Monday, February 23, 2009

Giving New Life to Old Clothes

Do you have a sweater sitting in the back of your closet that you can’t bear to get rid of, but it’s out of style or doesn't fit? Kat O’Sullivan has a solution for you: cut it up and make a new sweater.

She visits thrift stores — she has a route of about eight, all on Long Island — and buys old sweaters. After washing them, O’Sullivan sews pieces from several recycled sweaters together to make new clothes. She crafts patchwork sweaters, sweater dresses and hand warmers.

O’Sullivan said she likes to experimen
t with her sweaters,, and calls them “easy, fun and pleasing.” Her designs are bright, colorful, whimsical and one-of-a-kind. Most of the sweaters have hoods and some have zippers. “They have so much more character because you get pieces that have stories ... it’s like saving orphan clothes.”

It’s also “environmentally friendly to re-use clothes,” she said. “It’s a nice little way to recycle.”

In her own life as well, O’Sullivan is conscious of the environment. “I try to consume a lot less, and bring bags to the grocery store,” she said. “I don’t buy anything new — furniture or clothes.”

She also hitchhikes when she travels, which she does frequently. O’Sullivan has been to Ireland, Ecuador, India, the Philippines and many other places. She toured with the Grateful Dead, accompanying them on 200 shows. In a couple of weeks she will go to Mongolia, where she will hitchhike around the country.

“I kind of throw myself in and let the waves tumble me,” she says of her travels.

But it was touring with the Dead where O’Sullivan started selling her clothes, making patchwork dresses. Over the years since then she has continued sewing clothes but started making her patchwork sweaters only three years ago.

She calls her line of recycled sweaters “upcycled” clothes, which is a term for the process of taking waste items and turning them into items of greater value.

These days, when she’s not traveling, O’Sullivan sews out of her Greenpoint home. She has lived in many places before — even in her school bus, which is completely furnished — but will now be in Brooklyn for the long haul. “I was living in Manhattan,” she said. “Coming to Brooklyn was such an exhale.”

She sells her sweaters exclusively online now; on handmade online marketplace Etsy and through her own web site, But O’Sullivan used to sell her sweaters out of “a crazy school bus” on a street in Manhattan’s East Village, which calls “awesome,” until the police shut her down.

“It’s really fun to bring things back to life and then send them out to the world,” she said. “I’m triumphant that I’ve given something new life.”

Photos courtesy of Kat O’Sullivan

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Jake said...

I think this is really nifty, and very inspiring.

Mitch said...

Do you think she knows me?