Artist Flips Flint Water Crisis Into Wearable Works Of Art

Since virtually all of Flint, Michigan, has been forced to drink bottled water as a result of the water crisis, Mel Chin decided to take their empty bottles and make clothes.

A model being photographed wearing clothing from the "Flint Fit" collection.

Although it has flown under the radar as improvements have been made, the Flint water crisis remains an issue that residents of the Michigan city are grappling with.

One artist, Mel Chin, has not forgotten about the distressing situation and has actually developed work inspired by it.

Chin created a sustainable fashion collection called “Flint Fit,” which is currently on display as part of his exhibition at the Queens Museum in New York City. Since virtually the entire Flint community has been forced to drink bottled water as a result of the crisis, Chin decided to take their empty plastic bottles and make clothes.

“He started to think about what could he do, as an artist, to not just bring attention to this because the entire nation knows about this issue, but to also create hope,” said Manon Slome, a curator of the exhibition who worked closely with Chin to get his “All Over the Place” exhibition together.

With the help of residents and community organizers, Chin was able to collect 90,000 empty water bottles over the course of six weeks. After that, they were sent to Greensboro, North Carolina, where they were transformed into REPREVE yarn, a recycled plastic fiber fabric.

Then, Chin brought the project back to the local community by tapping Michigan native Tracy Reese, who is currently a New York fashion designer. The garments were then sewed by people at St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center, which is an employment training facility for folks who tend to get rejected by the workforce.

The “Flint Fit” line includes teal bathing suits, tan raincoats, and dresses of each color.

“This particular sewing circle is for women who’ve been subject to domestic violence, and so it’s bringing a trade,” Slome said of the N.E.W. Life Center. “It’s like an incubator for a potential project for Flint, Michigan, that not only brings awareness to the issues, but Flint was originally a manufacturing town, and it all sort of disappeared, so could this be an incubator for a new industry.”

Interestingly enough, there’s a nod to Flint’s manufacturing history in the “Flint Fit” designs. The clothing follows a theme of what was in style in the 1940s, which is when General Motors was thriving in Flint and the economy was booming.

Most of Chin’s exhibition centers on lead poisoning and environmental injustice. For example, in addition to “Flint Fit,” the exhibit includes a stained glass lamp made up of lead-infused glass that is meant to depict the brain after exposure to lead. The glass is stained a red-orange color in certain areas to represent the regions of the brain that lead exposure affects most.

While the exhibit largely focuses on raising awareness to a very melancholy topic, all it takes is one creative, thoughtful mind to convert something ugly and heartbreaking into something beautiful and breathtaking.  

 Banner/Thumbnail Credits: REUTERS/Sebastien Malo

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