This dumpster diving designer spins trash into gorgeous dresses
From now until June 18th you can explore a collection of artistic and wearable "trash" at the Textile Museum of Canada, but throw away any expectations you have first, because designer, Padina Bondar's approach to plastic waste is like nothing you've seen before.
Refuse, is the name of this award-winning dumpster diver's first solo exhibition, which features couture quality garments made from hand-spun plastic waste.
If you're wondering how that even happens, Bondar won't tell you– it's a trade secret– but she will show the full spectrum of possibilities.
As soon as you enter the exhibit, you're invited to participate in a tactile experience that subverts your understanding of disposable plastic waste and its purpose.
The first scene is a black title wall with a bobbin of wiry black thread at its center.
This thread is made from real plastic garbage bags, and appears surprisingly delicate while actually being quite shockingly durable.
The innovative garbage bag thread is used for lace, embroideries, weaves, knits, and crochet pieces like a yellow dress that is made entirely from caution tape.
Any extra material left over is melted down to be used for embellishments. This craft approach eliminates many of the secondary pollutants that result from typical recycling processes.
The exhibit then leads you past a heap of plastic garbage bags, encircled by romantic embellishments, made of –you guessed it– more discarded plastic. Trash has never felt so whimsical.
You'll continue past intricate sculptures, wall decals, and beautiful dresses hung from the ceiling.
One cream-coloured crochet dress in the exhibit appeared in a performance piece for RuPaul's Drag Con in 2019.
"The material is so durable that it's very stage appropriate," said Bondar, "but it's also very comfortable and malleable."
To wash the garment, you simply wipe it with a cloth.
Bondar engineered the tools and spindle that can process disposable plastics into thread, using traditional textile techniques.
She hopes other designers will also find ways to recycle in-house materials to create more sustainable pieces.
"I completely see trash as a resource in the way that somebody once decided to shave a sheep and spin the wool to create a garment," she muses.
Bondar started sewing and making clothes when she was only 12. She went on to study Fashion at Toronto Metropolitan University and began showing her designs at Fashion Art Toronto in 2016.
It was when she began working that she grew aware of how wasteful the industry is. Working in bridal in particular (a notoriously single-use garment market), inspired her to seek a more sustainable design process.
So, she packed up and moved to New York to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Textiles at Parsons, and taught herself how to convert plastic bags into usable material.
"New York just felt like the right place to be to explore garbage and fashion at the same time," she says.
She began carrying scissors and gloves in her bag at all times and climbing into dumpsters with her high heels on. Even at parties, she'd fish disposables out of the garbage.
"I have no shame," she laughs.
Now Bondar calls New York home and teaches in the same program she graduated from at Parsons, while making frequent trips back to Toronto to visit friends and family.
Earlier incarnations of this project were showcased at Fashion Art Toronto in 2019 and 2021, and featured garments made of plastic bottles, garbage bags, tampon applicators, waxed papers, and cups.
The current Refuse exhibit shines as a real demonstration of how far Bondar has come with her fascination and skill for turning trash into treasure.
A group of women walking past me in the space stated earnestly that they were going to start looking at garbage in whole a new light.
If you'd like to see Bondar's striking designs in person, the exhibit is on now until June 18th.
Admission to the Textile Museum of Canada is only $15 for adults, $6 for students and free for children five and under.
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