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Interview: Recyclable designer Maria Allen 

A young designer has Hurricane Katrina to thank for finding her passion

Maria Allen, 19, is a survivor, literally. She evacuated with her family to Charlotte in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina left her with only a few belongings. Though she was forced to start over in a new town, Allen found her calling to fashion by trying to maximize the limited selection of clothing she had left. In high school, she would take apart pieces she found at thrift shops and redesign them, as she puts it, "to not look like I'd been through something." Now, after studying graphic design at the Art Institute of Charlotte in 2010 and enrolling in the Paul Mitchell school in November, Allen has come a long way. She has developed her own clothing line, Made by Maria, and is making her design debut in the Charlotte fashion world with the Passport for Fashion showcase (held April 21 at ReelWorks Studio). In a way, it's fitting that Allen will be featured in the upcoming recyclable designer showcase. She's certainly no stranger to starting from scratch and using her few resources to create something new.

Creative Loafing: You have a really interesting story; how did Hurricane Katrina change your life?

Maria Allen: When I moved here to North Carolina, I didn't have much. I was a thrifter at a young age when it wasn't cool. I would take apart a lot of my clothes from scratch and just put them back together. We evacuated to Texas and then we came here [to Charlotte] maybe a month after Katrina happened. I missed half of my eighth grade yet I found a passion.

What materials are you using for your "recyclable" outfits?

For one dress, I'm using spoons; it's going to turn into an all-white wedding dress. [I thought of it] when I was eating: I was thinking bottles, cans ... spoons! I was using a spoon to eat and then I was like, "White spoons! Inspiration!" The wedding dress will also incorporate clear knives. The second one is a fun, teenage-like dress made out of the Yellow Pages, so it's very big and fun.

If you were making your own wedding dress, would you want to incorporate spoons? Is that your dream dress?

[Laughs] I would probably do spoons or it might be made of all buttons and quarters. All quarters! That's it, and I want the bottom to be quarters just falling off for the children. And my flower girls would throw out quarters.

Why are you choosing to pursue your fashion career in Charlotte? Why not somewhere like New York or Los Angeles?

A lot of my friends are moving to New York, moving to Atlanta [for fashion], but I really wanted to stay in Charlotte when it blows up. I want to be here, I want to be blowing up with it.

Passport For Fashion will take place Saturday, April 21. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.passportforfashion.com.

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