Making a difference one wrapper at a time, junior Alex Fister takes her artistic abilities to the next level through recycling


Modeling one of her pieces, Fister transformed a collection of plastic bags into this practical hat

Emma Ingledew

In an effort to save the planet, the motto that many were repeatedly taught growing up was “reduce, reuse and recycle.” These three words serve as a reminder to pay attention to the amount of waste individuals produce, but not all people take this catchy slogan to heart the way junior Alex Fister is with her jewelry making.

“When I was in the seventh grade I did a research project on plastic bags and I realized that they were really bad for the environment. I didn’t know what to do to reuse them, but then I saw online that people made hats out of plastic for the homeless and I decided it would be cool to make one,”  Fister said.

Fister’s fascination in reusing materials such as Starburst and gum wrappers started in the seventh grade. Since then, her motivation to make jewelry and her interest in the environment has only grown stronger.

“I actually had a director from a play that I was in and she gave me a book called Paper Made and it had all these instructions on how to make things out of paper and origami-type things. One of the things was a bracelet out of gum wrappers and I thought ‘Oh that’s really cool, I want to try it.’ I tried it with a bunch of [materials] and just applied the same methods,” Fister said.

Fister has always been concerned about the environment and thought jewelry would be a creative way to reuse waste. Describing the process in making an accessory, she holds up a vibrant bracelet with a mix of yellow, orange, red and pink. At a first glance, one might only notice solid colors, however by taking a closer look, small Starburst logos suddenly make an appearance  

“I get most [materials] from myself and my friends. Also from eating gum and just saving all the rappers. I think one of my friends was eating a big package of Starburst and I just collected all of the wrappers to make this [bracelet],” Fister said.

One of Fister’s close friends is junior Spencer McConnell who creates similar art with his jewelry. Together they run the Instagram account, @_gem_attic, to publicize and display their creations. Although Fister and McConnell share similarities in creating jewelry, rather than creating his art out of used material like Fister, McConnell has a considerable amount of experience utilizing metals to form different shapes and displays this interest through his art and jewelry.

“I have a grandmother who is a metalsmith as well as a jeweler. What I would do was go over to her place and we would make different pieces out of metal. The process of that is you get a metal powder and add certain elements to it and you can mold it to different shapes,” McConnell said.

McConnell understands that there are trade-offs when it comes to accessories—sometimes things that are appealing to look at aren’t always practical to wear. However, with his work, he hopes to find a balance between the two.

“If you look at how the human brain works, we are attracted to bright and shiny things. I take that and look at things I own like rocks, crystals or metal, and wonder how I can put this together in a way that is appealing to look at and to wear,” McConnell said.

McConnell and Fister have known each other since elementary school and have made the most out of their artistic abilities by joining forces. What makes their teamwork even more interesting is the differentiation between their art.  

“I was in the seventh grade when I made Alex a necklace for her birthday and she was like, ‘Oh that’s so cool, let me show you what I have been making.’ She then pulled out this box and in it were different pieces of jewelry that she had made, but they were very different from the jewelry I made which was with stones and metal. She pulled out a pair of origami crayon earrings which I thought was really cool and interesting. We had already been friends for a while but we got closer through our love for making jewelry,” McConnell said.

Joining forces, Fister and McConnell created an Instagram account, but Fister simultaneously runs an Etsy account. Etsy allows people to sell handmade, vintage items of all kinds online. With their contrasting styles of origami and metal, their Instagram and Etsy accounts (The Alex Attic) come together to form a unique combination of accessories. With social media platforms such as Instagram and Etsy, together they can draw attention to their creativity. However, for Fister, she is also sending a broader message regarding the environment with her one-of-a-kind jewelry.

Not only did Fister put more time and effort into her work going into high school, but she also became a member of the Environmental Actions Club. Although Fister is no longer a member, to this day she appreciates the encouragement she got from her friends and club adviser, Joe Stewart, to enter a competition and display her work.

“I’ve only entered one art competition where I use a similar method to make this [hat] but I make it into a jellyfish and it was for awareness for plastic in the ocean. That’s the only one I’ve done so far, but I want to do bigger and bolder projects. Some people have made dresses out of recycled newspapers and I think that would be an interesting thing to try,” Fister said.

As a supervisor to the Environmental Action club and an Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher, Stewart enjoys seeing students like Fister taking the initiative to make change for the environment. Considering the not so environmentally friendly cultural norms that accompany Redwood (whether it be placing driving on a pedestal or not cleaning up trash), people like Fister receive appreciation for their efforts in reducing these cultural impacts.

“I think that ultimately we are a part of the environment. Everything is interconnected and we play a role. When we chose to eat something we are impacting the environment. When we chose to get in our cars we are impacting the environment. Having an awareness and working to increase your own awareness is important, and the sorts of things that Alex is attempting [to do] doesn’t only minimize her own personal impact, but also gives an opportunity for others to consider what theirs might be. I think that’s really important,” Stewart said.

At the end of the day, Stewart understands that people will make different decisions. Whether these choices make a positive or negative impact on the environment, he is reassured knowing that there are students like Fister making a difference one candy wrapper bracelet at a time.  

“We only really have control over ourselves in how we want to walk through the environment metaphorically, so ultimately that’s where a lot of our choices are being made. We can lead by example and also get a message out there so I appreciate that Alex is doing both of those things,” Stewart said.