Just a few weeks ago Virgin Balloon Flights were talking to Virgin Managements’ Sustainability team and were given an excellent new idea to support up-cycling….

Made In Forest Hills, an up-cycling Bow Tie business in New York, was started not so long ago by Nicholas Tee Ruiz. His bespoke, unique and beautifully designed bow ties are all made from waste material and can certainly start a trend!

Helen Craig Virgin’s sustainability specialist asked Nicholas about his inventive ideas:

What inspired you to include recycled materials in your designs? How did it all start?
I met singer Janelle Monáe in November 2010 and we chatted about her music video "Tightrope”, in which she wears this fantastic oversized bow tie. This sparked my idea to search NYC for a unique bow-tie that represented me. Hitting dead ends, I decided to just sit down at my kitchen table and create one of my own. That table has put up a good fight in the past year, my tools and I haven’t exactly been its best friend. The occasion for my first bow tie was The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition opening of Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914. Inspired by Mr. Picasso and wanting to look sharp for the event, I hand crafted my first bow tie out of multi-coloured guitar picks, which I found buried in the closet of my uncle’s apartment, a wooden hanger, and super glue.

How did you move on from there?
My project, Made in Forest Hills started off as a sustainable way to look dapper for events at MoMA, where I work in Special Programming & Events. The response from friends and colleagues was great, and they encouraged me to continue re-purposing everyday materials into works of wearable art. I challenged myself to construct 11 bow ties designed around the major exhibition openings and benefit events orchestrated at the Museum that year. These became: The Bow Tie Collection. My bow ties were inspired by talks with curatorial colleagues, artist research, gut feelings, and my technical studies. Benefit events allowed more freedom as I was not constrained but challenged to interpret the events in a creative way. The pieces in the Collection range from looping film negatives with images of scenes from Pedro Almodóvar movies for MoMA’s fourth annual Film Benefit, to a LEGOS® bow tie for The Armory Show 2011 after-party, and a wine corks bow tie from the restaurants of my favourite chef, Jose Garces for the German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse exhibition opening. The bow ties have style and design influences from the art in the correlating exhibitions and also a sustainable aspect because all of the materials were found and recycled from my day-to-day life. Leftover chandelier crystals from a neighbourhood lighting store became the bow tie for Party in the Garden 2011 and I even crafted computer wires, circuit boards, and a working QR code into a bow tie for Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.

What plans do you have for the future? What materials are you looking to reuse?
For my next Collection, I will be making 100 different bow ties constructed from fun and found resources. I want this Collection to be participatory for the fans of my first Collection, so I'm asking people to supply me with materials that they would like to see made into a bow tie. You hand me a box of old cocktail stirrers, you're gonna see cocktail stirrers like never before! I'm not giving myself rules or guidelines, I really want to push the artistic craft and hopefully educate about sustainability along the way. I don't want to restrict myself to a specific size, or a certain form – the sky's the limit. I just hope none of the submitted materials require dry ice... if so, we may need to chat.

After seeing Nicholas’ fantastic work, we decided we wanted a slice of this super cool up-cycling action so we’re sending him some fabric from a retired hot air balloon envelope. Keep your eyes peeled on our blog for the final design!

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve done a bit of up-cycling. We previously teamed up with Worn Again to create a range of up-cycled products, including the "cheeky sling bag" which is still available to purchase on our Virgin Balloons website.