Project Upcycle 2018 Recap

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Project Upcycle exceeded all my expectations. It was hands down the most challenging and rewarding experience of my professional life. What follows is a recap – also known as the longest blog post I have ever written.

Before I start, I need to express my gratitude for the partnership that made this event possible. As it turns out, Goodwill of Northern New England, 3S Artspace, and Recovergirl are a dream team. Our skills and resources complimented each other perfectly and helped us to turn this unique event into a huge success.

After months of meetings, spreadsheets, emails and phone calls, we were finally ready to welcome the cast of characters that made up Project Upcycle 2018.

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Photo by Dan Freund

THURSDAY, MARCH 22, 2018
The long weekend began with the designers and models arriving on Thursday evening. The designers set up their workstations and were immediately introduced to their models.

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Project Upcycle 2018 Designers (left to right) Jackiellen Bonney, Chloe Larochelle, Tamsin Whitehead, Jared DeSimio, Adara Bankhead, Maya Critchfield, Justin Desper and Kirsten Elfe. Photo by Dan Freund

The community role models were selected and coordinated by Beth Falconer, Executive Director of 3S Artspace. The models included:

Nancy Pearson – Portsmouth City Councilor / Art-Speak
Steven Achilles – Fire Chief of Portsmouth Fire Department
Penny Brewster – Benevolent Dictator of CERES Bakery
Tabitha McElroy – Fund-Friend-Fan-raiser for Human Rights Organizations
Julia McCarthy – Portsmouth High School Student
Shema Rubdi – Box Office Attendant at 3S Artspace / Filmmaker
Elias Matso – Traip Academy Student
Olivia Pelehach – UNH Student

It was heartwarming to see people from different parts of our community come together for this event.

The designers were allowed a half hour to meet with their models, take measurements, and discuss fit and style.

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Designer Model Consultation – Jared Desimio and Penelope Brewster. Photo by Sara O’Reilly.

After the designer/model consultation was over, we said goodnight to the models and let the designers get their first look at the material they would be working with over the coming days.

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Goodwill Pick – Chloe Larochelle, Justin Desper, Maya Critchfield, Jackiellen Bonney

We asked the designers to dump the bags full of Goodwill clothing onto a large table. Each designer was then allowed 30 seconds to pull three items from the large pile.

We wanted the designers to have something tangible that would help them get a jump start on the design process even if it was only in their head.

The designers were given unfettered access to rest of the pile of clothes on Friday and Saturday.

As if the challenge of upcycling secondhand clothing into a gala-worthy outfit wasn’t hard enough — we added an additional curveball. Each designer needed to incorporate used sail parts into their design. The sail parts (provided by Hoist Away Bags) included colorful fabric strips, white rope of different weights, and hard plastic strips (not shown).

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Used Sail parts provided by Hoist Away Bags

We included these elements to reflect our Seacoast community but also to provide the judges with an element that they could more easily compare across all the designs.

Thursday night ended ahead of schedule. The designers were allowed to go home and get a good night’s sleep.

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2018
On Friday morning I picked up the designers at The Lilac House (lodging provided by Working Stiff Properties! 🙂 and drove them to 3S Artspace. The designers were allowed 12 hours (from 9am-9pm) to work on their designs.

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Project Upcycle Designers at The Lilac House

Now seems like a good time to introduce My Friend Dan. Dan Freund created an INCREDIBLE video that previewed at the beginning of the live event on Saturday night. The video provides an awesome recap of what happened from Thursday to Saturday. Click on the image below to be taken to the video.

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From my perspective, Friday was relatively quiet. The pressure was on the designers. We wanted them to have long stretches of uninterrupted time to work on their designs. They had midday fittings with their models, they were interviewed by a crew from NH Chronicle (more on that later) and got a quick visit from Bunny Wonderland, the emcee for the live event.

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Justin Desper working on his first design.

I am jumping ahead here but I need to say for the record that I will never be able to thank Bunny enough for what she brought to Project Upcycle. The tone she set during the event was more than I could ever have hoped for. The designers faced an enormous challenge. With style and wit, Bunny created an atmosphere of love and support. It was an honor to witness her talent and leadership.

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Bunny Wonderland

I purposely avoided looking at the designer’s creations on Friday. I didn’t want to stress them out. For that reason, I don’t have any close-up photos of their design process. Below are photos that Maya Critchfield posted on her Instagram account.

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Details of Maya Critchfield Design

After a 12+ hour day of work, the designers called it a night.

