If You Leave Clothes At A Bar, I'm Going To Take Them And Make Them Cooler

Recycling what drunk people leave behind is much more ethical than what a lot of clothing brands do today.
Publish date:
July 16, 2014
bars, DIY, recycling, ethical fashion

I've been messing around with fabric and scissors for pretty much my entire life. I got yelled at for cutting up my new jeans, scolded for making two shirts out of one shirt, two strips of elastic, and a few staples, and sent home from school for breaking the dress code pretty frequently.

What can I say? I love to put my own personal touch on just about everything that comes into my hands. Once I figured out how to use a sewing machine, all bets were off.

My creations have evolved dramatically in the 15 or so years I've been sewing, but one thing has always stayed true: my refusal to participate in the wasteful, exploitive fashion culture that rules the roost for now. (I say "for now" because I know that crises both on terra firma and those in our conscience are making more space for designers like myself.) Fast fashion is, after all, in my own two hands, so why do I need to pay someone else for what I can do better myself? If I can dream it, I can make it, and another way to keep the earth and its dwellers from suffering for a $2.90 tank top is to choose recycled materials.

This resourceful mentality was something bestowed upon me by the character Maria in The Sound of Music. God, I love that movie! Her use of discarded drapes to make clothing for no fewer than seven children stayed in my mind forever, molding my perspective of fabric and clothing to be more conscientious.

Most people in my life are supportive, active participants in my acquisition of materials. I don’t salvage every single component for my designs, but I try to keep that number north of 75% of the finished product. Knowing this, people give me their unwanted clothing, home furnishings, and accessories by the 30-gallon bag for me to collect, cut up, and capitalize on.

One of the sources of "new" material was the bars I used to work at. If you left a cashmere sweater at a bar in the Lower East Side between the years 2009 and 2013, I probably have it. Sorry, but I waited two whole weeks to see if someone called for it, and you never did. If you called and asked someone to put it aside for you, chances are it’s not hanging in my closet, so you can rest easy -- I don’t snag people’s spoken-for goods. But if you left a chambray shirt and didn’t call or pick it up for three weeks, I am sorry to tell you that I cut the sleeves off and replaced them with pieces of lace curtain from my Babcia’s house.

See, when you leave stuff and never call up and ask for it, it goes in a big bag, in a big pile, somewhere in the tiny off-limits part of the bar until it is quite literally encroaching on the staff’s personal space and the boss usually takes a swift four to six weeks before doing anything about it. I always offered to pick through a bit before bugging my bosses to donate -- not trash -- the items, and ended up with a small stash just big enough to fuel my creative pursuits for another month or so.

So that shirt you left at the bar doesn’t miss you -- it’s cut-up, re-done, and hanging up in my friend’s beautiful independent shop in Hudson, New York, called The Store. You're welcome to buy it back in its new state, and I hope you learned your lesson about wasting clothing.

Clothes are something that most Americans take for granted. Millions of dollars are made to give you what you want, and much of this is done on the backs of less fortunate members of our now global society. You cannot be perfect -- and believe me, I don’t expect perfection -- but you can spend your money in places where responsibility is practiced. If any single garment cost less than $10, the chances of wage exploitation are much higher; and besides, you can easily research a company’s labor practices.

Unfortunately, my choice to be a fashion renegade has kept me from entering the proper job market for my craft, but I'm OK with that. Choosing instead to work for money in other ways, but always sew for myself and my ideals, I have to be satisfied with a slow simmer. Most designers at the senior or namesake level don’t even lay a hand on a sewing machine -- they leave that to the peons. I find that unacceptable. The wastefulness, excess and exploitation comes in many forms, and all of the profit is funnelled to the top. I can’t imagine myself busting out sketches in an ivory-tower design office without imagining the hundreds of people that make in one month what I would make in an hour; and that is a discrepancy I cannot abide by.

Until the day comes when I can pay a few dozen people a fair wage to help me produce more items, it will just be me and my late nonna’s 1942 industrial Singer, which she used to sew garments for Oscar De La Renta in in the 1960s, when design and manufacture took place on different floors of a building, not different continents.