The Story Behind Maya Penn’s Met Gala Gown Made From Plastic Waste

Ben Rosser

Activist and sustainable style designer Maya Penn made her Met Gala debut on Monday, May 1, gracing the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s grand staircase in an eco-friendly gown by Coach. The sustainable style advocate attended fashion’s biggest night, representing Coachtopia, the brand’s innovative new sub-brand focused on advancing the circular fashion system.

With the 2023 Met Gala theme honoring the legacy of Karl Lagerfeld, Penn wanted to pay homage to both the style of the iconic designer and stay true to her sustainable ethos, letting Mother Nature be her main inspiration for her one-of-a-kind look. “I’m definitely excited to be at the Met Gala representing sustainable fashion on the carpet,” the 23-year-old artist and designer told POPSUGAR ahead of the gala. “I’m someone who’s been in the sustainable fashion space for 15 years. I started my own eco-friendly fashion company, called Maya’s Ideas, in 2008 when I was eight years old. I’ve been an environmental and climate activist for pretty much as long as I can remember but being an environmental activist, a multi-hyphenate artist, a multidisciplinary artist, and being able to really bring all of those kind of authentic elements of myself to the Met is definitely, something that I couldn’t have imagined it coming together in a better way.”

“Being able to utilize literal plastic waste from the Met Museum and upcycle and turn it into something new and gorgeous [is] incredible.”

Penn went on to explain her involvement with Coachtopia’s launch and the design philosophy of helping to reduce waste by working with previously-used materials and creating from “nothing new.” The young advocate explained that she was inspired by Coach’s new focus on “extending the lifecycle and lifespan of their products,” which she added was “so necessary for this industry.”

“They’re doing some really innovative and experimental stuff… and for the look itself, being able to utilize literal plastic waste from the Met Museum and upcycle and turn it into something new and gorgeous [is] incredible,” the artist and animator said of her custom Coach gown. Penn’s dress and matching mini bag were made from upcycled materials ranging from scrap vintage lace, discarded bike tire tubes, aluminum soda cans, and even hot dog packaging sourced from vendors outside of the Met – another sustainable tie to the New York-based museum.

The handmade gown also featured leftover silk chiffon materials from Coach’s Fall 2023 runway show and naturally dyed using Dandelion flowers. Honoring Lagerfeld’s statement design traits, florals were a popular motif on the Met Gala red carpet, and were also included in Penn’s look. The large flower appliqué on the shoulder of her dress was constructed from discarded plastic packaging waste along with scraps of antique lace. “I’m an artist. I’m a designer. I’m an animator. I’m a painter. I incorporate all of my different things that I love aesthetically about my various art forms that I use in my work into my fashion,” Penn said. “And I know this next statement’s going to make a lot of people pearl-clutch, but I’ve just never been a follower of trends, really. I’ve always just had my own unique personal style, and I’ve never really felt influenced to dress a specific way.”

Ahead, see how Penn got ready for her first Met Gala with Coach.

Related: See Every Arrival on the 2023 Met Gala Red Carpet

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