When Megan Miller first started as the marketing director for Charlotte’s Opera Carolina three years ago, she never imagined her efforts to get rid of waste while also getting some attention for her new employer would lead to multiple appearances at New York Fashion Week.

“We were wasting so much paper. I come from an environmental background, and in the opera industry we do a lot of direct mailing to reach clients, and I was trying to come up with a way to reuse all this leftover paper material we had.”

So she reached out to a friend who creates guerrilla marketing campaigns for big brands by designing outlandish dresses.

Megan Miller (right) stands with a model wearing one of Kristen Alyce's creations made completely of leftover Opera Carolina printed material.

Megan Miller (right) stands with a model wearing one of Kristen Alyce’s creations made completely of leftover Opera Carolina printed material.

“My friend from college was making dresses out of trash as a way to market these other companies. She did one for Skittles out of candy wrappers. So I asked if she could make one for us. Because when you think of the opera and fancy dresses, you think of the MET gala. It just made sense.”

Kristin Alyce — the designer friend from college — splits her time between New York and Palm Beach running Garbage Gone Glam and Viva Couture. To make some of her unique creations in the past, she’s used brown paper bags from Panera Bread, seat belts from Hyundai and even boxes of X-rays from a doctor’s office – all to create one-of-a-kind dresses that are used as marketing tools.

“Megan gave me posters of their upcoming season of shows, and I used them to create a mermaid dress and stuffed the bottom with bubble wrap,” Kristin explains of how she made the first dress.

A Kristen Alyce creation on the runway for Charlotte Fashion Week

A Malou Cordery creation, modeled by Genevieve Cordery, on the runway for Charlotte Fashion Week

That first Opera Carolina dress premiered in October, 2015, on the red carpet in Charlotte at the first performance of that season, and it was a huge hit.

“The reaction was unreal. People didn’t realize until they got up close and saw that it was playbills and programs. People didn’t know what was happening,” Megan shares.

The program has come to be known as Opera Recycles, and through this initiative, Opera Carolina demonstrates its commitment to environmental consciousness and creative thinking.

Kristin says, “It’s amazing. Megan has taken the concept and made a whole non-profit out of it, and it’s something that can spread to opera houses everywhere because they all have an overabundance of print material. It’s really cool to see what she’s doing and be a part of it.”

No other for-profit company or non-profit organization uses their printed material to create couture fashion, making Opera Carolina unique in the Carolinas region.

Opera singer Raquel Suarez Groen sings at NYFW in a Kristen Alyce dress made of recycled Opera Carolina printed materials.

Opera singer Raquel Suarez Groen sings at NYFW in a Kristen Alyce dress made of recycled Opera Carolina printed materials.

The recyclable dresses are also shown around town at special events and are now an annual thing. They do at least four dresses a year, highlighting each dress at a different performance. In the two years since the initiative launched, more than 10,500 pieces of marketing material have been converted into these elaborate fashion pieces.

The first dress was so cool that when Kristin was asked to present some of her other works at New York Fashion Week, she included the opera dress. It made such a splash on the New York runways last year, that this year Opera Recycles was invited to do an entire show. They’ll debut in the Big Apple the second week of September.

They’re planning to bring 15 dresses featuring shows from the last few opera seasons, and they’re using mostly Charlotte designers to create them. Megan says they’ve also made a point to recruit local models of all different body types and ethnicities.

Leftover 2014 season materials come together in a runway-worthy gown.

Leftover 2014 season materials come together in a runway-worthy gown.

“We wanted to take a very local approach. We’re taking high school and college students — new models who would probably otherwise never get this kind if opportunity to be at fashion week. I also wanted to highlight the local artistry. We give the designers all the marketing materials, and they pick an opera that inspires them.”

Megan says she is surprised — and thrilled — by how far the program has come so quickly.

“It’s such a great concept. I love bringing together people through unconventional ideas – that’s the way to get their attention!”

Learn more about Opera Recycles on their website, operarecycles.org. And to learn more about Opera Carolina and check out the lineup for the current season, click here.

All photography provided by Opera Carolina

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