Reduce, reuse, recycle…redefine? MSU students use campus waste for atypical fashion design

Scrap fabric. Plastic tubing and mesh. Planters. CDs and mirrors. Once donated items to the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center, these materials are now being used by MSU Arts and Humanities students to construct costumes for the homecoming parade on Oct. 14.

The class, called Reclamation Studio, is led by artist and Residential College of Arts and Humanities professor Steven Baibak in collaboration with the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center. Any of the materials at the store or free recycled materials, all sourced from MSU’s campus, are available for students to use in their designs.


“In some ways, this is like … MSU’s wake of consumption,” Baibak said. “It’s all the stuff that nobody wants and is left behind. Like detritus.”

The Surplus Store and Recycling Center, part of infrastructure planning and facilities at MSU, is responsible for managing all of MSU’s waste as a resource, said Surplus Store education coordinator Katie Deska. 

“We receive reusable items, recyclables, campus food waste, as well as our landfill material,” Deska said. “We handle the material from the reuse, recycling, composting and landfill side.”

Within the class, three groups of students are working together to redefine the typical suit with recycled materials in a project called Spartan Upcycle. Baibak has led versions of the class for four semesters now, but this is the first time students will get to showcase their designs in the homecoming parade. The class aims to teach students resourcefulness and how to be healthy consumers, Baibak said. 


“It’s about getting to know the materials and building a relationship to their physical aspects,” Baibak said. “Their hardness, their softness, their pliability. It’s all about an exploration of analog reality in a material world. … It’s seeing the potentiality of material. I can’t think of anything more valuable than that.”

Emma Newman, a third-year Arts and Humanities major at MSU, said her and her group mates’ costume was inspired by a planter shaped like a dog that they found in the free section at the Surplus Store. 

“We didn’t want him to be a dog, we wanted to make him something else,” Newman said. “We wanted it to look like a magician … and it kind of evolved into this space magician alien creature.”


Baibak said working with found objects engages all of the senses.

“It speaks to ingenuity, it speaks to creativity, it speaks to the way we learn and create and innovate new things,” Baibak said.

Spartan Upcycle, a group within the Surplus Store, reworks donated and collected items that are not in the condition to be sold at the store as is.

“We are helping to encourage people to change their perception of what waste is and to look at materials differently,” Deska said.


The Surplus Store, located off of Farm Lane and Green Way, is open to the public on Fridays, where handcrafted furniture, upcycled items and more can be purchased. It also hosts free monthly educational events and crafting workshops across campus. 

“What’s great about this class is both for the students who get to come and participate, but then hopefully, they’ll have some stories they share with their friends … getting that awareness is a really big thing because we are on the south side of campus, off the beaten path,” Deska said.

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Spartan Upcycle is hosting a campus-wide event at the Recycling Center from noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 1. Students can swap clothes and books, tour the recycling and vermicompost facilities and create art. The full calendar of events can be found on the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center website.


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