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Nancy Judd’s Clever Ideas Keep Trash In Style

by Janine Boylan on August 5, 2013

Convertible Trashique, showing clever ideas in recycled fashion by Nancy Judd

Convertible Trashique
design © Nancy Judd
photo by Eric Swanson
commissioned by Toyota

Recycled Fashion Sends a Message

When I first saw Nancy Judd’s work on display, I rushed over to get a closer look at the beautiful fashions.

But, oh, I see! Judd’s work is not at all what it first appears to be. Judd makes her work out of trash.

Take the piece pictured above. All the materials came from old cars!

  • That fuzzy-looking jacket collar is curled electrical wire.
  • The jacket, skirt, and blouse were once the soft tops on convertibles.
  • The hat was a front-end car mask (and is accented with copper electrical wire).
  • The purse was woven from electrical wire and metal paper found in electrical cable.


Her Mission

The environmental artist and educator wants her fashionable work to attract people, but then she wants them to walk away inspired to recycle more and consume less.

What do you see in this elegant (and yet trash-y) dress and stole? Read below to discover the clever ideas Judd put into it.

Couture Plastique, showing the clever ideas of Nancy Judd's recycled fashion

Couture Plastique
design © Nancy Judd
photo by Sandrine Hahn

For this recycled garment:

  • The shine comes from used plastic packaging film.
  • The decorative dots are cut from discarded plastic detergent bottles.
  • Clear plastic bags were knit into a stole.
  • Fabric from an old white satin prom dress was used to line the throw.

Merging Trash and Fashion

A lifelong seamstress, Judd studied art in college. But her career was in recycling. Judd worked as the Recycling Coordinator for the city of Santa Fe and then as Executive Director of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition.

After marching in parades in a fuzzy cartoonish costume to try to encourage recycling, Judd had a more clever idea (an oh, I see moment!). She merged her passions for art and recycling to craft recycled fashion. The first outfit was made to promote a public education event.

She found that people’s response was very positive—they were open to talking about recycling when she introduced it through a beautiful party dress.

This inspired her to create the Recycle Runway collection, which has grown to over 20 items, including the Obamanos Coat.

Can you guess what the coat is made of?

Obamanos Coat, showing the clever ideas in Nancy Judd's recycled fashion

Obamanos Coat
design © Nancy Judd
photos by Jay Sturdevant

Stitched-together Obama campaign door hangers!

Judd says that Obama wouldn’t be able to raise his arms to wave if he wore this piece, but he’d still be able to manage a solid handshake.

This unique piece attracted the attention of the Smithsonian, which asked to include it in its permanent collection. (Judd also created a cocktail dress out of old Obama lawn signs—a clever use for old campaign signs!)

Getting the Message Out

Judd doesn’t sell her work.

She purposely displays it in public, high-traffic areas like airports and museums where many people will see it and her message. The cassette-and video-tape coat and the aluminum-can-embellished dress greeted visitors from all over the world in the Atlanta International Airport.

Atlanta airport display, showing the clever ideas in Nancy Judd's recycled fashion

Recycled Runway display at Atlanta International Airport
designs © Nancy Judd

She also works on commission, such as the piece at the top of the post for Toyota and the piece below for Delta Air Lines. But she will only work for companies that she believes are working toward responsible recycling practices. She has been known to turn away generous offers from companies whose practices do not align with her standards.

Can you name the materials in this uniform?

The Environmental Steward-ess, showing the clever ideas in Nancy Judd's recycled fashion

The Environmental Steward-ess
design © Nancy Judd
photos by Jay Sturdevant
commissioned by Delta Air Lines

This superhero flight attendant outfit was made of:

  • retired leather airplane seat covers (jacket, skirt, hat, purse)
  • aluminum drink cans (decorations on hat, belt, and purse)
  • old safety cards, Sky magazines, tickets, and pretzel wrappers (top of cape)
  • an airline blanket (bottom of cape).

Involving the Community

Judd’s main focus is on environmental education, encouraging all of us to think about what it really costs to buy so much. In her TedTalk, quoting the Worldwatch Institute, she shares, “If everybody lived on the Earth as the average American does, it would take three to five planets to support us…Obviously, something has to change.”

She travels worldwide to deliver this message through speeches and community-based recycled art and fashion workshops for adults and children.

Community is a critical part of her message. Several pieces, including the flamenco dress below, include participants’ ideas. Can you guess what went into this dress?

Eco-Flamenco, showing clever ideas in recycled fashion by Nancy Judd

design © Nancy Judd


detail of Eco-Flamenco, showing clever ideas in recycled fashion by Nancy Judd

ruffle detail
design © Nancy Judd



It was made from parachute scraps and ruffled with fan-shaped cereal box scraps. The scraps were painted with reclaimed red paint and contain over 5,000 hand-written eco-pledges, such as “Use less gas” and “Recycle!”

Looking Ahead

Judd has caught many people’s eye with her clever recycled fashion ideas. And her message is getting out.

After Judd’s presentation at the Shadyside Boys and Girls Club eight-year-old Vinny exclaimed, “Some people would just think: ‘a dress like this is just junk, who cares?’ but these dresses are just amazing! Keep on R, R and R’n!”

Judd encourages further, “Use the power that you have to change the world with your creativity.”


Try your hand at turning trash into fashion with this free download of fun projects from Nancy Judd and OIC Moments:

(click to download)

You can see Judd’s Redress: UpCycled Style exhibit at  The Bascom Visual Arts and Education Center in Highlands, North Carolina until August 18. Then it is scheduled to be on display from Apr 12, 2014 to  Jun 15, 2014 at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


One thought on “Nancy Judd’s Clever Ideas Keep Trash In Style

  1. Dear Nancy, I had the good fortune to see your exhibit last year at FIT in Melbourne, Florida. I have a lot of zippers and I was wondering if you would like them. I will gladly donate them to you if you think you could use them. They are dark beige and white. My mother was an interior decorator and this is what I was left with. Originally 2,000 but I have been getting rid of them slowly. Selling some to various artists. Most of them are 36 to 50 inch in length. Please let me know. Sincerely, Jean LaBanca

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