Who is eligible to apply? Designers (and aspiring designers), ages 18+, currently residing in New England, (ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, RI), with less than 5 consecutive years of professional fashion design experience. Everyone from students to self-taught designers to working designers and retirees is enthusiastically encouraged to apply.
What is the challenge? Eight emerging designers are selected to participate in this fast-paced 2-day design challenge. Each designer will design and execute their vision of a New England streetwear look using deadstock fabric and excess materials from New England manufacturers. Prepare yourself for some twists!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a 12+ hour day of work, the designers called it a night.
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.
The evening started at 6:00 pm with a cocktail hour and heavy hors d’oeuvres provided by Tuscan Kitchen.
Models remained backstage but designers were able to connect with their family and friends in the audience before the runway show started.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!!!
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 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.