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Cabarrus Magazine

One Man’s Trash…

Jun 25, 2015 02:04PM ● By Jason Huddle

By: Kimberly Cassell

…is another man’s treasure. And Jessica Garmon gets paid to transform what most consider GARBAGE into repurposed utilitarian pieces, works of art or conversation pieces. It even
has a term attached to it: upcycling.


 According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans produced some 251 million tons of trash in 2012 – 4.38 pounds per person each day. While about 34.5 percent of that (nearly 87 million tons) was recycled or composted, materials like metal, plastics and rubber were on the lower end of the recycling scale.

“Recycling and composting prevented 86.6 million tons of material from being disposed of in 2012, up from 15 million tons in 1980,” the EPA says. “This prevented the release of approximately 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air in 2012 – equivalent to taking over 33 million cars off the road for a year.”

“Before the Industrial Revolution, when new technologies made it more cost-effective to create new (often non-biodegradable) things rather than reuse them, upcycling was a fact of life,” according to “Fabrics were separated into fibers like wool and cotton, broken down again and spun into new products. Henry Ford even practiced an early form of upcycling, using the crates car parts were shipped in as vehicle floorboards.”

Now big business is getting in on the act. According to, Looptworks, based in Oregon, saw what Patagonia and Royal Robbins were doing: taking “ ‘pre-consumer excess’ as source material for its accessories, gear and apparel. Most of that is factory textile waste that, if Looptworks didn’t intervene, would be headed for incineration or the dump. The result is the Hoptu, a neon orange laptop sleeve made of leftover wetsuit material, and a patchwork sweatshirt-fleece hybrid Tranquilla vest equipped with ‘rescued’ buttons and tags.

“New Jersey-based TerraCycle takes on that same function in mass upcycling. The company turns actual garbage into hundreds of products, like Oreo wrapper backpacks and bicycle chain picture frames. With a large-scale collection infrastructure developed over the past 10 years, TerraCycle nabs about 1 billion pieces of garbage every quarter that ultimately end up on the shelves of big-box retailers like Target and The Home Depot.

“Etsy and ArtFire offer an abundance of upcycled goods: jewelry cuffs made from old vinyl records, chairs constructed out of used baseball bats and hockey sticks, dinged-up suitcases made into pet beds and suitcases crafted from jerry cans (metal or plastic fuel cans). The number of products on Etsy tagged with the word ‘upcycled’ rocketed up from about 7,900 in January 2010 to nearly 30,000 a year later – an increase of 275 percent.”


Cabarrus County Business Repurposes

Garmon, who earned her degree in interior architecture at UNC Greensboro, opened Trashed Studio’s doors on Earth Day, 2011. Originally in a small second floor space on Union Street, the business has taken on wings, evolving into art studio/retail space/event space residing in more than 3,000 square feet on the ground floor at 35 Union.

“At first, I couldn’t quite figure out what exactly this business was…how to describe it. I only knew how I wanted people to feel when they were there,” Garmon explains. “So it began with a few classes scheduled to see who would be interested in coming out for an art lesson or a craft night. We were in a tiny upstairs studio, so there was very little exposure, yet people loved being in that environment and began asking to book other events for their children or their work teams, book clubs, etc. 

“That led to us offering birthday parties, team-building classes, ladies’ nights and so many other events because it really does have something to offer all ages. Four years later, we decided that a larger, street-level space was the next step. This led to the opening of the retail/gallery space where we showcase local artists and designers while providing consumers the ability to shop for local, handmade and unique pieces.”

Basically, anything that can be utilized as a tool in creating something or in becoming the creation itself can be put to use at Trashed. That includes toilet paper or paper towel tubes, wood or metal, old furniture, fabric or old clothing, etc.

“I would say my most favorite (donation) would probably be a huge, rusted-out sink that my dad salvaged for me,” Garmon shares. “The most unusual? Likely a bag of unused medical supplies…interesting, yet slightly terrifying.”

And while Garmon gladly accepts – and solicits – donations from the public (see sidebar), she’s also always on the lookout for interesting and unusual objects. “I love to frequent auctions, estate sales and even the occasional curb find,” she says. “Inspiration is everywhere. I look at the materials and decide what they remind me of in nature or what functional properties they possess. If you take away what you have been taught about what an object is supposed to be, then you are left with simple factors like shape, color, size, weight, etc., and you can imagine it into something new.”

But why disposed-of items? Like other environmentally conscious individuals, Garmon’s aim is to keep as many items as possible from ending up in a landfill while also educating her students about the benefits of repurposing and extending the life of a piece of furniture, leftover building materials or antiquated electronics.

“This is something that I have always been mindful of. I am naturally drawn toward old, tattered and loved items…they just have more spirit. It always amazes me, the wonderful and interesting things that people get rid of and I like to see the beauty in what they could become,” Garmon says.

“I have a deep passion for all things found and abandoned, and I love to breathe new life into old objects. In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, I saw a huge need for imagination and free-thinking as a means to being grounded and maintaining a sense of lightheartedness. We are all creative beings, and I wanted to create a space where every visitor is able to discover that in themselves.”

Trashed Studio offers everything from private art lessons to summer camps. Camps are being held in three- and five-day morning sessions throughout this month and the beginning of August. Garmon’s intent is to familiarize children with their own artistic imaginations, nature and each other.

“At summer camps we always create a tree – using various gathered materials – that reflects each child’s strengths (roots), hopes and dreams (branches), friends and interests (leaves), nurturers and care providers (raindrops), obstacles and fears (lightning bolts), etc.,” she explains. “It’s always rewarding to see someone of any age proud of what they produced, and that generally happens with a project that reflects themselves.”

Children as well as adults can take private art lessons that delve into painting, drawing and collage. Group lessons target upcycling more extensively, as do make-it-yourself projects that allow parents and children to rummage through the recycle bin and construct their own creation.

 “I did always have a dream and a vision of opening a creative space for folks to gather and feel inspired,” Garmon says.

Another extension of that is the DIY Make & Take. Garmon teaches participants how to make non-toxic cleaners, bug sprays, essential oils, bath salts and lip balm.

If she hadn’t opened her business? “I would likely be designing in an architecture firm, which was my pre-business-owning career,” Garmon says. Or I like to think maybe something with plants. I am a dig-in-the-dirt kind of girl.”

True to her artsy roots, Garmon recently made a big decision with regard to her business. As of June 1, Michelle Pentoney is running Trashed. “It is time to pass the torch that is the business side of Trashed Studio on to a new set of hands,” Garmon shares. “Michelle has been involved with Trashed Studio over the past year, and she is now going to be the new face of Trashed. I am excited to get back to enjoying the creative side of this space while Michelle takes the business to the next level. Her talent and spirit make it easy for me to feel confident in the future of my ‘baby.’ ”

Garmon sees herself continuing to salvage, design, create and paint. “That part of my brain just won’t stop,” she says. “We know what feeds our soul. I have taken that energy and found a way to share it with others, and that is a pretty satisfying feeling. I love that I have met and learned so much from so many people in our community.”

For more information about Trashed Studio’s offerings or how you can contribute to the recycle bin, call 704-782-0055 or visit their website at

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