After arriving at warm home town Barranquilla, Colombia, I was in the process of putting away my winter clothes, when inside my jacket’s pocket I found an unfamiliar object. I reached inside and out came a pair of earrings. “Nice”, I thought. And tried to remember where I had gotten them from. Not mine. Must be my friend Johanna’s, to whom I last lent my jacket.
Taking advantage of the situation (a new pair of earrings for the New Year), I was going to try them on when I realized they were broken; the piece to fit in the earlobe was missing.
Mmmh… what to do? Throw them away? Sadly, I must confess that was my first thought; but then I stopped and asked myself, “Where will these earrings go? Once they reach the garbage, what will happen to them?” It was then that I decided to save the lovely pair. What would it take? How long, how much would it cost? Is jewelry commonly recycled; turned around, from person to person? Or are we stuck in the buy-buy, throw-throw cycle? All these questions arose in my mind as I set out to quench my earring fixing curiosity.
My first stop was at my cousin’s, Colombian designer Melissa Chams (above), who owns a boutique about five blocks away from my house. “Can you fix this?” I asked. “Sure”, she said. Two minutes later, I was in front of a new pair of earrings, a living memory of my now far away friend Johanna, and a happy conscience for having contributed to waste reduction.
Good for me, but can material reuse become a common practice in the fashion business? Designers around the world are experimenting more and more with turning would-be garbage into art. Melissa says the fashion business is always moving along with new tendencies, but in this movement, it can incorporate reclaimed materials. For example, in her jewelry designs she uses pieces that she buys, tears apart and turns into something new. “It’s easier and cheaper” she commented. Reusing materials and already made pieces, and creating of them something new, is a challenge for designers, an incentive for eco-minded buyers and an excellent way to shade some green into consumer lifestyle.
In second world countries like Colombia, reusing materials is common practice because sharing of possessions is imbedded into life style. Clothes and accessories are passed on from mother to daughter, between friends and cousins, and between women from different social classes. Unable to afford new, but still wanting to be fashionable, women exchange their belongings. Adding something new to a piece, altering it or wearing it differently, is an important part of the process. “A small change in design or a different face behind an accessory can make it look new”, says Melissa, and indeed, “for each person that receives it, the item is new”.
People come into Melissa’s boutique all the time asking her to fix their jewelry or modify their clothes. They are also buying her new designs, so she is happy to help them out, sometimes even fixing stuff for free. Although she is in constant need of new material and has local providers of cotton, linen and silk, Melissa says she is open to using recycled materials and was very interested when I talked to her about eco-fashion and organic fabrics, a relatively new concept in Colombia. But even when she doesn’t know it, or call it that way, by reusing materials and helping people recycle their belongings, she is already contributing to eco-sense in Colombia’s fashion.