We are all looking for that “it” style. Essentially, what allows us to fit in. But what if fitting in was a lot easier than following the next “it” look?
From vintage styles to hand-me-downs to shopping the deals and thrifting, artists everywhere are creating custom-made clothing and accessories through a new trend known as upcycling – and it’s a lot more local than you may think. Two current students and one former student from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) have their own brands tailored to upcycling trends, and students on college campuses everywhere are partaking in the fun and the versatility it provides.
There are no limitations to the different things these stylists can do with the clothing and accessories they obtain. More often than not, the stylists get their materials from thrift stores. By reusing and recreating an item, the value increases because of its uniqueness and the quality of the product.
Molly Benz, a senior marketing and entrepreneurship major, created her brand Gnarwalz in September of 2017. She refers to the company as her “side hustle.”
“The brand started because I always created these shirts for myself and often got compliments on them or would have people ask me to make them a shirt,” Benz said. “I decided I could start a brand and really sell these. I’ve been completely focusing on the college market and trying to appeal to students attending homecoming as my main focus.”
Benz’s Instagram page @gnarwalz has 1,577 followers and is continuing to grow. Her work can also be found on her website gnarwalz.com.
Merrimac Moran, a first-year marketing major at UNH and a consistent Gnarwalz purchaser, describes Benz’s brand as passionate and unique.
“In my eyes, ‘upcycled’ clothing is like giving clothing a second life,” Moran said. “It can give an old shirt a totally new feel and can make the shirt more unique than any other piece in your closet.”
Moran said it’s because Benz’s UNH collection is so close to heart, which makes her line very popular around campus. Moran described the trend as allowing the owner’s personality to show through their clothing, because every design is special and different.
“I think environmentally conscious people and a lot of college students tend to wear upcycled clothing,” Moran said. “Instead of buying more clothing, which can be expensive, these consumers can focus on the clothes they have now.”
Laura Dapolito, a senior communication and arts major, believes that everyone should get involved with upcycling. She says that finding a new purpose for old clothing is better for the earth and the environment around us.
“Upcycled clothing is different than other trends you see on campus because no one can go out and replicate your style,” Dapolito said. “Your upcycled clothing was either created by yourself, a friend or business and is one of a kind. There is a lot to say for being able to walk through campus wearing a cute shirt or pants knowing you won’t run into someone else wearing the same thing.”
Another UNH student, Charlotte Krol, a sophomore communication major, runs her own upcycled brand, All American Rags. She sells her pieces through Instagram.
“My mom and grandmother have been upcycling their old clothes for as long as I can remember,” Krol said. “I have a huge family, so you can only imagine the number of hand-me-downs I would receive. A lot of the clothes I would receive would be outdated but I could not let them go to waste.”
“My mom and I would sit at her sewing machine for hours turning these old clothes into unique masterpieces,” Krol continued. “My interest in upcycling began with that. When I am at home, I work with thrifted clothes a lot because there really is not much to do in the small town I live in, but when I am at school I try to work on items whenever I have some free time. I try to keep in mind that everyone has different styles of things they like to wear and different preferences so I would not really say I stick to a specific style.”
Krol tries to reach an audience of middle school to college students to keep up with the current trends, she explained.
“I usually set a budget for myself when going thrifting or buying fabrics and I almost always make money back,” Krol said. “Sometimes it is difficult to make money off a specific trip, but my secret is to buy clothes that I would wear so if no one buys it, I can just have it for myself. It’s a win-win situation!”
Ultimately, Krol hopes to have her brand be a common household name. She knows her aspirations are big, but with a deep love and passion for fashion, working on her brand never feels like work to her.
Ashley Chamberlin, a sophomore sociology major at UNH, has followed All American Rags since the Instagram account started.
“It has someone’s own personal touch added to it,” Chamberlin said. “It’s different because this clothing has been brought back and personalized by Charlotte whether it is following her vision or customizing items so they’re more personalized for the specific buyer. It definitely has more of a personal and unique touch. People can’t just go out and buy these items exactly as they’re seen either, so nobody has the exact same thing as you.”
Chamberlin recently turned on the accounts post notifications, so she is always updated on the newest thing Krol has created. The key to getting an upcycled item is being the first to claim it since every article is unique and one of a kind. Krol’s Instagram account @allamericanrags has 466 followers.
Montana Sullivan graduated from UNH in the spring of 2018. She currently owns and operates the Instagram account @besosxvintage where she sells her upcycled clothing. With 2,011 followers, her sustainable clothing and brand continues to grow.
After taking a class in college about sustainable living and lifestyle choices, Sullivan took a look at where she could change and differentiate herself from others around her. She began to learn more about how the fashion industry affects the environment which she explained made it harder for her to buy new clothing. Sullivan began to thrift more throughout her college career; she refers to her thrifting hobby as “professional treasure hunting.”
“Something about old stuff has always attracted me; I was always rummaging in my grandma’s basement and moms closet as a kid looking for weird clothing and knick-knacks,” Sullivan said. “I work on my shop every day; my mom let me have the spare bedroom to use as my workspace, so I have my sewing machine and clothing racks in there as a little space to create and run my shop!”
“I try to have an array of styles to pick from so that I don’t limit my audience to one genre or style,” Sullivan continued. “I also do a lot of sewing, bleaching and dying to give new life to items that might be disregarded. Often, I’ll buy stained or ripped goods and change them up with splashes of bleach or cropping to make them more femme.”
Sullivan’s target audience are girls and women ages 14 to 27. She finds that they are typically attracted to her style and looks because she falls within their demographic as well.
After quitting her corporate job over the summer, Sullivan has taken some leaps of faith, but continued to work on and grow her business.
“I don’t exactly know what I’m doing but most people don’t so who cares,” Sullivan said. “In the past eight months I’ve learned so much about business and taking risks and I think I’ve learned more than I would have at any other entry-level job. I never in a million years thought I’d be doing what I’m doing right now but I’m really happy that the universe led me here.”