Bet you'd forgotten all about that oversized No Name steaks T-shirt Dad once favored for mowing the lawn. The one Mom finally dropped in the donation bin?
Eco-conscious artist Stephanie Dillon plucked it from the 10 million-plus tons of clothing Americans discard each year and treated it to a pastel dye job. Now the transformed tee has resurfaced on a lithe young model for Citizen-T, Dillon's upcycled apparel company.
Her foray into so-called "slow fashion" began after a life-changing breast cancer diagnosis in 2016. "I started a completely new life because I realized it was the only one I had," she explains.
Dillon's previous work, financing independent films, was about supporting other people's creativity. Now she was pulled to create, as a means of exploring how imperfect things could still be relevant and beautiful. She bought damaged canvases from secondhand stores and started painting as an emotional release.
Dillon began to consider the health impacts of environmental toxins and dedicated herself to combating the climate crisis. The self-described "beauty junkie" — as a teenager, she saved up for designer duds and papered her walls with the pages of W magazine — set her sights on the wasteful, polluting fashion industry.
Most Citizen-T apparel begins as used or excess stock. Some tees commemorate one-time events (Wisconsin's trip to the 1994 Rose Bowl; 2007's Hot 97 Summer Jam). Others promote products or bands, from Harley-Davidson to Fleetwood Mac. Often, Dillon will tie-dye or bleach the fabric or add inspirational messages, such as "be kind" or "ars longa vita brevis" ("art is long, life is short").
Dillon does the same with hip jackets and haute handbags — hand-painting previously loved leather or denim with bright images or bold messages. (F-bombs and bull skulls are recurring themes.) Using stencils and spatters, she layers an edgy, rock 'n' roll vibe onto a luxury aesthetic.
By diverting clothing from landfills and giving them a second life, Dillon raises awareness about the true costs of fashion and donates a percentage of her profits to charity.
"We have such a detachment from where we get our clothes and food, as if it doesn't matter," she says. "And actually, there is nothing else that matters."