the Art of Repurposing

When I think of thrift and peace – I often think of being at peace with the earth, by which I mean using thrift as a means for keeping things out of the landfill. You may not always be able to find what you’re looking for but creative people look at thrift shops as tool boxes: a place to find materials that they then re-purpose or turn into something new.

Sarah at work at the MCC BC Material Resource Centre where she is weaving jeans into rugs

One of those creative folks is my friend and colleague, Sarah Clements. Sarah works for MCC in our Material Resource Centre. MCC used to send used clothing overseas to those in need but in recent years the demand for this has declined sharply as used and inexpensive clothing has become more readily available in-country. Yet, the donations of used clothing to MCC has not declined so the organization had to get creative. That’s where Sarah comes in. Part of her work there is to repurpose clothing into new items giving them new life – turning jeans into pillows, leather jackets into purses, sweaters into journal covers, or buttons into bracelets. She has also started her own etsy shop – Sugarplum Street –  where she sells super cute baby booties made from recycled clothing. I asked Sarah to share with me a little bit about her motivation and her work.

in the foreground you see lunch bags, in the background tote bags and purses all made from recycled clothing

TSFP: How long have you been repurposing clothing? How did you get started?

 Sarah: I first learned to sew when I was quite young, probably 7 or 8. My mom is a sewer and a lot of what I know comes from her. I started out as many other people do, going to the fabric store to find the pattern and material I wanted to work with. But there always seemed to be alterations I wanted to do to the patterns in order to make them into what I really wanted, which was frustrating. Before long, I was searching through my mom’s storage boxes and finding pieces that I could redesign into something for me.

One of my favourite finds was a box of vintage quilted squares that were originally intended for a blanket but were turned into a skirt instead. I think I was drawn into repurposing clothing because it best allowed me to express my creativity, it made the most sense to me. I like the concept of finding a piece of clothing and from there deciding what it should be. Creating one-of-a-kind items is something I find both challenging and exciting. While I do use some of my own patterns now, using clothing as my main inspiration still allows what I make to be unique in its own way.

baby booties made from recycled leather and cordurouy. these are for sale in Sarah's etsy shop: Sugarplum Street

TSFP: Why do you think it’s important to recycle; what motivates you to do this?

Sarah: What first started out as a passion to create has now evolved into a guideline for living. I remember doing a science project in grade 7 about what the world would look “in the future”. Most kids including myself came up with models that completely sheltered human life from any contact with outside air. It was so matter-of-fact, we simply assumed that the earth would become toxic and deadly. Isn’t that crazy?

Today, we either pretend that nothing is wrong with the earth or we just accept that it will one day become toxic. I for one would hate to see the day when the magnolias fail to bloom. I guess I came to a point in life where I realized I was responsible for my impact on the planet. The earth is not here to serve us as we please. We cannot continue to exploit natural resources and assume that there will be no repercussions – hence, recycling. I want to live at peace with creation and one way I can do that is by taking second-hand items and transforming them into something new. The more I do this, the more motivated I am to make a difference and hopefully others will be impacted in the process.

TSFP: Why did you decide to start with baby booties? Will you expand to other items?

Sarah: The idea of baby booties first came as a means of using scraps from other projects. It has now developed into one of my favourite items to create. I get to use the details I love such as buttons and lace while making a quality product that is both useful and affordable. I also think it gives parents a neat opportunity to recognize that there are other options out there when it comes to clothing their babies.

In the future, I hope to expand Sugarplum Street to include other kid-friendly items. I’ve been gathering vintage baby fabrics in hopes of creating unique layette blankets. My goal is to use repurposed clothing or up-cycled fabric throughout my entire line.

Be sure to visit Sugarplum Street and see what Sarah’s been up to. And tell me about your re-purposing adventures!

It’s Thrift Share Monday over at Apron Thrift Girl – check out what others are doing in the thrift world!

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3 Responses to the Art of Repurposing

  1. Ann says:

    I love what Sarah is doing. As a non-sewer, I admire people who are so gifted in this area. More so, I admire her desire to be socially/environmentally responsible. I’m through with babies, or I’d pick up a pair of her products!

    • i am also not a seamstress and appreciate those who have that skill; i just love the creativity and the passion that Sarah has. And i’m also not having babies but boy those booties would sure make great gifts!

  2. Beverly says:

    what an admirable lady!

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