It's An Upcycle Thing - Denim

Upcycled Denim Jacket

Upcycled Denim Jacket

You could say I’m obsessed with denim.  My Uncle Jim bought me my first pair of jeans when I was very small, and I’ve loved all things denim ever since.  You'll find lots of denim in my closet:  several jackets and shirts, and many, many pairs of jeans.  I just can’t throw away those comfortable old jeans.

It's in our Jeans

Denim has a long history that not many are aware of, and it all started with Jeans. Jeans have marked culture of the last 140 years. They were first working clothes, then symbols of disobedience only to become fashion items. Jeans are pants made from denim or dungaree cloth. They were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873 and named after the city of Genoa in Italy, a place where cotton corduroy, called either jean or jeane, was manufactured. Levi Strauss came from Germany to New York in 1851 to join his older brother who had a dry goods store. The history of denim and jeans is long and colorful and continues on today at my studio.

Recycle Vs. Upcycle

Recycling is a process where items are broken down to be reused – shredded paper, smashed glass.  This down cycling is an essential step, but it degrades the value of the materials.

Upcycling on the other hand is a creative process where waste is looked at as a resource.  Materials are reused in a clever way, giving them a second life and function.  While investigating the world of old denim, it seemed such a waste to throw away those old denim pieces (shirts, jeans, shorts, dresses), just when they’re comfortable and faded a soft blue or black.

So we didn't throw them away. In fact, designers like Paula Singleton, Jamie Booker, Pat Koharik and me search high and low for the pieces of our next great designs. 

Denim Designs

Several years ago, some artists and I began upcycling denim into a variety of products. With millions of denim garments already in the market, we enjoy the hunt and unique finds that will later become the raw materials for our new products. Pat and I often get together for a day of denim shopping. We spend hours looking for special denim items like lightly worn jeans, dresses with cool buttons, and little girls’ shorts with bling pockets. A day of hunting always results in a trunk full of bags of denim.

We upcycle this raw material into a variety of new, cool, art-to-wear.  We enjoy taking the pieces and using them in different ways:  a leg becomes a sleeve; a waist band becomes a button band; all the little pieces on the studio floor become a flower.

Today, Fra Angelica Studio hosts upcyled denim wearable art from several designers including one-of-a-kind hats, backpacks, aprons, cuff bracelets, flowers, swing jackets, and more. Recently, we reached out to Pat Koharik to learn more about her design process. 

Pat Koharik - Designer

Pat Koharik - Designer

"When my search for a supply of jeans is successful, it’s like opening a new jumbo box of crayons.   This is when the fun begins!   Made exclusively for Fra Angelica studio, my jean jackets are created from several pairs of repurposed jeans, skirts, and dresses.   The process usually starts with a pair of jeans with cool pockets.  The pockets tell me where to go in creating the jacket.  It could be bling, grunge, novel, or classic.  Up to six pairs of jeans or other denim garments are used to make one jacket.    The end result is an upcycled jacket that has a loose fit and fun swing.  Each one is unique and can never be duplicated." - Pat Koharik

Believe in Upcycled Garments

Upcycling has shown significant growth across the United States.  For example, the number of products on Etsy or Pinterest tagged with “upcycled” increased from about 7,900 in January 2010 to nearly 30,000 a year later – an increase of 275%.  And the numbers increase every year. Beyond the artistry and fashion behind these designs, you can feel good about opting for an upcycled denim garment and here's why.

  • Upcycling is essential to minimize the environmental impact and decrease the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
  • Sustainable textiles can be just as fashionable and beautiful as any conventional textiles.
  • By upcycling to create new denim products, we reduce the use of new raw materials and prevent wasting potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones.
  • More than fifteen million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States, and the amount has doubled over the last twenty years. An average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person. 
  • It takes 8,500 liters of water to produce one pair of jeans and 2,600 to produce one t-shirt.
  • For every kilogram of upcycled material, we save up to 20,000 liters of water.
  • Approximately three to four pounds of C02 are saved for every pound of clothing that is not trashed.   When solid waste products such as textiles are buried in landfills, they naturally release greenhouse gases as they decompose.  At the other end of the clothing life-cycle, the production of textile fibers and the manufacture of cloth burn large quantities of fuel that releases C02 into the atmosphere.  This means that we save 300-400 million tons of C02 from entering the atmosphere for every 100 million tons collected annually!

Our Small Contribution

It's not uncommon that when we travel to source the discarded denim for our next great designs that we'll walk away with at least ten pounds of material. Using a small bag with ten pounds of unwanted clothing reduces 30-40 pounds of CO2 gases from polluting the atmosphere.  It also saves 14,000 gallons of water and avoids the dispersal of a significant quantity of insecticides. 

Beyond the artistry and fashion, you can certainly feel good about opting for an upcycled garment. Here's a peak at some of our upcycled denim designs!

Fra Angelica Studio proudly carries a diverse collection of upcycled art-to-wear. If you're looking for a unique gift idea for someone special or bold and beautiful designs for yourself, stop on by to try some on, or have a look.