Trisha Cuason’s Vintage Restore has been the go-to place for heirloom luxury bags that need resuscitation. The 14-year-old “bag hospital” has breathed new life to purses, shoes and leather goods that have shown wear and tear, scratches, fading or discoloration. Even designer pieces that no longer seem repairable—like a Furla tote bag with sticky leather or a worn Gucci tote bag—were transformed or upcycled into something beautiful and useful.
“When we started Vintage Restore in 2007, our mission was to be able to save vintage and heirloom designer leather pieces. We have received hundreds of these bags that were resuscitated and made especially meaningful because they used to belong to their loved ones, be it their parents or grandparents,” Cuason said.
“Then we started receiving requests for upcycling our clients’ old or worn-out luxury bags and creating something new from these materials way before the COVID-19 pandemic.”Vintage Restore has more than just restored bags in the past years. They made a camera bag out of a classic Goyard tote, a small leather product out of a Louis Vuitton messenger bag, and updated an old Gucci bag into a belt bag that looks chic and brand-new.
Upcycling or creative reuse of waste or worn-out products into something valuable and durable has become one of the biggest movements in fashion lately. And unlike other trends, it may never go out of style.
Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, has successfully launched a line with used jackets, vests, fleeces. Levi’s has also jumped on the circular fashion train by recycling old and worn denim through the help of a Swedish recycling company. Stella McCartney and Balenciaga have taken their steps in reusing their old materials, as well.
Locally, there are lifestyle brands like Vintage Restore and Ucycle that promote slow and circular fashion.
Ucycle, a clothing brand known for its gorgeous denim line, for example, works to transform old denim and fabrics that are often readily discarded. Their products, however, look anything but worn. Their R3Denim collection features utilitarian denim jackets and bags, but pieces of fabric and other elements like pocket details give a personalized feel to each item.
Mother and daughter Tati and Carmela Fortuna have been manufacturing corporate wear, but they wanted to reduce production waste to prevent materials from going to landfills.
The fashion industry has become a major waste contributor while the production of fabrics requires a lot of resources. The United Nations said that up to 10,000 liters of water are needed to grow enough cotton to make a pair of denim jeans.
“With this we chose to work with the value of circularity—with the mission of extending the life of products and materials for as long as possible—while at the same time reducing waste in the process,” Carmela Fortuna said.
“By utilizing lower impact materials (i.e. recycled textiles), and also through our R3 program, which allows our clients to return their old items (whether or not it’s originally created by us) in order for us to either recycle them or repurpose them into something else—we attempt to pioneer a circular fashion model.”
Ucycle utilizes recycled materials like dead-stock fabric and old items like rope and tarp, polyester made from recycled plastic bottles and repurposed fibers. With upcycling, the clothing company works with the excess waste of their clients.
Clients can also come in to bring sentimental items like an old T-shirt, which can be incorporated in the item. The trimmings that don’t make it to the final product go to the fabric library so they can be repurposed for other projects, said Fortuna, who is the managing director of Ucycle.
With Vintage Restore, Cuason said they save as much original material as possible, from the monogram exterior to the interior lining.
“We normally suggest upcycling if parts of the monogram material are damaged, or if the leather trims are brittle and cracking. Our clients may choose to retain the design and just have the leather parts replaced or choose upcycling to create something new and dynamic out of their old bags,” Cuason added.
Vintage Restore uses their own leather and hardware and inner materials like stiffeners that are of quality and at par with the brands that they service. Several unused raw materials have also been donated to designers as a way of supporting entrepreneurs during the pandemic.
Ucycle has sold out its R3Denim collection, and they’re collaborating with ersatz vintage store to upcycle more items. Cuason, meanwhile, said upcycling has been one of the “saving factors’’ of Vintage Restore.
New spending behavior
Vintage Restore started upcycling as early as 2016, but Cuason noticed that the demand for the service went up over the past two years. Out of the 60 bags that they have refashioned, 80 percent were received during the pandemic.
“We realized that our clients have changed their spending behavior from purchasing brand-new luxury items to being more creative via repurposing or upcycling,” the bag doctor added.
There are certainly a lot of people now who are more conscious with their fashion choices, but for Fortuna, the success of R3Denim had a lot to do with the design, functionality and quality of the items. Around 60 percent of their customers also chose to customize their orders with old clothes.
Functionality and design are also two important points for Vintage Restore.
“For upcycling, since we are creating something new, we need to ensure that we do the design well. We create new patterns and make sure that the size and shape are visually appealing to the client. We also see to it that these designs are practical and usable according to their needs,” said Cuason.
“I guess the takeaway here is in order for people to continuously support your business (with regards to sustainable fashion), it has to be attractive and convenient for them to switch to this option,” Fortuna said. “That means not just relying on it being made from lower impact materials or incorporating sustainable practices, but design aesthetic, durability and functionality are still the main players to get their support.”