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The new, eco-friendly art of refashioning ‘disposable’ stuff

Jillian Owens poses with some of her thrift store dresses at her home.
By Meg Kinnard
AP (*)
Jillian Owens turns castoffs into new clothes to protect the environment

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — For Jillian Owens, some of her passion for fashion was motivated by a desire for new garments without the creation of more waste. And, she says openly on her blog, “I was also quite broke and couldn’t afford new clothes.”

Since 2010, Owens has been delving into thrift store racks around her Columbia, South Carolina, home, taking what some may see as outdated castoffs and whipping them into hip, trendy fashions. She says she’s made hundreds of creations, donating many to charity and at times opening up her closet to friends for their perusal.

Describing herself as a creative child, Owens says she always enjoyed drawing and crafts but didn’t start sewing until receiving a sewing machine as a gift six years ago.

Interested in making some of her own clothes, Owens says she got discouraged by high prices at fabric stores, as well as the lack of patterns to fit her petite frame.

“It would be cheaper to buy something new rather than sew it yourself,” Owens, 32, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I noticed that there were a lot of things that really weren’t that bad. I mean, they were still bad, but they could be reworked.”

On her blog, www.refashionista.net, Owens shows a step-by-step tutorial on each of her creations, giving readers a window into her process. Before and after photos depict how she transitioned a black funereal frock into a mod cocktail dress, or how a pair of stretchy, lifeless gaucho pants became a slinky, one-sleeved number.

Her ethos on refashioning pieces is two-pronged: remaking discarded pieces into something new saves money, Owens says, and it also helps her stay true to her desire not to purchase or support what she calls mass-produced, “disposable” clothing that ends up in a landfill.

“What I found is a really inexpensive way to dress really nicely in something that’s well-made, that’s custom fitted to me,” said Owens, who works at the nonprofit United Way of the Midlands.

“And I’m not hurting the environment. I’m not supporting companies that engage in labour practices that I don’t believe in.”

In recent weeks, Owens’ work has blossomed in terms of national notoriety. A piece on BuzzFeed led to mentions on fashion blogs all over the world.

On Friday, Owens was scheduled for an appearance on ABC’s TV show Good Morning America. A book is in the works, as are classes at a local library in Columbia, in conjunction with another “refashioning” blogger in Columbia.

“People want to refashion. They get excited about it but they’ll think that sewing is hard, or it’s not for them,” Owens said.

“The big thing I’m trying to do is to keep sewing simple and accessible to them. If you do screw-up, that’s OK. It’s all a learning process. You’re just buying a dollar item. If you screw-up, you’re out a dollar.”

@megkinnardap
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