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SATURDAY, MARCH 24, 2018 (GAME DAY!)
Saturday felt like a whirl. One minute it was 10am. Next, it was 1pm.  At 1pm the models arrived for their final fitting before being sent to get their hair done at Jessica Todd. Salon. The makeup artistry was provided by Empire Beauty School. The designers used that time to make last-minute adjustments.

Once the models returned and the judges arrived we were all walked through a stage rehearsal by the incomparable Rebecca Henning Taylor. The 3S Artspace staff did all the heavy lifting on this event. It would not have been the success that it was without all their hard work.
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The evening started at 6:00 pm with a cocktail hour and heavy hors d’oeuvres provided by Tuscan Kitchen.

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Models remained backstage but designers were able to connect with their family and friends in the audience before the runway show started.

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Project Upcycle Models – Julia McCarthy (in Kirsten Elfe Design) + Elias Matso

The runway show started at 7pm. It’s impossible to capture the feeling in that room. It was a love fest. It started with the screening of the Dan Freund video and then Bunny took the helm. Each pairing of designer/model was invited up one at a time, in alphabetical order to showcase the designs.

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Bunny Wonderland, Adara Bankhead, and Shema Rubdi

The designers did an amazing job explaining their design process. The models did an excellent job presenting the outfits. The judges asked great questions, and Bunny helped the whole process run smoothly. It was such a great live show and so fun to watch.

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Elias Matso modeling Jackiellen Bonney’s design.

After all the designers and models presented their designs Bunny announced there would be a 15-minute intermission for the judges to deliberate and the audience to cast their votes. The audience vote was equal to one judge vote.

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Photo by Dan Freund

The judges were directed to take three elements into consideration during their deliberation; (1) Creative Reuse of Material, (2) Execution, and (3) Styling. They were also told to take into consideration how the sail parts were incorporated into the final design.

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Project Upcycle 2018 Judges – Pete Lankford, Ben Chmura, Jenn Varekamp, and Molly Shaheen.

One of my favorite parts of this whole event was something we didn’t even plan in advance. The judges felt that all the designers deserved final feedback on their designs. When the deliberation was over and the judges were seated back on stage Ben Chmura, former Project Runway contestant, took it upon himself to deliver critiques to each designer in front of the live audience. He delivered the critiques with so much respect and grace. I am so grateful to him for stepping up in that way.

Finally, the time came to announce the winners of Project Upcycle 2018.

CONGRATULATIONS TAMSIN WHITEHEAD FOR WINNING THIRD PRIZE! Your gender-bending ensemble looked regal on our Portsmouth Fire Chief. Well done!

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Steve Achilles modeling Tamsin Whitehead’s Project Upcycle Design. Photo by Sara O’Reilly

CONGRATULATIONS CHLOE LAROCHELLE FOR WINNING SECOND PRIZE! Your instincts told you to scrap your first design and start over. This ethereal design is the result of your hard work and determination. Bravo!

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Nancy Pearson modeling Chloe Larochelle’s Project Upcycle Design. Photo by Sara O’Reilly

CONGRATULATIONS JUSTIN DESPER FOR WINNING 1ST PRIZE + THE AUDIENCE VOTE.
You chose the most difficult sail part to work with (hard plastic) and used it to create a unique architectural showstopper of a dress. Congrats to you!!!

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Tabitha McElroy + Project Upcycle Winner Justin Desper. Photo by Sara O’Reilly

Congratulations and THANK YOU to all the designers for their courage, strength, and talent. You really set the bar high for future competitions! xo jam

THANK YOU TO THE BEST PARTNERS EVER!
Beth Falconer and the 3S Artspace staff (Martin Holbrook, Nick Rocci, + Sara O’Reilly).
Kimberly Curry and Goodwill Industries of Northern New England.

THANK YOU TO THE SPONSORS WHO MADE IT ALL POSSIBLE
Saltwater Creative • Hoist Away Bags • Malloy Events  • Tuscan Kitchen  • Working Stiff Properties • Humble Bee Flowers • Jessica Todd Salon • Empire Beauty School • Michael Winters Photography • Rebecca Taylor Henning • My Friend Dan
Beach Pea Baking CompanyFlatbread Pizza • Dental Lace • Backyard Garlic Flowfold • Gutsey Bars • Gus and Ruby Letterpress • PortsmouthNH.com

diane-cropped-jamTHANK YOU TO MY BIG SISTER, DIANE!
I saved my most grateful thanks for last. Thank you to my lovely, hardworking, and crazy generous best friend/big sister Diane Coon. She has encouraged and supported me from the very beginning and became the first sponsor to support the event. heart

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Timberland X Thread @ UNH

This cool event is happening at UNH a few days after Project Upcycle. We should all go.

