Reuse

By Reina V. Kutner

October 2, 2009 5 min read

When it comes to the green movement, environmentally savvy consumers love organic cotton and sustainable practices for producing eco-friendly clothing and accessories. However, they seem to have forgotten something: those T-shirts living a lonely existence in the back of their closets.

The average American throws away 68 pounds of textiles a year -- something which Justina and Faith Blakeney would like to prevent.

These sisters are the founders of Compai, a fashion line that features vintage and older clothes that are remade into new things. They have become so successful that they have published multiple books on how to transform old T-shirts, denim and more. Their latest book, "Refashioned Bags: Upcycle Anything Into High-Style Handbags," creates chic yet unique handbags out of the unlikeliest materials, such as broken umbrellas and plastic grocery bags.

"This has become a movement, and we are at the forefront," Justina says.

The sisters started their company in 2001, after they finished at Polimoda, the Italian sister school of the Fashion Institute of Technology. They opened up a store for recycled clothing -- namely vintage, to start. For the sisters, it was a very special thing, as they grew up going to get their clothes from The Salvation Army in Berkeley, Calif. But Italy never had heard of it, and there was no store like theirs in the country.

"It was very revolutionary in Italy," Faith says. "We were pioneers on a mission."

They grew to have a big following among foreign students, but things started to change when they started customizing clothing. Everyone asked for a special piece, and Justina and Faith realized there was a market for it.

"If we teach people to do this, there will be more recycled clothing in the world, and it will be better for the environment," Justina says. That was when they started writing their books.

Before you go tearing up your clothing, know the grades of clothing you have. According to Justina, there are three levels of used clothing:

*Decent clothes go to thrift shops, such as Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

*Items that are wearable but not in great condition are shipped to people in developing countries.

*Clothes that are worn and tattered, or third-grade, are landfill-bound. These are the clothes and items that Justina and Faith often use, sometimes alongside sustainable fabrics.

And it's not just clothes that can be used as the textiles for your new outfits. Anything but underwear is perfectly acceptable to use in the creation of new clothes and even accessories.

Faith insists that all you need in order to get started is a little imagination and a pair of scissors. Being an expert seamstress is not required.

"Part of the allure of the books is that they are for novices as well as designers," she says.

In order to begin, Justina suggests starting with the clothing that otherwise would be thrown away. Even if you don't create wearable pieces on your first try, they are great for practicing.

Although following your instincts and playing around with your clothes is a great first step, there are also tutorials available on YouTube and http://www.ThreadBanger.com, a site that the Blakeney sisters work with. For those who would prefer in-person experience, Faith and Justina also teach classes for all ages.

"It's as simple as cutting the collar off your T-shirt," Justina says, adding that that's just the beginning of how far you can go.

In addition to the fun of creating a new wardrobe out of what you have and saving the environment, Justina adds that in tough economic times, you can't beat the price. It's the best way to get yourself new outfits without paying a cent for them.

"If you don't have the money, you don't have to stare at the same clothes every day," she says.

The Blakeney sisters find themselves in a unique place in the environmental world, as they are not marketing a green product.

"As far as the green movement, we're going from a different angle," Justina says. "We have to make a living, but we're about giving people the tools so they can use more and buy less."

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