Turning plastic bottles into gorgeous scarves: Wildlife photographers focus on sustainable fashion

OTTAWA — It’s environmental elegance and, in this case, a “trash-ion statement.”

It’s a conservation conversation starter; garbage turned into a gorgeous wrap.

Women Wildlife photographers, brought together by Ottawa-born photographer Clare Hodgetts, are sharing their stunningly beautiful photographs, printed on soft, flowy fabric made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles.

Clare Hodgetts, is the co-founder of InFocus Canada, and is the fashion force behind printing the glorious landscapes and breathtakingly beautiful wildlife images into “wearable art”.

“The Mission is to raise money for important charities through sustainable fashion and to spread awareness of the exceptional and beautiful work being done by professional photographers,” says Hodgetts.

These stunning scarves are part of InFocus Canada’s Athena Collection.

I learned about this project when I received a phenomenally beautiful Christmas gift: a scarf of Sable Island horses from one of my best friends.

Athena Collection

That friend happens to be award-winning photographer Michelle Valberg, a Nikon Canada Ambassador and Canadian Geographic-Photographer-In-Residence.

When she gave me the scarf (a drop-off at our TV station, since we couldn’t have our annual Christmas visit), I was overwhelmed by how gorgeous it was, and how soft.

Valberg knows about my love of horses, and that I am a Nova Scotian with an emotional connection to Sable Island and its legendary herd. 

When Michelle said, “Lee, the scarf is made from recycled plastic bottles,” my admiration went to the next level. 

“Are you kidding? This is so cuddly and delicate. What an amazing story.”

The Sable Island horses scarf is one of three contributed by Ottawa’s Valberg to the InFocus Canada project.

“Talk about a dream project,” says Valberg. 

“Wearable art made out of recycled plastic, featuring beautiful photographs by women wildlife photographers, raising awareness and contributing financially to conservation programs.”

One of Valberg’s iconic images, of ‘Boss’, a rare spirit bear—a subspecies of the black bear—in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, is featured on one of the wraps.

Athena Collection

Each photographer chooses the conservation effort of her choice and a portion of the sale is donated. 

Valberg is supporting Raincoast Conservation (protecting the home of the Spirit Bear, his sleuth, and countless other species) and The Nature Foundation, part of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

“Clare did an amazing job curating the photos that weave so perfectly into this lush and soft fabric (unexpected considering they are made out of recycled bottle material),” Valberg says.

Valberg says she is thrilled, and honoured, to be a part of the Athena Collection by InFocus Canada alongside the esteemed group of Nikon Ambassadors that includes Ami Vitale, Deanne Fitzmaurice, Viktoria Haack, Kritis Odom, Clare Hodgetts and Melissa Groo. 

“The scarves act as a platform to share and spark conversation about key issues,” says Hodgetts, “combining glamour and fashion with contemporary concerns. Scarves become more than a beautiful fashion piece for individuals who wear them, they also have a compelling story behind them.”

“The scarves, made entirely of post-consumer recycled plastic bottles, spark conversations about key issues, combining glamour and fashion with contemporary concerns, beautiful fashion pieces with a story, raise money for charity,” says a grateful Hodgetts. 

Hodgetts says all of the photographers have powerful stories to share. She says the scarves are a way to do that.

“Ami Vitale is a National Geographic photographer and a Nikon USA Ambassador. A focused aspect of her work is to raise awareness about the last two living Northern White Rhinos in the world and the efforts being taken to save the species from extinction. Powerful stuff.”

“We have a beautiful scarf of Ami’s in our Athena Collection, and donations from her scarves go to BioRescue, a charity working to save these Rhinos.” 

“Melissa Groo is another wonderful photographer that is part of our Athena Collection.”

Athena Collection

Hodgetts explains, “She (Groo) is an Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and uses her photos as a powerful vehicle for storytelling and conservation.”

Groo describes her work this way: “To raise awareness, and change minds, about not only the extrinsic beauty of animals but also their intrinsic worth.”

Donations from Groo’s ‘Sunbird’ scarf go to the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Centre – a wildlife hospital that cares for native and wild animals. 

“There is a story behind each one of the scarves which makes them even more special,” says Valberg.

Hodgetts is grateful for the layers of beauty of this initiative.

“This project means so much to me for a number of reasons. I love that we’re able to produce beautiful fashion pieces and make people feel good when they wear them. When ‘you look good, you feel good, and it’s important to me to contribute to empowering and uplifting those who wear them,” says Hodgetts.

So, when you are wrapped in a scarf for your next Zoom meeting or family FaceTime, you can tell the stories of the photographers, the charities, and the sustainable aspect of your accessory.

Athena Collection

“Sustainable production is another important part of our story. We have a dedicated production partner, Ethical Profiling. Their CEO and President, Kemp Edwards, co-founded InFocus Canada with me.”

“Partnering with Ethical Profiling ensures our product is made in a facility that is third party audited for their commitment to environmental practices and corporate social responsibility.”

The scarves are $77. A portion of each scarf will go to the charities or conservation organizations of each photographer’s choice. They can be purchased online at https://www.infocuscanada.ca/, in Ottawa at Shepherd’s Fashions, as well as a small selection in All Eco.

Valberg is a wildlife photographer who would typically be anywhere in the world focussing on wildlife. She is now out with her Nikon pointed at nature close to home during COVID-19. 

“I encourage everyone to explore nature, while staying close to home, get outside, embrace and love our winter. Be safe and stay healthy everyone. See you on the other side of his pandemic,” she says 

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