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Recycling chic

Marketplace Staff May 12, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: In the world of fashion, what’s old is new. Dockers recently announced it was resurrecting 1940s military style for its latest line of khakis. But as Rachel Louise Snyder reports, a pair of London entrepreneurs are taking old clothes themselves and turning them into trendy fashion.

RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER: When Annie Saunders and Kerry Seager shopped in college a decade ago, their standards were Donna Karan but their budgets were Family Dollar.

So they did what most college kids who’d never threaded a needle would do: They learned to sew.

Nine years later, their recycled clothes — now called wardrobe surgeries — are sold in half a dozen countries.

Their shop, Junky Styling, nets $400,000 a year.

But like most surgery — especially cosmetic and reconstructive surgery — it doesn’t come cheap.

[ Footsteps walking, and walking into store ]

RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER: Here we are. Hello…I’m here for wardrobe surgery.

Everything here is recycled: the wood floor, the industrial furniture, the half-mannequins.

And it seems just about anything can be reincarnated into something else.

RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER: I have to say, I walked in and found Annie, are you sewing a pair of pumas?

ANNIE SAUNDERS: No I’m turning an old pair of boxing boot trainers into a lady’s corset belt.

Their inspiration in the early days was simply to create for themselves what other people seemed able to afford to buy.

But they had enough encouragement from strangers that they ended up buying a sewing machine and renting a stall in Kensington Market. Now they see themselves as a new front in the recycling movement. And they expect revenues to increase by 55 percent this year.

For my part in raiment recycling, I brought my 20-year-old jean jacket, which was held together with safety pins.

ANNIE SAUNDERS: The cuffs and the collar are dead, but the rest of it, I think we can bring it back to life.

They also encourage customers to bring in their sentimental garments.

RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER: This dress was my grandmother’s. This is a Chinese silk dress that she got on a trip to South Korea. It’s never been quite the right length.

ANNIE SAUNDERS: It’s nice to take something that has a bit of history but is being wasted and turn that into something functional and of value that you can wear.

A few days later, it was time to see my new duds.

Annie brings out what was once my grandmother’s silk dress. It’s been revived into a corset with a set of sleeves. Or as she says:

ANNIE SAUNDERS: A fully boned basque with matching tailored sleeve jacket.

Kerry says they’re not just tailoring old apparel.

To her, they are transformers, making sustainable garments in an industry known for its disposability.

But here’s the thing about recycling garments: At $450, elective surgery on my clothes isn’t something I can do too often.

In London, I’m Rachel Louise Snyder for Marketplace.

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