From Recycling to the Runway


Read the full story by Katie Williamson ’15, published by the Dartmouth Sustainability Project.

Fashion may not be the first thing that comes to mind when people think about mitigating climate change, but for Celeste Jennings ’18, fashion and sustainability are a perfect pair, two interests she is eager to combine. Jennings has an impressive portfolio of dresses, purses, shoes, and more, all constructed from everyday recycled items and used clothing. She has many ideas, either sketched out on paper or stitching themselves together in her mind, that turn materials like old newspaper into fine satin.

Celeste Jennings ’18, right, with a high school classmate who is modeling a dress during the Curbside Couture Fashion show. The dress is made partly out of painted and recycled newspaper. (Photo courtesy of Celeste Jennings ’18)

Jennings’ passion for fashion began in her hometown of Little Rock, Ark. She talks about this happening by accident in eighth grade, when she wanted a purse for her birthday and suddenly it ran out of stock. In that moment, Jennings decided that she could forget about the purse or consider another option: make her own out of cheap, reusable materials. This began a phase of experimentation that soon revealed a blossoming talent and a growing confidence in her potential to make a difference by repurposing recycled items. Jennings took the next step by making biodegradable purses and selling them on her own Etsy site. “The whole experience of recycling and then making interesting things is what I want to do,” she says.

Jennings was helped along the way when a fashion exhibit called Curbside Couture, a partner of the Clinton Foundation, came to Jennings’ high school and taught students about recycled fashion opportunities. During her junior and senior years, she entered pieces in the show and taught herself to sew in order to expand her product repertoire to include dresses. Without access to a sewing machine, she made everything by hand, and her X-Acto knife became a favorite tool. In her senior year, running against over 70 contestants each with multiple entries, Jennings won second place in Curbside Courture. Her outfits were featured on the runway at the Clinton Foundation’s Annual Curbside Couture fashion show.

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