I remember the first time, nearly 20 years ago, I walked into a Recycle Warehouse that housed over seven floors of curbside collectibles. I was interviewing for a Product Developer and Marketing/Sales position because we all know that in Non-Profit there is no such thing as one job.
This company was where I became alive. I had found my true passion. My responsibilities weren't just R&D. It was my job to train my sewers and set up production. I was to design and open a retail space while opening wholesale accounts for our product line. This is where I knew it was possible to make a difference.
We were a company that had a big social mission. We would train, educate and create jobs for the homeless or underemployed in the local area. How did we do this? By developing innovative products from post-consumer materials and selling in our retail store as well as wholesale accounts. Reselling vintage and collectibles in our retail store, and reselling various items to third-world countries -- this was known as the Ragging Industry. Equipped with a donated truck, items housed in an abandoned warehouse in a less-than-desirable neighborhood, and curbside collection, was just the beginning. We were to open our retail store within my first year. The mixing of socializing and business dealings was never heard of until nearly 25 years later.
I trained sewers, who learned to adapt quickly and got used to producing the goods that weren't the traditional stuff they had seen in stores. This was the 1990s on the east coast, the industrial side of the country. I only knew of one Designer who was tackling this problem. I was fortunate to have her guidance during various stages. Crispina was the true Master of innovation and upcycling long before the word existed. There were many minds involved and many teams to be developed.
I felt like Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory -- so many yummy things. I knew immediately if I was to make this position work, I had to intensely focus on one or two fiber types. It was evident that the revolving door for this position was overwhelming.
My first affair began with denim, jeans to be precise. I stuck with denim jeans for very pre-Urban Outfitters interior pillows, slipcovers and interior furniture that was reupholstered with this durable fabric, then used belts as decorative features along with studded tacks. The upcycled jeans were durable and stain removal was easy.
Novelty pieces were developed for a kitschy sense of design. Christmas stockings in the shape of a cowboy boot, even bandos (part denim, part cotton) which were a cross between a scarf and headband that folded like origami. It was my version of the cowboy line that lead to many fun accessories. We were developing unusual products, Urban Outfitters was knocking on our door within my first year. It was a roller coaster ride that had only one stop at the end. What I never saw coming was that there wasn't an end to this ride.
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