From rubber backpacks to recycled aluminum earrings, refuse has been reinvented.
Call it real-life retro or garbage glamour, but the latest "environmentally friendly" fashion trend is turning industrial scrap into an accessory gold mine.
Until this season, the trend had been aconfined mostly to rugged and active outdoors wear and focused on the granola-eating crowd. But now, just in time for holiday shopping, small companies around the country are bringing wearable waste to the city as well.
Transforming trash is becoming trendy. A Pittsburgh-based company called Little Earth Productions has built itself on those millions of car tires that are discarded every year. The road left-overs are the basics of Little Earth's business.
Rubber backpacks and handbags, complete with seatbelt clasps, are made from tires and decorated with the outdated license plates and car emblems which would otherwise be rusting in America's junkyards. The bags are sold in stores all over the United States and Europe for $60 to $125, depending on the size.
Nouveau Contemporary Goods in Mount Vernon can't seem to keep enough in stock.
"You would think the world was coming to an end and you had to have this stuff to live. It's like an addiction," says Nouveau's Steve Appel. Rubber belts, studded with beer or soda bottle caps, and license plates shaped into cylindrical purses lined with recycled felt are other Little Earth products.
It is the one-of-a-kind nature of the plate bags that attracts the young and hip customers. Environmentally friendly and slightly daring -- there's a concept.
Another accessory company that's also mining the trash trend is One Song Enterprises, a mail order catalog working by phone (800) 771-7664.
It has pins and earrings cut from old computer circuit boards which have been stripped of the sharp wires. The effect is one of futuristic electric colors complemented by copper wiring. For the on-line addicts of the household, a circuit board tie tack could be the perfect accent for One Song's tire necktie.
La Terra, in Hampden, carries products by Motherboard, a company specializing in recycled circuit boards. Keychains, .
business card holders, journals, and three-ring binders all made from the internal works of computers range in price from $5 to $25.
There are also Recycle Revolution's handbags made from old jeans, accented with recycled rubber, at about $57. And you can find tuna can purses which cost between $35 and $65.
With a growing number of consumers leaving leather in the lurch, the footwear industry has kept pace.
Simple Sneakers has introduced its Purist line, with herringbone linen uppers and recycled rubber soles. Even major corporations like Nike and Reebok are working recycled materials into their trail boots as well as into their tennis shoes.
These products can be found at most shoe stores, but if you're in the market for a shoe that is 100 percent recycled, check out the Deja Shoe at Towson Town Center's Comfort Country. While this hybrid of the desert boot and a nurse's shoe won't be spotted on any supermodel, its origins are altruistic. These shoes, which were once everything from disposable diapers to pillow stuffings, sell for about $45.
For those shoppers who can't let go of leather, the Container Store in Rockville sells the Reisenthel recycled leather briefcases and purses. Embossed with a leaf design and available in gray and natural, these totes look and wear like the real thing without the guilt.
Along more traditional lines are clothes and accessories made of Polartec, a fiber combining polyester and plastic soda bottles. Plastic that once clogged the landfills now makes an appearance on ski slopes and sledding hills in the form of jackets, ear-muffs, socks and undies in outdoorsy stores and catalogs such as L.L. Bean and Patagonia.
Recycled gifts gain added relevance as we move toward the holiday season. Instead of padding everyone's sweater collection, how about raising their social consciousness?
Before tossing that old terminal or walking past that discarded rubber tire, think twice. They may be the stuff of the latest fashion statement.