporting budding designers in North Carolina.

"I really want to put faces to locally made products," Smith said. "People love the idea of supporting their neighbors, and it really resonates with them that they are helping someone follow their passion and possibly afford to quit their day job."

A member of a growing community of local "renegade crafters," Smith organizes Raleigh's semiannual Rock and Shop Market, manages her design blog Feminine Modern and creates jewelry and apparel for her Michelle Smith design line.

Her most collaborative project, however, has been the indieNC.com site. Much like a local version of Etsy, the hipper, craftier version of eBay, indieNC designers can sell their wares, promote their brands and express themselves on the site's accompanying blog.

Smith started the Web site to showcase "the amazing pool of talent bubbling below the surface in North Carolina," and tap into recent surges of support for the local, handmade movement and a growing emphasis on environmentally friendly clothes and accessories.

"From an environmental perspective, when you shop locally you are cutting down on carbon footprints and transportation costs," Smith said. "Furthermore, when you shop in person, you are doing an even better thing by keeping dollars in your community and packaging and shipping costs to a minimum."

Designers on the site use found materials in thrift stores, print with non-toxic, water-based silkscreen inks and package jewelry in 100 percent post-consumer cardboard. Smith also uses recycled paper shred to ship orders across North Carolina and beyond.

Jamie Powell is another local designer taking the reduce, reuse and recycle mantra to heart. The 26-year-old Durham designer owns an online vintage wholesale business and creates Revamp, her own line of reworked vintage finds.

Powell moved to the Triangle in 2007 after discovering the Rock and Shop Market. She previously lived with all of her vintage finds for a year and a half ("there was my bed, and then there were all of these crazy vintage clothes," she said) in the small Beaufort County town of Chocowinity, where storage space was cheaper but the demand for her eclectic, reworked clothes was lower.

"Even if it was going to be more expensive, I knew there was much more potential for growth in the Triangle," Powell said. "Even with the way the economy is right now, my spring orders have really picked up and we're starting to grow."

A college job at a vintage store in Boone sparked her interest in thrifty, quirky clothes, and American Vintage Clothing and Classics was born. Powell buys in bulk from charities' surplus donation centers and ships the vintage duds to specialty thrift stores across the U.S. and U.K.

Powell also helped organize Redress Raleigh, an eco-friendly fashion show that was part of the Hillsborough Street Renaissance Festival on March 14. Even though a soggy day kept many off the street, the fashion show's indoor Plan B raised nearly $3,000 for charity.

A full-capacity crowd at Aurora saw more than 20 local designers send five to 10 looks each down the runway, including N.C. State student Morgan Meredith. The sophomore in fashion design showed her debut collection at Redress, performing Project Runway-like feats on a diverse mix of repurposed separates.

Meredith, who favors inexpensive, local boutiques near campus like Tough Love and Fabrik, had her first taste of sewing in high school in Kernersville, N.C., where she made reusable shopping bags and accessories with her grandmother.

"I first started sewing in high school when everyone had their own Vera Bradley purse," Meredith said. "My grandmother said there was no way we were paying $60 for a quilted fabric bag, and that she'd show me how to make my own."

Meredith keeps eco-friendly designs at the forefront of her work, seeing an expanding market and desire for environmentally responsible garments. After assisting with a student-produced fashion show last year but lacking the time or inspiration for a collection of her own, Meredith knew the direction she wanted to go in for the Redress show.

"I wanted to take thrifted menswear pieces and make them pretty," she said.

"Pretty" is a word not always associated with the eco movement, but it's one of the most important things Smith looks for when scouting out new designers for indieNC, as her discerning target demographic isn't exactly looking for, as Smith puts it, "glittery, crafty Santas."

"People assume earth-friendly means gaudy or hippie," said Smith. "I'm an aesthetically driven person. Everyone wants beautiful things, which is why I want to provide beautiful things that will last."


Where To Find It

Michelle Smith's designs can be found at www.indienc.com, www.michelle-s.com and 341-8328, and locally at:

Jamie Powell's American Vintage Clothing and Classics and Revamp line can be found at www.avcc-inc.com or (336) 441-0086, and locally at:

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