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Her umbrella clothes light up world

By Whitney Hurst, CNN
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Umbrella re-designer stalks New York
  • Broken umbrellas find second life at the hands of Catherine Charlot
  • Cocktail dresses, tote bags and more are created from umbrella material
  • Charlot hopes to make people's lives "a little bit better maybe"

New York (CNN) -- Most people toss out their busted umbrellas after a strong storm rips them apart. But for Catherine Charlot, these broken remnants are true treasures.

After rainy weather hits New York City, Charlot takes to the streets collecting umbrellas from roads, subway stations and trash cans. Then she totes them back to her Brooklyn studio and transforms them from trash into fashion.

Her unique pieces are anything but shabby.

Charlot creates chic cocktail dresses, tote bags and dog clothes from umbrella material and other recycled fabrics for her clothing line Himane. She has even made a wedding dress using 15 white umbrellas.

After watching the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Charlot was inspired to make her own version of the little black dress, thinking, "I really love that black dress, but I don't want to do the same kind of little black dress. What about I try something out of umbrellas?

"And I took 3 umbrellas and I designed a beautiful gown."

Wet-weather months provide an abundance of fabric for Charlot. "In March, during the rainy month, I collected 237 umbrellas," she said.

The job can lead to interesting situations. One woman who came across Charlot digging deep in a trash can mistook her for a homeless person and offered her lunch.

But Charlot doesn't mind. She believes she is helping to reduce the amount of garbage on the streets. "I think I'm doing a lot. I'm helping a lot because all those umbrellas and all those fabrics are going to end up in a landfill."

Her creations are mostly sold online. The umbrella dresses start at $200, dog clothes are $40, and purses are about $150.

It's fashion for a good cause. Charlot says 10 percent of every sale she makes will go to a school she is building in her home country of Haiti. The school, Charlot said, will be "something young kids can just go and learn something positive, learn how to recycle, how to do something with their hands, and be useful for tomorrow."

Charlot believes she is making a difference at home, too. "By purchasing and buying one dress, a bag made out of a recycled umbrella, right there you're showing your support, you're doing something that is right, that is good for the environment, for you, for your kids, or for everybody," she said.

Meanwhile, Charlot is committed to braving the rainy New York City streets on the hunt for trashed umbrellas. "I'll keep on going and recycling and do whatever I can just to make our lives easier, a little bit better maybe."