Brooklyn artist turns food waste into sustainable fashion

Cara Piazza is based in New York City, where she produces stunning natural dyes that she uses to create one-of-a-kind textiles and clothes. She uses flowers, plant matter, minerals, non-toxic metals and food waste to make the colors that go on her fabrics. In addition to creating custom pieces for clients, she works with other designers and artists by teaching them how to incorporate natural dyeing into their processes.

“I get my ingredients from a variety of different sources. I work with different natural dye providers like Botanical Colors and Maiwa,” Piazza explained. “And I also partner with different restaurants and composters to be able to take their excess waste and turn it into dye.”

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The New York Times mentioned Piazza in a write-up about the new ways people are recycling wedding and Valentine’s Day flowers. Companies will donate leftover flowers to Piazza for her clothes.

“One bouquet from a wedding will get you a scarf and a kimono,” Piazza told the Times. “I will get nine massive garbage bags full of flowers from events that will last me a month.”

Most manufacturers use synthetic dyes that require a ton of water and then produce untreated wastewater that has to be dumped somewhere. Synthetic dyes are made from chemical compounds, which means that with each new dye that’s developed, there could potentially be a new environmental and health threat. The system right now is backwards: Companies are creating dyes, checking if they’re hazardous after making the clothes and then banning it if proven dangerous.

Natural dyes reduce the need for so much water and the wastewater afterward is more safe and non-toxic for the environment. But when Piazza was entering the fashion world out of design school, synthetic dyes were a huge problem in the competitive field.

“It was a really big issue that I was going to be entering an industry that’s producing so much waste,” she said. “When I found out about the medium of natural dyes, a lightbulb went off in my head.”

Now, not only is Piazza an advocate for natural dyes, but she also teaches workshops and classes in Brooklyn to help spread the knowledge.

“It’s exciting to me to kind of enter this frontier that was a medium across all different boards and use that to make fashion,” Piazza said.

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