LA's modern repairmen teach you how to give old clothes new life

It's a rainy Wednesday evening in the dimly lit, moody Arts District hangout Tea in Shiloh, where a dozen students, including myself, sit on round white floor cushions, sipping carob-cardamom tea and peering uncertainly at piles of jeans on the low tables in front of us. All of us have pulled a torn or damaged piece of clothing from our closet, hoping to extend its life and keep it out of the Goodwill bin.

We are not here to hide our healing handiwork as talented seamstresses might, creating tiny, almost invisible stitches that are hidden beneath the seams or camouflaged by the color of the denim. Instead, Kim Krempien and Betsy Flores, clothing designers and founders of a creative reuse collective Other life studioIn this workshop, encourage us to make wild colorful visible stitches which are also part of a larger creative design. To inspire us in our big, bold designs, Flores and Krempien have placed a mood board at the front of the room, showcasing the styles of some of their embroidery influences: Maison Margiela, Jil Sander, Sashi.Co, and Yohji Yamamoto, for starters. In one inspiring photo, a large multicolored butterfly spans the entire seat of a pair of vintage Miss Sixty jeans, while in another, shimmering silver flowers spread across a Dries van Noten jacket.

“You think you have to take clothes to the tailor, who will make the stitches perfectly invisible, but the mending can be very visible, and that is our preference,” says Krempien.

Using electric blue and cherry red thread, we sew our denim tears together amid soft chatter, creating decorative designs of clouds and teahouse triangles. At my table, a participant, guided by Krempien, draws his first stitch ever, while a fashion student makes swirls on a denim jacket. Flores comes by to recharge us and compliment our progress. Stitching cloud outlines onto the back pocket of my black jeans makes me feel like a little kid scribbling, losing myself in the process as two hours race by. Our evening activity is low-key, alcohol-free, and relaxing—an atmosphere I didn't expect from a gathering of mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings, but which a neighbor tells me is the norm at Shiloh. We leave with needles and thread to continue our projects at home.

Betsy Flores, left, and Kim Krempien, co-owners of Other Lives Studio, want to teach people how to breathe new life into discarded clothing.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Flores and Krempien are part of an upcycling and creative reuse movement sweeping Los Angeles, a movement that eschews modest Stitch-and-Bitch sewing lessons and crispy crochet hats for an eclectic, contemporary mix of high fashion, Japanese mending techniques and DIY -self-techniques. punk sensibility and ecological sustainability. Such as at creative reuse shops such as Suay sewing shop in DTLA and What remains is Creative Reuse in Pasadena, the goal is not so much to make a knitted scarf for your father, but to tear up his old shirt and transform it into a multi-colored kimono, all with minimal effort.

Other Lives calls itself a “redesign atelier,” emphasizing its intentions to elevate old clothes to look as striking and experimental as couture, at minimal cost to both the wearer and the environment. Other Lives isn't asking fashionistas to leave the excessive world of high-end style behind; their workshops mention influences from designers' specific seasons: for the keyhole tee workshop it's Rick Owens spring 2018, and for the marble painting workshop it's Dries Van Noten spring/summer 2021. “We want to toe the line between being accessible and inspiring. ,” says Krempien.

The founders themselves come to the creative reuse culture from a high-fashion background, working with Nordstrom, Revolve and Vince. They met in 2016 at an industry event and eventually began a passionate dialogue about sustainable fashion, working together to design and develop capsules for Nordstrom's Private Label collections. Frustrated with fast fashion toxic pollution of the Global South and Los Angeles' huge clothing industrythey promised to start Other Lives, which would breathe new life into discarded clothing by facilitating revealing workshops, including metalwork And fabric painting.

“Fashion is an unsustainable process because it produces too much to be a viable market,” says Krempien. “In original design production you produce 30 to 40 or more samples per season, doing four collections per year, and it really adds up and becomes a space issue and a moral issue. I couldn't bear to think about making so many unused garments, knowing that even if these samples make their way through the clothing donation, it's a broken system, with most of it going to landfill or shipped to another country.”

