For the last 20 years, Portland-based visual artist Nancy Judd has been advocating for environmental conservation through her fashion and art.

Judd uses litter and trash to create dazzling yet sustainable fashions that address the issues of mass landfills, contaminated oceans and destroyed ecosystems. Recycle Runway, is Judd’s innovative and effective project that advocates for the environment through creativity and exhibitions.

Nancy Judd. Photo Courtesy of Nancy Judd’s Website.

The motive behind Judd’s dazzling couture aligns with the strong core values of The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals including, Climate Action and  Responsible Consumption

Recycled Runway, was created while she was working as the recycling coordinator at the City of Santa Fe. In 1998 Nancy co-founded the Recycle Santa Fe Art Market & Fashion Contest which is an arts event in New Mexico.Judd designed and created her dress sculptures to promote environmental function.

She finds trash to be intriguing material, rather than useless waste, that inspired her to create elegantly styled fashions. “My mission is to help people see trash with new eyes,” said  Judd in her 2011 Ted Talk.

As a lifelong visual artist, Judd felt compelled to create artistic fashions with trash in order to promote Climate Action and Responsible Consumption. The Portland-based artist showcases her work in busy public locations like airports and shopping malls to reach a wider audience with a hope that  her fashion sculptures will encourage people to take better care of the planet. The sculptures also comment on America’s obsession with overconsumption. She encourages viewers through her art to change their relationship with shopping. “Fill your soul, not your storage space,” says Judd.

The artist cleverly uses fashion to bring up the issues of global pollution and consumerism. “Most people respond well to a pretty dress,” according to Judd. “It is a cheerful way to engage people with a deeper, very serious issue.” The pretty and visually pleasing nature of the dress is a juxtaposition of the sad and disturbing nature of global pollution and consumption. She hopes audiences see the irony in a dress made out of unwanted garbage being beautiful. “The dress is commenting on a system it appears to belong to,” says Judd.

Jellyfish Dress by Nancy Judd. Image courtesy of Nancy Judd’s website.

This notion can also be seen in her 2010 creation, the Jellyfish Dress. Made out of plastic bags and other recycled materials, the dress is an elegant form-fitting dress that flairs out the end with an aquatic-like skirt. She accomplished this look by ironing together dry cleaner bags and blue plastic newspaper bags.

As mentioned in the name, the dress is meant to resemble a jellyfish floating through the ocean. Jellyfish, alongside other aquatic creatures, are being devastated by the impacts of water pollution.

Put plastic in the recycling bin, not the ocean.

Her sustainability and pro-conservation movement mirrors the goals of The United Nations and the organization's goal to make a difference for environmental change. Judd creates sustainable fashions from almost anything. Plastic bags, caution tape, rusted nails and compostable food are all examples of garbage she's proven to make fashionable.

Citrus Lace Dress by Nancy Judd. Image courtesy of Nancy Judd’s website.

Her 2020 piece titled, Citrus Lace Dress is made from orange peels and upcycled cheese clothes. The dress, inspired by the  fashions of the early 19th century alongside a lace dress that belong to Judd’s great-grandmother, is created in a white 1900s silhouette that ties in the center of the waist. The cheesecloth fabric mimics delicate lace and is decorated with small pieces of orange peel. The orange pieces look like sequins from a distance and create a decorative decal in the center of the dress.

The goal behind Judd’s sculpture is to bring awareness to global food waste, composting and buying organic produce. According to the artist, the piece is entirely biodegradable. It is estimated that 30-40 percent of food is wasted in the United States, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. Judd hopes to inspire audiences in a fun and positive way to look at trash differently and reconsider their consumption habits.  

The artisit also shares her environmental activism through the art workshops that she teaches to children across the United States. One of her most remarkable projects is the Youth Eco-Dress, which was created with two-thousand students by hand.

Youth Eco-Dress by Nancy Judd. Image courtesy of Nancy Judd’s website. 

The Youth Eco-Dress is a late 18th-century evening style dress in a bell shaped silhouette. The white bedsheets had been dyed sage green, and pinned to create ruffles. It is made out of recycled paper and materials. During Judd’s youth environment presentations, she would ask the children to write what they would do to help the environment on a strip of recycled paper. Those pieces of recycled paper were then turned into delicate paper links that covered the dress. The rest of the dress is made from discarded sheets and tablecloths. The wire in the hoop skirt came from the frames used for yard signs.  

Judd believes the connections she makes with her audiences is what keeps her message moving. “Whether that’s the creativity of an artist to educate or the creativity of an engineer to help solve problems. all of that is really about creative problem solving,” she said in an interview with the Santa Fe Reporter. “And the bigger the problem, the more creativity we’re gonna need.”

Nancy Judd's goal as an artist and activist is to inspire the younger generations on how to be environmentally conscious and pro-conservation for the earth and the ocean. It is important to Judd, that those realize the potential behind everyday garbage. A plastic bag, styrofoam cup or bucket of pop-can tabs if used creatively can become beautiful works of fashionable art.

More about Judd’s work can be found on her website.

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