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From Trash to Fash: Ceci Guevara & the Trash Makeover Challenge

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By Cy White, Photos courtesy of Ceci Guevara.

Ceci Guevara, the director of the Trash Makeover Challenge, knows sustainable fashion is the wave of the future.

“Fashion” and “environmentally friendly”? Not exactly a pairing many people consider. Fashion is a billion-dollar industry that has historically been both elitist and detrimental to the environment. But the Texas Campaign for the Environment is pushing the two ideas together.

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When the Trash Makeover Challenge began in 2010, there wasn’t much to take the concept from local event to worldwide phenomenon. Enter Ceci Guevara, an Austin School of Fashion Design alum with a deep desire to learn the industry.

Quite early in her fashion career, Guevara understood her skillset was better suited for supporting the people wearing the clothes, rather than making the clothes themselves. “I broke two zippers on the first day,” she says with a laugh. “My passion was more behind the scenes and in the shows and networking and mingling with others.”

Guevara was determined to find a way to translate her passion into action, and her opportunity came in 2014. Her penchant for networking culminated in a chance meeting with Diana Duran. At that time she was the events coordinator for Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower women to gain economic autonomy through professional support and their attire. She also worked for TCE.

A Vehicle for Change

Where many would simply see a chance to jumpstart their career, Guevara saw a unique opportunity for fashion to make a difference. “I go to the show and I become a Project Runway judge over here,” she says. The lightness in Guevara’s voice belies her focus on making the Trash Makeover Challenge a vehicle for change. “I was like, ‘Okay, let’s organize. Can we categorize and score like this? Is there a theme?’”

The organizers were blown away with Guevara’s vision. And the following year they reached out to her first, giving the young fashion school graduate the chance to fulfill her purpose. “I came on in 2015 as the fashion show producer. And it just grew from this really small event. This year we had [actor]Mehcad Brooks as the host of the show,” she says. “And all of it is to benefit the Texas Campaign for the Environment.”

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Guevara’s devotion to TCE and the Trash Makeover Challenge manifested in some truly captivating concepts (a Florence Nightingale nursing cape created from over 900 bottle caps donated from a local Mexican restaurant, for example). It was also a means for her to firm her resolve to make fashion more environmentally and economically practical. Her growing unease with child labor practices and wanton waste in the industry forced her to reexamine her own habits. Coming on board with TCE grew the ambition in her gut to see sustainable and affordable fashion become a worldwide reality.

Benefiting the Environment

“All of this is benefiting the environment,” Guevara says. “Because in the end, it’s trash being repurposed. Giving it another meaning. The fashion industry is already starting to nod that way,” Guevara insists. “I saw that H&M, they’ve been putting this commercial out that they’re recycling their clothing. Whatever is not selling, they’re just gonna repurpose it and make new clothes from that. [In] the industry, they have to. There’s not a choice. The fashion industry is very wasteful, and we cannot continue to do this to the planet. It will not sustain.”

The Trash Makeover Challenge is an opportunity, a chance to connect two things we’re all tied to—the planet and fashion—in affordable, sustainable ways. “It doesn’t just bring awareness,” Guevara says. “It gets your attention. It’s no longer, ‘Oh, I can look away.’ No, we are talking about landfills here in Austin. We are talking about the ones right here by the airport,” she says. “Think about your clothes, your donations. However it is you shop, your spending, is it going to the local economy here? Is it going to someone who is ethically and responsibly making other products? It is so worth having your eyes open. You cannot NOT be affected by it.”


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