How T-Shirts Transformed to Art

Apr 18, 2019
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The “B-Regenerous” collection debuted at Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week, Spring 2019. But the idea started a year earlier when I was commissioned to create a sculpture out of t-shirts for the office of Ben Clark, Owner of B-unlimited (a design and screen printing company in Fayetteville, AR). He wanted a custom art piece that represented his business made from their test print t-shirts.

T-shirt Art Sculpture with Artist Alyssa Bird
Alyssa Bird & Ben Clark. Photo by Main Street Studios

While working on the sculpture, it sparked so many ideas of other things I could do with the shirts. Ben and I spoke about fashion week and how this could be a great opportunity to collaborate and make something incredibly unique for the runway. I couldn’t have been more excited about it since this was right in line with the Regenerous mission of minimizing waste in the fashion industry. It was an amazing opportunity to utilize my background in fashion design and really stretch my creativity.

The test print shirts are so fun to work with because of the way they’re printed all over, inside and outside, with graphics layered on top of each other. To some, these become waste, but for me, they looked like new pieces of art just waiting to be transformed into one-of-a-kind designs.

Pile of Test Print T-shirts

The graphic designers at B-Unlimited are talented artists and I wanted to represent their work too. However, many of the shirts have logos, brand names or sorority/fraternity affiliations. I didn't necessarily want those sections to be a part of our pieces, so I had to be very strategic about which parts would be displayed and work around what we didn't want to show.

Working with test print t-shirts proved to be more challenging than expected.

The process started with washing all of the shirts, which turned into many loads of laundry.

Then, with help, we sorted them out by color/graphic themes. This meant the office/my house was surrounded with piles of shirts.

In order to create my designs, I had to deconstruct the shirts to then reconstruct them into new garments. That meant cutting them up into various shapes/sizes, then sew them back together to create a solid piece of fabric to cut a pattern from. Along with this step meant selecting the right sections of the shirts to use for each design. All this was probably the most time consuming part of the process.

Process of cutting and sorting test print shirts

My team and I sorted though the piles of shirts many MANY times looking for specific images, words, and letters each time we discovered a new theme we wanted for one of the designs.

Making clothing designs from test print t-shirts

For some of the final looks, I chose to focus on the reoccurring graphic themes we kept finding on the shirts.

For others, I focused on color, cutting up the shirts then weaving, knotting, or braiding them into different structural forms where the graphics became almost unrecognizable.

Behind the scenes of a fitting for fashion photoshoot with designer Alyssa Bird

Creating this collection was definitely a “Teamwork Makes The Dream Work” kind of situation. I couldn’t have pulled it off without the help of some of my AMAZING friends and the awesome team at B-Unlimited. The best part of collaborating is getting to see and bring so many different skills/talents/ideas together to create something bigger and better than what one person could do on their own. I’m so thankful for the wonderful community in NW Arkansas and how willing people are to help and support creatives.

Hope this inspires you to view your discarded clothing and materials in a different way and gives you ideas of what can be done with old t-shirts.
Group shot at the B-Regenerous Photoshoot
Photo by Heather Hill
Making Screen Printing High Fashion
Photo by Main Street Studios
B-Regenerous Fashion Models
Photo by Main Street Studios
Fashion Editorial Screen Printing
Photo by Main Street Studios
T-shirts turned into High Fashion
Photo by Main Street Studios
T-Shirt Confetti Celebration
Photo by Heather Hill

If you liked this, click here to shop the one-of-a-kind accessories made for the collection.

(Keep a lookout for the next blog post featuring more about the story and photos from the actual Fashion Week Runway Show)

Designer Alyssa Bird Celebrating in the T-shirt Confetti
This photo and below are by Heather Hill
Pom Pom Vest made from cutup t-shirts
Wearable art made from test print t-shirts
Upcycled Woven T-shirt Vest
One-of-a-kind Upcycled T-shirt Men's Blazer
Upcycled wrap skirt made from test print t-shirts
Pom Pom Crown and Girl Power dress made from t-shirts
Large Braided Vest upcycled from test print t-shirts

Special THANK YOU to...

Ben Clark: Owner of B-Unlimited

Photographers: Luke Davis, Heather Hill, Bryant Penzo

Videographers: Nick Bahash, Cubby Hoover

Makeup Artists for the Photoshoot:

Emily Sconyers

Pa Xiong

Veronica Lopez

Hair Stylists for the Photoshoot:

Emily Agular

Summer Foster

Tory Kuru

Models:

Ella Goldsmith

Ethan Nash

Gelynda Johnson

Jen Davenport

Lexy Winham

Maddie James

Nia Lashae

Pa Xiong

Paola Cortes

Rochelle Bailey

Sarah Barrow

Shawn Burns

Summer Foster

Tatum McClure

Valeria Quiroga Trigo

Ashley Little of Material Concepts for helping make the men's blazers

Additional Helpers and Supportive Friends:

Sydney Hoover

Olivia Conarroe

Morgan Scholz

Bailey Darter

Katelyn Simms

Kyle Sconyers

Julia Andriotis-Sharp

Travis Sharp

Christina Duggan

Matt Brunson

Jen Simmons

Nate Clark

Dianne Raphael

Drew McLaughlin

Grant Williams

K.C. Shaver

& my awesome mom, Linda Bird