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Is wearing seat belts in fashion?

Harley McDaniel shows off her creation that she entered into the contest.

Sure, seat belts are for safety. But seat belts as a fashion statement?

Recently, three St. Croix Central students, along with six others from the metro area, proved that seat belts have got the look.

Sophomore Kia Arendt and eighth-graders Harley McDaniel and Jaimee Max were invited to work alongside three textile artists to create wearable garments using seat belts in Project Beltway on Jan. 17-18.

The project was a part of AAA's safe teen driving program "Fast and In Focus," meant to teach new drivers about safe driving practices. This particular project's message was to make seat belts part of everyone's daily attire. The Textile Center of MN hosted the program.

In Project Beltway, participants ages 13-18 were required to make a garment with seat belts prominently incorporated into the design. The following weekend the garments hit the runway, modeled by the designers or friends of the designers.

Participants in Project Beltway were chosen by Becka Rahn, education manager at the Textile Center of MN.

"It was kind of fun for me," she said. Art teachers and other program administrators sent recommendation letters to Rahn. Students filled out a questionnaire about their previous experiences and personal style. From that pool, Rahn took her top picks and put others on a waiting list.

"I tried to pick kids who would get a lot out of the experience and wouldn't have the opportunity to do something like this," Rahn explained.

Allison Drane, Jason Zielsdorf and Shannon Clicquennoi were alternates from SCC put on the list.

McDaniel and Max both said they were thrilled at the opportunity.

Neither, however, had any serious sewing experience.

Max said she made a sewing project in home ec once.

"It didn't go very well," Max admitted.

Arendt, however, said she's an experienced designer. She got her first sewing machine as a third-grader and taught herself from there. Her current fashion resumé includes mittens, a jacket, dresses and skirts. Currently, she's making a friend's prom dress.

"I want to be a fashion designer," Arendt explained. After finishing high school she hopes to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

"I can do it," she said in regards to the tough competition and high cost of the school.

The eighth-graders weren't worried about their lack of sewing and design experience.

"We're more expressive through what we know and like through fashion," McDaniel said. "It (design) is not something you can have a teacher show you."

The artists at Project Beltway taught the non-seamstresses different ways to sew without stitches, McDaniel said. Hot glue guns, duct tape and safety pins all helped assemble the designs.

One part of their dresses both McDaniel and Max couldn't get out of stitching was the skirt.

"That was difficult. It took a lot of brain," Max laughed.

Other students there didn't struggle with assembly as much. The winner, Max said, knew all about fashion.

"He's amazing. He's just awesome," Max raved.

Max and McDaniel admitted it was a little intimidating to work alongside experienced sewers, but they had their own art experiences to back them up. Max enjoys pottery and dying cloth. McDaniel likes to sketch and draw. Both are part of the set crew for SCC theatrical productions.

"Oh yea, we're artistic. Just in different ways," McDaniel said.

Rahn and the Textile Center of MN crew were a little worried about sewing seat belts, Rahn said. Since no one had sewn the material before, they didn't know how the machines would handle it.

"The seat belts weren't hard to sew," Arendt said. They did have to burn the edges so they wouldn't fray.

All 3,000 feet of seat belt was donated from the Ford plant in St. Paul. Rahn said she isn't sure if the general public can even buy the material.

Seat belt buckles are also hard to come by.

"The lovely people from AAA went to junk yards and got buckles from junked cars," Rahn said. "They (participants) loved that part."

McDaniel let her creativity flow when she used the three colors of seat belt provided. She cut strips of belt and frayed it to make a necklace, bracelet and other accessories.

Those are a hot item now, she said. Friends and family members are clamoring to get them.

Max and Arendt are pleased with their work as well.

"I totally love how my dress turned out," Arendt said.

The following weekend, participants headed back to the Textile Center of MN to flaunt their work in a runway show.

Max said "about a bazillion" people were there watching them. Rahn estimated a little lower, at about 175 spectators.

Modeling was yet another new experience for Max, McDaniel and Arendt. TV crews from Twin Cities stations added to the pressure.

"I need to work on my cat walk," McDaniel said, smiling.

Anna Lee, of; Rep. Melissa Hortman, who helped pass the Minnesota seat belt law; Sarah Rogers, stylist for the Mall of America; Rena Sarigianopoulos, from KARE 11; and an AAA representative judged the creations.

"They (participants) all amazed me," Rahn said. "Two of the top three were 13 years old."

Even though none of the SCC designers walked away with the top prize, they still enjoyed the experience.

"It was worth every drop of frustration. My dress turned out great," Max said.

All three said they'd do this particular project again, but they're also planning different fashion related events in the future.

Arendt said she and four friends are hoping to organize Second Runway next year. In Second Runway, local designers take old clothes and remake them into their own designs.

The duo of Max and McDaniel have something a little more exotic in the works. They want to use a more colorful medium for their next sewn undertaking

"Starburst wrappers," they laughed.