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Upcycling old clothes: East Coast woman giving new purpose to old clothing

Jess Gillis has always loved expressing herself by wearing unique clothing. During quarantine, she began upcycling old clothing into new styles.
Jess Gillis has always loved expressing herself by wearing unique clothing. During quarantine, she began upcycling old clothing into new styles. - SaltWire Network

Jess Gillis has always had a passion for expressing herself through unique clothing.

As her style changes, the 24-year-old is left with extra clothing that she sorts and donates to local community groups a few times a year. But when COVID-19 hit and donation bins were suddenly overflowing with items that couldn’t be picked up, Gillis knew she had to take a different approach to recycling.

“Driving through the CBRM (Cape Breton Regional Municipality) and seeing the donation bins overflowing with everything from clothing, to home items, to just plain junk, was so disappointing,” says Gillis. “I didn’t want to add more to the pile, so I ended up taking my used clothing back home.”

Jess Gillis has hung on to favourite pieces through the years. She's now switching up the designs so they can be worn again with a fun new look. - SaltWire Network
Jess Gillis has hung on to favourite pieces through the years. She's now switching up the designs so they can be worn again with a fun new look. - SaltWire Network

 

Later that week, Gillis was browsing style blogs online and stumbled upon a jean jacket decorated with patches. Inspired by the look, she thought jumping into creative redesigns could be a fun way to upcycle some of her older pieces.

Having been taught to sew by her mother at a young age, Gillis had already been altering some of her own clothing and decided it could be a fun quarantine project to get more creative with her designs. She tested the waters by using old t-shirt fabric to make scrunchies, and before long, Gillis was giving everything from dresses and skirts to bags and hats a new chance at life. “Thrifting and upcycling is so useful when you’re looking for a unique piece for your wardrobe,” she says. “Plus, you’re helping to reduce the waste that is produced by the fashion industry.”

In Canada, each household throws away 100 pounds of clothing per year, filling our landfills with textiles, many of which could have been repurposed.

‘Really therapeutic’

After sharing her designs with a few friends, Gillis received positive feedback and decided to create an Instagram account to share and sell her products. Her account, Seam.de.Stressed, quickly reached over 500 followers and is receiving interest from others who are passionate about reducing waste. Gillis says her most popular products are cropped sweaters, Cape Breton scrunchies, and patchwork shorts.

Adding flowers to these upcycled jeans and turning them into a unique design will keep them from going to a landfill. In Canada, each household throws away 100 pounds of clothing per year. - SaltWire Network
Adding flowers to these upcycled jeans and turning them into a unique design will keep them from going to a landfill. In Canada, each household throws away 100 pounds of clothing per year. - SaltWire Network

 

“Each piece is completely unique, and the creative process is really therapeutic,” she says.

Gillis says being in quarantine is what pushed her to fully dive into the project.

“It was pretty inspiring to see so many people getting creative in their own way during this challenging time,” she explains. “I always wanted to do something artsy and creative on the side and quarantine gave me the time to think about what it is that I truly enjoy.”

Gillis says she is thankful for the creative outlet as well as the community connection she gains by creating one-of-a-kind pieces for orders.

Free to be creative

When it comes to inspiration, Gillis says her ideas come from anything and everything.

“I have so many beads, buttons, and patches laying around, so I’ll usually just sit down with a piece and get a feel for it as I go,” she says. “That’s what I enjoy most about it. I’m free to be as creative as possible and find out what people like most along the way.”

Jess Gillis says her most popular products include cropped sweaters. - SaltWire Network
Jess Gillis says her most popular products include cropped sweaters. - SaltWire Network

 

Gillis has already sent pieces all over Canada and says the support she receives is unbelievable. “I didn’t expect this reaction, so I am beyond grateful to everyone who takes the time to check out my work and show their support.”

Aside from helping to shake up wardrobes around the country, Gillis says her main goal is to spread the word about the importance of repurposing and how fun it can be.

“I am trying to do my part to be a more environmentally conscious person and the fashion industry is a major contributor to pollution,” she says. “It’s important to understand the environmental impact we cause with each decision we make as consumers. So, upcycling is a great way to be more sustainable and express yourself.”

New life to old clothes

The fabric Gillis uses for her pieces primarily comes from her and her mother’s closets.

Adding personal touches to commercially-produced clothing creates a special, unique piece, says Jess Gillis. - SaltWire Network
Adding personal touches to commercially-produced clothing creates a special, unique piece, says Jess Gillis. - SaltWire Network

 

“I’m a bit of a clothes hoarder and I still have pieces from when I was 15. I struggled with my weight between the ages of 15 and 20, so my sizes have fluctuated quite a bit,” Gillis explains. “Although I donated a lot throughout the years, I would always hang on to my favourite pieces just in case I wanted to wear them again someday. So now instead of sitting in boxes they’re being worn by people who love them just as much.”

Gillis’s advice to those who want to upcycle their own clothes is to dive straight in.

“There really isn’t anything to lose because you already have the fabric to practice on,” she says. “Practice does make perfect, so just be patient with yourself and embrace creativity.”

To check out Gillis’s pieces or request a custom design, visit @seam.de.stressed on Instagram.

“Each piece is completely unique, and the creative process is really therapeutic,” Jess Gillis says. - SaltWire Network
“Each piece is completely unique, and the creative process is really therapeutic,” Jess Gillis says. - SaltWire Network

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