Upcycling your wardrobe for Mother Earth
An interview with Dramatique Designs owner/artist Erin Bass
Portland, OR — As Tik Tok has grown in popularity, so has the concept known as “thrift flipping” or upcycling clothing. Through social media platforms, influencers have shed light on the environmental benefits (among others) of repurposing and rejuvenating clothes some might have simply sent off to the dump.
Portland upcycling virtuoso Erin Bass continues to gain popularity, growing her online following in a way that's very PNW: organically. Bass can be found on Tik Tok now as well, but her experience with the craft of repurposing clothing spans back to before it was trendy.
“I can remember cutting up pillowcases my mom gave me at a very young age and doing my best (armed with Elmer's glue), to turn them into clothing for my Barbies,” Erin says. “My creativity has always been something I have expressed wholly: from crafting at a young age, to exploring my identity through theatre, to creating new from old, which is what I do now.”
Though she may not have recognized it as a young girl styling her dolls, Erin says now another aspect that makes upcycling a passion is the impact it can have on Earth. For her, being able to create fun fashions for herself and others that express their personalities is a perk, but one just as timeless as the perk of sustaining our planet.
“I have always had an eye for quirky, unique and quality clothing, but was not always so aware of where or how my clothing was produced,” Erin explains. “‘Fast Fashion,’ usually relies on underpaid workers, and unsustainable, mass-produced materials. It’s fast; it’s cheap, but it is not durable, and it is not a sustainable option for the world we live in. I realized that I could use my passion for creating and sewing to take the old (thrifted clothing, vintage fabric, throw-aways), and turn it into something wearable while saving it from the landfill.”
Just like how personal growth really isn’t linear, Erin argues that the life of an article of clothing also doesn’t have to be linear. Rather than yards of denim becoming a pair of jeans then becoming just another item on the landfill heap, that same material could be renewed into parts of or even a whole new item.
“Buying secondhand and upcycling means you are positively contributing to the decrease in worldwide textile demand and future waste. But, it is mostly beneficial when we do this in a way that fits with the circular fashion model,” Erin explains. “Circular fashion starts when the design process assures that these clothing items stay in circulation as long as possible, by using sustainable, raw materials (and saving cutoffs to use for other items) that can easily be recycled without the need to extract other sources; It’s where the production of an item and the end of it’s life are equally as important. By keeping materials and clothing in use, it disrupts that linear trajectory we have become so used to.”
This environmental side effect, for Erin, actually outweighs what some critics consider negative impacts of more popular thrift flippers.
Some critics of mainstream thrift flippers argue there is sizeism in the trend as popular flippers tend to purchase plus-size clothing and flip it to fit them, thus diminishing the supply of plus-size clothing at thrift store prices. Erin says the mission of “circular fashion” as well as the mental health benefits of creativity for these people are also important, and that she as an upcycler does try to be intentional about making her creations accessible for people of all sizes and gender identities.
“First off, let me say that ANYTHING you’re doing to keep the flow of circular fashion moving is excellent; saving clothing from the landfill is a great thing,” Erin explains. “These people that are buying thrifted clothing to turn into new fashions are not just helping the environment, but they are also combating mental health by doing something that is creatively healthy! They may not be professional seamstresses, but they are embracing a hobby that comforts and excites them. In all honesty, we should be celebrating this type of creativity, not shaming. And let me validate: As a curvy gal I empathize with how hard it can be to find vintage or thrifted clothing that fits. As I hear many say: ‘A lot if it is a bit frumpy, too small, etc.’ That is where I come in as an upcycled designer! I can meet the needs of ALL sizes, and perform my magic “fabric surgery” as I like to call it, to turn small into big, big into small, scraps into dresses and more. I encourage people to seek out upcycled designers like myself to meet their needs! So to reiterate: These folks that are buying thrifted clothing to make something new; they are not stealing. They are contributing to the circular fashion model, and they are being creative. Support them, celebrate them, encourage them; but please do not be upset with them.”
Among the rewards of upcycling, Erin adds, is simply the joy of creating.
“When you are doing something that brings you utter joy and fire in your heart, you keep at it,” Erin says. “I love creating something out of nothing; the transformation is beautiful. I also believe that upcycling highlights the idea of eradication, and turning something that may be waste into something new. Upcycling promotes sustainable innovation for me.”
To those who may be interested in upcycling clothing, Erin says “Go for it!” She admits there have been challenges to turning her creative passion for upcycling into a business.
“It can take an immense amount of time from pattern creation to final product, and it is a challenge sometimes to have my prices questioned. As an upcycled designer I need to be able to charge based on materials, time, and quality of product, and I think for some it can be hard to understand why I might charge $400-$800 or more. for an embroidered and upcycled denim jacket,” Erin explains. “I embroider by hand and often a jacket can take months, as well as a lot of other fine details that I hand-sew and machine-sew in. My products are intensely unique and meant to last a lifetime; it can be challenging to charge accordingly.”
That said, there are ways to cut costs, including raiding your own and others’ closets. Just remember: You should probably ask before turning your mom’s fave dress from the 80’s into a crop top or a groovy jacket.
“Ask family (members) for clothing they may be getting reading to rid of and practice on these items,” Erin advises. “Sewing and creating my own patterns came very naturally to me, it was like I was always meant to do it. That said, the biggest learning curve was knowing how to be unique, and stand out as an original designer, and that can be very difficult in the fashion world. But I think I have found my niche, and am very happy with it. Let your creativity flow! There is no right or wrong when it comes to creating. The end product will bring you joy as long as you put your heart into it.”
Find Erin online!
“I create for all genders; ANYONE can wear the colorful and eclectic items that I create, I do not believe in making my creations gender specific; I want my customers to feel like they can be themselves in my creations, regardless of gender! Also, remember: when you support handmade, you are not just buying a creative item. Small businesses bring more jobs to your community, reduce the world's carbon footprint, reduce the over- production of many products and unethical sourcing of goods, and most importantly: handmade is HUMAN. It is not a buzzword. It is genuine, authentic and made by hand, by a human, not a machine. Support handmade, and the way it helps to shape our future for sustainability and a clean, livable earth.”