Effective Modes of Alternative Art: The Eco-Reps Trashion Show

My Thursday nights have been interesting lately. On March 31, after three years of eyeing Eco-Reps’ signature spring event, I finally found the chance to attend their Trashion Show, a night of fashion and trash—or trash into fashion.

As others excitedly took the time to mingle in the STEPS lounge while the models made their final adjustments, I decided to temporarily do away with my regular obnoxious, extroverted persona and step aside with the provided salad finger foods (…and two or three chocolatey sprinkled brownies). The crowd they had drawn was moderate in size, yet quite rambunctious, everyone milling about the food, catwalk, and adjacent seats with a few stragglers walking in, attracted by the crowds seen in the transparent STEPS walls. In crunching on the first real vegetables that I’d seen in days (that weren’t vegetable juice), I wanted to reacquaint myself with the signature events on campus after having not stayed on campus for consecutive semesters for two years.


Image credit: Lehigh Eco-Reps Trashion Show 2016 (Facebook)


Image credit: Lehigh Eco-Reps Trashion Show 2016 (Facebook)

Why were signature events, well, signature? Was it the community spirit they fostered through linking common ideas in an entrepreneurial spirit? Similarly, did the entrepreneurial spirit typically involve the arts? What all these interlinking spirits hold in common, and how did they contribute to the campus community?

When the event finally began, it made a light-hearted mockery of New York Fashion Week. The “catwalk” was more of a vertical green golf walk with plastic seats on both sides, and Eco-Reps and the Brown and White had set up a professional camera at the end, supposedly at the ready to take video and pictures. However, the set-up and the event itself did not yield Victoria’s Secret-level results. Very few Lehigh students know how to strut their stuff, and it was captured through the five-minute procession. Both guys and girls were awkward and stiff, freezing at the camera and suddenly unsure of where to place their hands and at what angle to dip their hips. Having participated in a body positivity fashion show my first year of college, I could understand their nervousness and slight uneasiness at posing for more than a second in front of the camera. The ladies attempted to undulate their hips—“it looked so easy to do in heels on TV”—and the men sauntered like seventh-grade boys.

That all being said, none of the above mattered, as that was not the point of the event. The entire premise of the event was to have fun while raising awareness of the preeminence of waste for positive re-imaginings and critical design thinking, and everyone knew it. All (brave) volunteers decided on ridiculous poses rather than the sultry, serious pouts of Paris designer halls. One guy, dressed up as if he were off to LARP in Natty Lite armor, wielded a sword crafted out of—you know it—Natty Lite to resounding cheers and laughs from everyone, while a girl sprinkled some litter over the crowd and sheepishly smiled, once bending over to laugh at the absurdity of it all.


Image credit: Lehigh Eco-Reps Trashion Show 2016 (Facebook)

The costumes themselves were impressive, more than trash bags blowing aimlessly on people’s shoulders. The girls strutted in a strapless dress made from boxes of clementines, a strapless cardboard corset, and color coordinated themselves, mixing their outfits with their own leggings, heels, and fashion make-up. The guys, again, dressed like LARPers, but no costumes had the stability of actual LARP costumes, breaking apart in the middle of the walkway, cups sent scattering everywhere.


Image credit: Lehigh Eco-Reps Trashion Show 2016 (Facebook)


Image credit: Lehigh Eco-Reps Trashion Show 2016 (Facebook)


Image credit: Lehigh Eco-Reps Trashion Show 2016 (Facebook)

The notoriety of the night wasn’t lost on anyone as Pitbull and Ke$ha’s “Timber” started blasting and everyone started singing along. The event had definitely fostered a shared sense and laughter across communities, in spite of the actual divisions of the groups there, especially along gender lines. However, it is possible for fraternities, sororities, athletes wearing lacrosse and track shirts, independents, and Eco-Reps to share a room with each other and partake in a collaborative camaraderie. The room’s atmosphere was decidedly lightened after the event had ended.

The bonds within groups were strengthened as well. The Trashion Show called for volunteer designers and models through flyers and University Announcements email, and this was a well-established event celebrating fun and creativity, so it was easy to encourage participation. Each group prepared their own costume and model, thinking, buying, stitching, and taping together, with the rest of the group coming out to support them with cheers and hoots as their final creation manifested itself in the STEPS concourse. People from other groups joined in, visibly impressed with some outfits.

Eco Reps hold annual Trashion Show from The Brown and White on Vimeo.

Eco-Reps has succeeded with this show every year in using what is “normally considered to be trash” to advocate for sustainability and promote Lehigh’s participation in the national Recyclemania competition. It is an alternative take on creative thought and art. Rather than pushing ideas of sustainability through regular textbook and lecture methods, which students have already heard enough of, Eco-Reps were smart for designing an alternative educational method to reframe the issue that can be excitedly engaged and promote new values in students’ lives. After all, we have different ways of learning and remembering, and engaging different sections of the brain helps get the message across.

Eco-Reps and the participants understood that creativity is taking the basics and finding connections between them, as the official announcements called for that creativity. Entrepreneurship was built into the night in that “there are creative ways to reuse things in actuality that can be functional.” Breaking it down, how did they decide which materials to use that not only accounted for body measurements, but were the most flattering to the body? Which materials worked the best with each other, and did it depend on cuts and stitching?

My mind began turning as questions flooded my mind in considering the mechanics of each design product. However, I knew that in the end, my questions about the annual Trashion Show’s commitment and fostering of community and entrepreneurship with a message through alternative forms of art were successfully answered.

—Sunny Huang, Class of 2016