As they prepared to launch the Other Lives website in spring 2020, the pandemic canceled their first in-person workshop. They shifted to online workshops, taught exclusively via Zoom for two years, and began in-person workshops in 2022.

A person repairs a piece of jewelry.

Kim Krempien is working on a piece of jewelry.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

A detail of creative stitching on denim blue jeans.

Creative stitching on upcycled jeans.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Betsy Flores of Other Lives Studio embroiders pants.

Betsy Flores embroiders pants, painted by Kim Krempien.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Flores says their skills are strategic lace design Unpleasant jewelry collage, can be learned by anyone, even someone who has never sewn a stitch or mended a necklace. “If you don't think something is feasible or beyond your skill set, it almost feels like you shouldn't even try,” says Flores. “Our workshops help take the pressure off, because you're part of a community of people who are learning, and people are less intimidated and more open to trying and trying not just what they've learned, but absolutely anything. It really is an opportunity that stimulates creativity.”

Other Lives offers insecure upcyclers a starting point, not just in form workshops bee Venia Studiobut also through being blogging, TikTok, Instagram And Youtube videos. Last year, students in the jewelry collage workshop deconstructed and recombined old metal pieces, charms, pearls, stone beads, crystals, rings, and necklaces into mixed media jewelry, while students in the workshop side enlarged garments that no longer fit by lacing with grommets, loops and laces.

Most fashion items are Only worn seven to ten timeswho makes a few consumers don't just doubt its sustainability, but their versatility to wear multiple times. Flores believes that part of the frustration lies in the lack of understanding of a garment and how to creatively customize it. She says that when a consumer sews or repairs an item, they are less likely to throw it away afterwards. “When you give a garment a second life by reworking it, you create a connection with the garment,” she says.

A woman helps another woman tie a chain.

Kim Krempien, left, puts a recycled necklace on Betsy Flores.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

For Flores, there is meaning and spirituality in the items we wear. Following the Marie Kondo phenomenon, which mainstreamed the Shinto-influenced practice of thanking a garment for its services, the name of Other Lives connotes the power imbued with respecting a garment enough to give it new life to blow in. Other Lives gives meaning to old, discarded clothing, drawing on the practices and philosophies of Japanese creative techniques such as suminagashi dyeing, sachiko embroidery and kintsugi ceramics to see the redemptive spirit in an item, to repair the irreparable. “When you go thrifting or to a flea market, from the moment you pick something up you wonder what kind of life it has had,” says the designer. “I really believe that things have energy, from whatever it meant to you and the memories and moments you created with it. Everything has potential, and that also applies to us humans.”

But empowering others to be creative and innovate their own clothes isn't enough for the duo from an ecological perspective. Other Lives also reuses development waste, including soles and foam, from partner companies and others Decker's brandsowner of Ugg, Hoka and Teva, among others.

In the future, Other Lives hopes to expand its educational offerings from one or two workshops per season to a range of diverse seasonal programs, using the donations received. The collective also hopes to create DIY upcycling kits to sell, which upcyclers would use at home while following Other Lives YouTube tutorials. Perhaps a creative reuse festival or retreat is planned one day, Flores says.

Two craftsmen sit framed behind a sewing machine.

The pair believe that learning skills such as strategic lace design and jewelry collage can be empowering.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Flores and Krempien, meanwhile, urge those who cannot attend a workshop to log on to social media to find inspiration. “Search 'DIY project', 'upcycling' or 'creative reuse' on Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram,” says Krempien. “It's not just us, and that's really great because when we started we didn't know any other upcyclers. You will find many projects to get inspired by.”

You may end up with an item that is unlike anything else in the world – a unique work of art – and that's what's so fun about upcycling. “Who doesn't want to feel unique and feel like a piece is personal to me?” says Flores. “It can also be a conversation starter, because when people see it, [they] want to try it for themselves.”

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