Water bottles generated in Flint, Michigan, inspire artist

Water bottles generated in Flint, Michigan, inspire artist

Artist Mel Chin uses Repreve fabric made from these water bottles in his exhibit at Queens Museum.

April 9, 2018
Edited by DeAnne Toto

Photo by Philippe Rohdewald

Artist Mel Chin launched a fashion project called Flint Fit after learning about all the water bottles being generated in Flint, Michigan, after the city’s water quality crisis. Flint Fit is being featured as part of Chin’s All Over the Place exhibit at Queens Museum in New York.

Flint’s lead-contaminated water has residents relying on bottled water for cooking, washing and drinking. At Chin’s instigation, more than 90,000 used water bottles were collected by the people of Flint over a six-week period. Once sorted, the bottles were sent to Unifi Inc., a textile manufacturer in Greensboro, North Carolina, where they were cleaned, shredded and recycled into Repreve performance fiber. The fiber was then sent to Mount Vernon Mills and Texollini, where it was woven and knit into fabric. Using this fabric, New York fashion designer and Michigan native Tracy Reese designed a capsule collection for Flint Fit inspired by the power and necessity of water, the manufacturing history of Flint and the resiliency of the Flint community. Reese’s designs were brought to life by at-risk women in the commercial sewing program at St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, who sewed the recycled fabric into rainwear and swim garments. These designs debuted April 8, 2018, at the exhibition opening and will be displayed at the Queens Museum’s Watershed Gallery through Aug. 12, 2018.

“We’re proud to be a part of this exciting moment in art-fashion history,” says Jay Hertwig, Unifi group vice president of global brand sales. “At Unifi, we’re able to transform plastic bottles into Repreve for products that people enjoy every day, and we’re thrilled that Repreve is playing a key role in such a positive movement that came from something so catastrophic.”

Chin says, “By opening the door for new ideas, Flint Fit aims to stimulate creative production, economic opportunity and empowerment on a local scale.”