Spectators are often awestruck when they first see the Opera Recycles dresses, and rightfully so. Each dress is a feat of creativity, skill, and imagination; it is hard to believe that these couture gowns are made entirely from paper. This initiative would not be what it is today without the help of the talented designers. Opera Carolina recently sat down with one of these designers, Malou Tabada Cordery, who has already created two incredible dresses for the program and is in the process of designing two more.

Although she never studied formally at a design school, Malou has successfully competed in several upcycled and recycled fashion shows. Her design career began while she was pregnant with her first daughter. Malou taught herself how to sew during this time, and continued creating clothes for her two daughters as they grew up. In 2011, she was introduced to CharlotteSeen during a charity fashion show that her eldest daughter Genevieve, the reigning Miss Asia Carolinas at the time, had been invited to. From there, Malou’s recycled fashion career blossomed. She went on to design dresses for Charlotte Fashion Week, CharlotteSeen’s Passport for Fashion show, the Color Me Goodwill competition, The Sparkle Charity Project, and of course, Opera Recycles.

Along with the Opera Carolina printed marketing materials, Malou works with materials such as plastic table cloths, the caps of IV bottles and hospital gowns from the hospital where she works. Malou says that most of her design education has been trial and error; each new material comes with its challenges. For example, the Opera Carolina paper dresses can be very hot and cumbersome to wear, which is why Malou’s daughters, Genevieve and Alyson are the primary models for her dresses.

Malou works from her own home, usually committing an hour or so each night to whatever design she is working on. Her kitchen has been transformed into a design studio; when I walked in, I was greeted by a mannequin clad in Opera Carolina banners next to the fridge, a kitchen table covered in fabric liners, hot glue, and IV bottle caps, and The Beatles’ music playing in the background. Malou loves to work with her hands, and often will work on her designs during lunch breaks at the hospital. Her family and coworkers have all been supportive through this journey, often offering up their own recycled materials.

Last year Malou created two stunning dresses for Opera Carolina with marketing materials from Opera Carolina’s production of La traviata. These dresses were inspired by fashion from that time period and have instantly become Opera Recycles classics. Opera Carolina is so grateful for Malou’s talent and expertise, and we are looking forward to her future designs.