What do pull tabs, produce bags and a mummified bird have in common? They’re all used in one of Madison Cotterill’s dresses.
The Dreher High School junior has been making dresses out of recycled and natural materials for the past five years.
Cotterill began by submitting a design to the Columbia Design League’s Runaway Runway Recycled Fashion Show. She hand-stitched the dress, made completely of cardboard, and took away the design contest’s top prize in her blistered fingers.
Runaway Runway is the Columbia Design League’s signature annual event and primary fundraiser. Entrants include first-time designers, mother-daughter teams and experienced artists like Cotterill.
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“Anyone can enter,” said Julie Turner, the design league’s spokeswoman. “We try to make it accessible and open to anyone.”
Cotterill first entered the competition at the age of 13. Every year, she’s used it to add to her portfolio; she hopes to attend the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design upon graduation from Dreher next spring, and she eventually wants to launch her own fashion line.
“For a lot of other people, it’s a fun thing to do,” Cotterill said. “For me, it’s fun, but it’s also part of my future. I do this so I can add it to my portfolio for college.”
But even with her sights set on the fashion world long-term, Cotterill sees her designs more as “wearable sculpture” than garments. Outside of the competition, she doesn’t design much; she explores all different kinds of art, including painting, sculpture and sketching.
“I think of clothing design as another form of art,” Cotterill said.
While she has typically submitted ball gowns made of anything from rug remnants to netted citrus bags, Cotterill is banking on more “understated” dresses this year. The two dresses she will be submitting consist of more neutral colors and are “based on nature and natural beauty.”
But the competition, taking place Saturday night, is also the night of Cotterill’s prom. She said she hopes she can stay until the winners are announced, but if not, her mother is ready to accept on her behalf. Instead of the typical pre-prom photo shoot or dinner, Cotterill’s prom date will accompany her to Runaway Runway to cheer her on.
This year, the competition will take place in the Township Auditorium. Previous venues consistently sold out, according to Turner, so the event was moved to the larger downtown auditorium.
“We always end up with a big crowd,” Turner said. “The models and designers have people that come and support them, the Columbia Design League always turns out in big numbers, and then there are the people that support the arts no matter what. It’s always bigger than we think it’s going to be.”
The move also enables the design league to make less costly tickets available; while floor tickets are $75, balcony seats can be purchased for $25.
Turner, who discovered the design league after attending Runaway Runway a few years ago, said she’s excited for this year’s competition, which should have close to 50 entrants.
“It is energizing, it’s inspiring and it’s just a great night out,” Turner said. “It gives you an appreciation for (waste). You usually throw something in the trash or recycling and don’t think twice, but this makes you think of trash and recycling in a different way.”