Bridgett Artise, the designer behind Born Again Vintage, discovered her talent for giving worn clothes a second chance when she was given one herself.
Though this New York City-based designer studied fashion and merchandising at FIT, in a phone interview, Artise told A Plus, "The whole design aspect of it definitely wasn't something I was thinking about. It wasn't even on my radar."
But after losing her last child eight years ago, she randomly bought a mannequin and sewing machine. "I started ripping clothes apart and putting them back together for a talent show," she said.
To Artise's surprise, many people wanted to buy her creations.
"I was completely floored. And so when I think second chances, I didn't even know I had the ability to do that. To take a situation like that was so traumatic and sad, it allowed me to focus my energy on something that, I would say, turned into my passion and my journey."
Once she discovered this hidden talent, Artise decided to pay it forward.
"I'm reworking these old clothes that would otherwise end up in a landfill," she said, "And now they're back in someone's closet, and they have a whole new lifecycle."
She later founded an online store, featuring her Born Again Vintage brand, with the sole purpose of educating others about this old-made-new kind of sustainable fashion. "I just want to spread awareness and let people know that they have options," she said. "It can be very cheap; it can be very expensive, but we do have smarter options."
From lace rompers to military jackets to graphic tanks, Born Again Vintage proves sustainable fashion offers a plethora of stylish options. "I think that people think of recycled and eco-friendly clothing," she said, "And they think of the actual textiles as what makes it sustainable." But Artise wants people to know they don't have to convert to a full-hemp or organic cotton wardrobe to reduce their carbon footprint.
Even in the current world of "fast-fashion," Artise has watched sustainable clothing gain an important foothold in the industry. "I think it's been a slow and steady progress. Especially when I started in 2008, there was only the word 'eco-friendly,. We've grown strides since [then], so that makes me very hopeful and confident that the future of fashion will be synonymous with sustainable fashion."
Besides sustainability, upcycling vintage clothes offers other unique benefits to buyers. Many of Artise's customers have come to her wanting to save an old piece of clothing that had been handed down through their family. Others are drawn to the superior condition of vintage materials. "It [the material] may be 60 years older, but it has the wherewithal to last another 60 years," she told A Plus. "Today, you wash something a few times, and then you have to throw it out."
When shopping at thrift stores or estate sales, she gravitates towards patterns, colors, and textures first and foremost.
Once she brings them home, her inspiration often drives her to begin work immediately. While Artise has transformed some pieces within two days of purchasing them, others may sit for months or years until she finds a complementary article. Once the one-of-a-kind piece is finished, Artise sells it on her website.
Offline, she teaches workshops and classes, usually at a local university like FIT (where Artise is also a professor) or Pratt, with up to 30 people each. Individuals also host more intimate workshops with five to ten people. Though 90 percent of her students are women, Artise's workshops still draw "the most diverse group ever," ranging from age 18 to 65 and coming from all over the country. Despite these differences, they come for the same reason — to create.
That's easier said than done. "What I find in my classes is that people — really, it's the strangest thing — but they have a fear to actually cut the clothes," Artise said. "So when … it's hands on and they make that first cut, it's almost like you're cutting the long ponytail off. You see it on their faces. You've released this monster."
The first cut is the deepest, but it's also the most liberating. "Once they get over that hurdle," she continued. "It just gives them permission. It gives them permission to do something different [and] see things differently … To me, that just really sparks all types of innovation."
Eight years after making her first cut, Artise is still paying it forward.
On July 21, from 5 to 8 p.m., Artise will teach patrons of Housing Works NYC, a thrift store whose profits go towards HIV/AIDs advocacy, how to upcycle clothes purchased from the Chelsea store. "I'm so excited ... because it's a nonprofit that does so much for the community in New York."
It's a perfect fit.