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Athens locals help sustainable fashion efforts in the community

In Athens, many people contribute to the community's sustainability efforts. Local businesses such as Greendragon Thread, Cricket Jones Jewelry and Coral Marie do their best to help the Athens community be more sustainable in its fashion production by upcycling and reusing materials.

UpCycle Ohio Thrift helps small businesses by providing access to its Community Makerspace. The space is equipped with a tool library where people can check out tools for at-home projects. UpCycle Ohio Thrift also offers a sewing/fabric shop, woodshop and metalwork tools.

Shannon Pratt-Harrington, chief sustainability officer for Zero-Waste Event Productions, a social enterprise dedicated to reducing festival waste, used the fabric workshop to make custom bags to carry and transport flag poles for the company. One service she mentioned that Zero-Waste Event Productions participates in is picking up trash at festivals across the Midwest. The collected waste is then recycled or composted. Pratt-Harrington is also one of many local business workers who use upcycled fabrics to make new pieces. 

"We get people excited and inspired to use the things that they already have or find new homes for them, reconstitute them or reform them in a way that works for them," Sadie Meade, manager of UpCycle Ohio Thrift, said. "We teach people job skills in the Makerspace that they can use in the workforce or (to) create their own businesses."

When UpCycle Ohio Thrift was owned by ReUse Industries, a non-profit organization, Erin Hogan, owner of Greendragon Thread, worked as a manager of the Community Makerspace and acquired skills from the tools available.

Hogan just recently opened her upcycle business, Greendragon Thread, in June 2021. She sells upcycled corsets and fabric dragon sculptures crafted with clay accents and beads primarily forming the horns, claws and teeth, Hogan said.

"I learned how to sew in the theater department at Ohio University," Hogan said. "We had to make a corset and a vest … I fell in love with it. It's like a building project, lots of metal pieces integrated. It has become my passion."

The logo of Hogan's business is a green dragon, symbolizing ferocity, passion and fighting for what is important in life. 

"I really want to create as many things as possible from the waste stream, making one of a kind, beautiful items," Hogan said.

Cricket Jones gave antique silverware a new life when she started making jewelry out of these pieces 14 years ago. 

"There was a spoon that I must have used to pry a window, and it was almost a ring … so I played with it a little," Jones said.

This became Jones' first handmade spoon ring. Using her garage as a studio, she now curates silverware jewelry that can be found at flea markets and yard sales. Sustainability also plays a big role in her creations.

"I was kind of a recycler my whole life," Jones said. "We don't need anything new. It's really causing a lot of our environmental and even political problems."

Coral Marie is a one-woman team working out of a solar-powered studio. She creates clothes from recycled cotton materials. Marie makes designs for her sustainable brand inspired by the land that she lives on.

"I really pull a lot of inspiration from the flowers, the tree branches and the lighting outside," Marie said. "I'm also a very emotive person. I'm very sensitive. Relationships are really important, too … that relationship to the place where we live, the things that move us to emotion. I think a lot of my design inspiration comes from that sensitive, emotive quality of a looker, a listener and a thinker of what's around me."

Marie, along with other local businesses, enrolled in Rural Actions' Zero Waste Pledge, a program designed to get businesses to take the initiative on reducing waste by using reusable products and recycling, according to the Rural Action website

With 23 businesses enrolled in the program in 2018, the community accumulated 13,149 tons of waste in the landfills. The program has a target of 50 businesses enrolled by 2030, and hopes to have a 20% decrease in the amount of waste going into the landfills, according to the Athens Sustainability Action Plan. Marie took the Zero Waste Pledge and another pledge for a reduction in the waste stream.

"I already have a pretty limited waste stream because I reuse, recycle, compost and I have a small amount of things that get thrown in the landfill out of my business and my home," Marie said.

Shopping locally helps the community’s economy and reduces environmental impacts. According to Sustainable Connections, local purchases require less transportation and reduce habitat loss and pollution. Greendragon Thread, Cricket Jones Jewelry and Coral Marie upcycle materials, sending less waste to the landfills in the community. 

According to the United Nations, the fashion industry is believed to be the second-most polluting industry in the world. The EPA estimated in 2018 that the generation of textiles was 17 million tons in the United States, with landfills receiving 11.3 million tons of textiles that year.

"I really do want to reach out into the community and help build sewing skills and more awareness of how to (upcycle) through classes and teaching," Hogan said.

Coral teaches at Hocking College and shares her expertise in fashion design and sustainability. She said sustainability plays a big role in her teaching, as it encourages her students to think critically about their choices.

Along with being a sustainable business that reduces the negative impact on the community, Coral annually donates 10% of her profits to different advocacy organizations.

"Right now, it is to My Sister's Place and the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program," Coral said. "I focus a lot on organizations that support women equal rights, social justice and those sorts of issues as well as sustainability."

At the height of COVID-19 regulations, it was harder for artists to display their art, but Jones found a way to innovate. One Sunday, Jones did not have anywhere to set up but talked to her friend Emily Christine Johnson, owner of Tavolino, and was able to open an art popup in the restaurant's parking lot.

"I got some artists, some experienced ones and some new ones that had never shown (their work) in front of people before and when people came to appreciate the show, there (was) this huge glow," Jones said. "We need art."

Jones uses the term "artkinglot" to talk about art popups in parking lots.

"It was kind of a fuse to ignite the arts in Athens again," Jones said. 

As these small businesses grow, each has different goals for the future. Hogan is working on her portfolio and plans to formally open her Etsy store and website later this year to build her online presence. Jones is not only a jewelry maker but a poet, and she plans to continue to write poetry, create upcycled jewelry and draw designs. Coral plans to collaborate with her husband and his artwork as well as her children's creative designs, incorporating them into prints for her fabrics. 

"(I plan to) continue doing this, continue making a difference in education and fashion and seeing how it all starts to weave together in a way that is hopefully balanced," Coral said.



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