A new fashion exhibit in Queens underscores the ongoing water-contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. “Flint Fit” comprises a series of garments inspired by the “power and necessity of water, manufacturing history of Flint, and resiliency” of the people of Flint, who have had to cope with the effects of lead poisoning since 2014.
Visual artist Mel Chin — with an assist from Michigan-born, New York City–based fashion designer Tracy Reese — conceived of the clothing to highlight the water crisis. Flint has had to resort to bottled water for everything from drinking to bathing, which has also created a tragically bountiful waste stream. Chin enlisted Unifi, which makes recycled textiles, to clean, shred and transform more than 90,000 used water bottles into a performance fabric known as Repreve.
To manifest Reese’s designs, Chin turned to the commercial sewing program at St Luke N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, where at-risk women stitched the pieces. The items include a trench coat, a wide-leg jumpsuit and swimwear. Chin said, “By opening the door for new ideas, Flint Fit aims to stimulate creative production, economic opportunity and empowerment on a local scale.”
Jay Hertwig, Unifi’s group vice president for global brand sales, said the brand was “proud to be a part of this exciting moment in art-fashion history.” He continued, “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.”