• Abi Newhouse Vaughn

The Upcyclers

In our unpacking episode, we included a few interviews from upcyclers Caroline Bond, Sarah Foreman, and Leohana Carrera. If you want to read a bit more about how these wonderful people are working to provide alternatives to clothing waste in the D.C. area, you can find a longer article I wrote here.

But as a quick overview, an average citizen throws away about 70-80 pounds of clothing a year. On top of that, D.C. doesn’t have its own landfill, so the city has to pay upwards of $200,000 to take waste to landfills in Virginia or Maryland. Bond, Foreman, and Carrera saw this problem and wanted to do something about it. Here’s a bit more about each of them:

Caroline Bond of The Cozy Experience downcycles donated clothing into rugs. You can find her work here. Bond sells the rugs on Etsy and at local markets, but she’s not necessarily in it for the money. Knowing that she can transform our culture of consumption into something greater fuels her to keep going. She has experience in farming, environmental practices, and for her day job, she works as a residential energy analyst for PEG. She’s also got some of the best environmental memes I’ve ever seen.

Sarah Foreman upcycles old clothing and other fabrics into new fashion pieces. Taking inspiration from designers and celebrity style, she creates beautiful and interesting clothing that is sure to last a lot longer than was originally intended. She also teaches sewing classes and helps locals upcycle their clothing at pop-up community Femme Fatale in D.C. A school teacher and costume designer for the school’s theater, you can follow her here to see more of what she’s up to.

Leohana Carrera of Our Restore created a subscription service similar to StitchFix, except using donated and upcycled clothing. Our Restore sends subscribers 7 clothing items to wear for one month, and then subscribers can switch those clothes out for others when the month is up. If you fall in love with a clothing item, you can also buy it instead of returning it. A business development manager for Equal Access International, Carrera works hard to create a sustainable system of reuse. Follow her here for updates.

Some of the biggest takeaways I found from these interviews were:

  1. It’s not hard. Each upcycler reiterated how easy it is to learn what they do. They don’t want anyone to feel intimidated if they have projects they’d like to try out.

  2. It’s important to find your niche. Maybe you don’t want to tie knots, or transform a curtain into a shirt. That’s okay. Think about what you like and go from there. Our unique interests can be sustainable, too.

For me, I just went to Goodwill one day and bought a few shirts and pullovers. When I came home, I started drawing out designs, thinking of ways I could either sew other fabric onto the shirts, or embroider the shirts with words and images. They’re all a work in progress–many still sit in my closet, half finished–but I’m excited to get lost in the creative process. I have to remind myself that I’m just starting out and my designs don’t have to be perfect right off the bat. But really, when I consider the upcyclers’ designs that I admire so much, it’s the imperfection, the handmade touches and tiny details, that make them interesting.

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