.High Fashion Trash

Teens turn garbage into new styles

Glitz and Glam are swapped with empty bottles and food wrappers in this upcoming Santa Cruz fashion show at The Rio on Friday. 

 Santa Cruz teens will take the runway dressed in recycled chic, embracing their creative expression through the FashionTeens program. In this program, students design and construct a garment over several weeks and present it in a fashion show open to the general public. 

A Loofah gown, crushed iPhone corset, and soda can vest are some of the outlandish pieces that will take the stage. Every piece showcased will be made from upcycled materials, with the focus on sustainability.

Kathleen Crocetti, a Mission Hill Middle School art teacher, started the program 13 years ago, teaching students sewing skills and creative problem-solving. She is also responsible for having students make all of the mosaics over the bridges leading to downtown Santa Cruz and the big murals in Watsonville.

“We partnered with Goodwill, my students and I would walk down there, and they’d give us one item of clothing for free, then we would spend weeks and weeks deconstructing and remaking those items,” says Crocetti.

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After crafting something new from the old, they would hold a fashion show at the school, displaying what they’ve learned. The fashion shows got the word spread, and FashionTeens took flight.

“We couldn’t hold it at the school anymore. We didn’t have enough space for the audience that was coming,”says Crocetti. “I would have 100 to 112 students participating.”

While Crocetti hung up her scissors and measuring tape this past June, FashionTeens expanded to include all of Santa Cruz County with Crochetti’s legacy living on.  Thirteen schools now offer the program run by teachers, parents and volunteers. 

Students in 6th-12th grades are given full creative freedom to make their outfits (as much as you can have for a school-sanctioned event, of course), and the products of their hard work are visually exciting and have social and societal implications at times. 

Zuki Tanaka-Kopp,15, is in her third year of FashionTeens, and is jumping into the deep end with her piece called “The Poison of Propaganda”. It consists of a white bedazzled mini dress covered in circuit board shards, old wiring bent into swirls across the breast, shells of iPhones past cinched around the bodice and a computer mouse dangling around the neck.

“It’s supposed to be about the influence of not only TV and Social media, but the government using social media and TV as a tool for propaganda” says Tanaka-Kopp.

The nature of the show isn’t to sell to a consumer or show off the predicted trends of tomorrow, it’s to showcase the hard work of the creative minds and their influential messages. Gehena Rivera, 17, in her first year of FashionTeens, is working on her piece “The Waste We Carry”. A  set of upcycled outfits connected by an umbilical cord of her trash has arguably more meaning than any high-fashion piece on the runway now.

“The concept of it is everything and nothing,” says Rivera. “ We’re all connected, which is both a positive thing and a negative thing”

Nyaumi Candelaria, 16, has been in the program since 6th grade. Growing up in the program, her eyes were opened to critical issues that her peers decided to cover.

“I’ve learned a lot from everyone who takes social justice approaches to their outfits,” Says Candelaria. “Everyone is so passionate about a different subject, and they all incorporate it into their pieces and I think that’s so wonderful that we can learn a lot from each other” 

While the students turn their artistic visions into reality, sewing skills, and new subjects are not the only thing they’re learning. They learn social skills, creative problem-solving, confidence and eco-consciousness.

Audrey Sirota, Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education has witnessed first hand the positive effects that the program has on the children. 

“Exploration of complex social issues, creative problem solving, which is so important in today’s world, and gaining confidence and valuable life skills,” she says.

“It takes a bit of engineering to construct because not all these kids can sew, ” says Tina Brown, a fashion stylist who has worked with FashionsTeens for 10 years.

Marley Bachtel,16, has been in the FashionTeens program since 6th grade. Her skill set has grown, both metaphorically and literally.

“I’ve learned a lot of sewing skills and crafting skills in general, but I’ve also learned a lot of social skills doing this,” says Batches. “With FashionTeens comes a lot of community and trying to navigate through social interactions.

FashionTeens highlights fashion as an art, mode of self-expression, and vessel for change. The youth of Santa Cruz gets to show off all that they have worked for this Friday, at The Rio Theatre.


  1. It’s been really fun to watch students/youth in multiple grades and abilities work/play their way toward an end goal on the Rio stage. Really looking forward to the 19th!

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  2. Great article! I know a lot more about this exciting creative program than I did previously. Looking forward to the next fashion show by FashionTeens!!

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