Thread X Timberland in Haiti: From Bottle to Boot
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
12:30-2 p.m.
MUB Theatre II

More info here.

Back to College Shopping

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I got to play fashion stylist for the weekend and I loved it! Savers reached out to me to write a blog post using items purchased at Savers. The concept I pitched was of a young woman returning to college for her senior year. My friend, Maya, agreed to be my model. Savers gave us a wardrobe budget of $150.

We planned the outfits in advance.

  • jeans and a t-shirt for attending classes
  • an outfit for her work-study job at the library
  • everyday pieces for late night study sessions
  • a chic ensemble for art openings or an evening out
  • a pant suit for presentations and interviews

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I found these vintage Lee jeans in the men’s section. I cropped them and washed them to accentuate the fringe. The slides were actually slingbacks but I cut off the straps and turned them into mules. Remember to check the men’s section for plain white t-shirts. These thick cotton boy-cut t-shirts are a nice alternative to the tissue tees that have been popular for too long. The red bag is actually new but the shot needed a pop of color so I included it. It’s a Jelly Retro Basket from Lisa Says Gah. I’m obsessed with it.

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Cinch the waist of your jeans with a thick black belt for that 90s look.

The perfect pair of vintage jeans is not easy to find.  Be patient. The inventory at Savers turns over quickly. If you don’t find a pair on the first visit, go back again in a month. Trust me.


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For a more studious look, pair a silk secretary blouse with a classic wool skirt. We added a vintage watch for a bit of analog bling and a quality trench coat for chilly Fall days. Personally, I am keeping my eyes peeled for a classic belted trench coat so I can pull off this look by Reese Blutstein. Follow Reese on Instagram for great style inspiration.

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Turtlenecks and high-waisted pleated pants are a comfortable choice for late night study sessions. Layering is key for transitional seasons and drafty old buildings. SAVERS-TURTLENECK2

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This thin turtleneck sweater dress can be dressed up with simple accessories making it a smart choice for an art opening or an evening out. SAVERS DRESS1.jpgFunny story — we couldn’t find a handbag that spoke to us so we opted for this basket from the home goods section instead. It’s a fun alternative to a traditional bag.  The cowhide slides help make the outfit feel unique and memorable. Judging by Maya’s reaction, I think these slides were her favorite find of the day.

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Sculpture:  Arcangle, 1984, granite and Carrara marble by Gary Haven Smith  located at the University of New Hampshire Dimond Library

We opted for minimalist jewelry. The jewelry selection at Savers is insane. You can achieve just about any jewelry trend with the options they have. I know that sounds very sales-y but it’s true.
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We scored a quality Ann Taylor pin stripe suit that fit Maya like a glove. For this shoot, we paired it with a vintage camisole but for an actual interview or presentation I would recommend a classic button down or silk shell top. Death by Elocution has great inspiration for updated classics like that. SAVERS-SUIT-2-cropped

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SAVERS-SUIT-SHOESAgain we opted for slides over pumps. Block heels are easier to walk in and they offer a nice juxtaposition to a traditional suit.

How’d we do? Let us know in the comments.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Maya lives 3 hours away from me. It was a challenge to find the time to shop and shoot together. She arrived on Saturday night at 7 pm. Savers closes at 10 pm. We rushed over and treated the experience like a reality tv show. We split up and loaded up our carts with options. She tried everything on and quickly determined the best pieces. We dove back into the racks to find more pieces. When we went to cash out we discovered that everything we had still only added up to $130. We had to go back in and spend another $20!
The next morning we planned the outfits. There were a few pieces that on second inspection didn’t work well for our shoot. I blame it on us having to rush. I decided to swap out the items that didn’t work with items from my personal wardrobe that I actually did buy at Savers, just not on this trip. We swapped out ankle boots for the slides. We swapped out a big blazer for my vintage Lee jeans, and we swapped out elastic waist pants for the wool skirt.

That was fun! I want to do it all again. I hope the takeaway is that you can get quality pieces secondhand. It’s better on your wallet and on the environment. Next time you feel like your wardrobe needs a refresh —  think secondhand first! xo jam