Salvaged Threads Upcycles Castoffs Into Kicky Couture

Missy Blakeslee loves fabrics: From burlap sacks to ancient upholstery, she sees possibilities where others see trash. After years of upcyling and repurposing odds and ends into kicky couture, Missy founded Salvaged Threads and began selling her creative products to an appreciative audience. 


The Virginian's line of womens clothing, bags and pillows reflect another facet of the reduce, reuse and recycle movement. But before we go any further, let's step back and define our terminology.

upcycled blue dress

According to Missy, "upcycling" refers to converting cast-off materials into products of greater worth. For example, she may make an upcycled dress by removing out-dated puffy sleeves, removing excess ruffles, lowering the neckline, and adding a contrasting belt.

upcycled purse

On the other hand, repurposing gives items a new lease on life, but not in the manner for which they were designed. In such a case, Missy may create a purse for Salvaged Threads using a man's jacket for the body of the purse and an old tie for the strap. (Doesn't that just sound way cute?)

Then there are the items that fall in a nether world between the two. Let's call them "Up-purposed" products; where a shirt becomes a dress or a dresser is converted into a coffee table.

For awhile Missy was content to simply sell her works of art, but she recently added a blog to SalvagedThreads, where she provides step-by-step demonstrations on how she upcycles or repurposes her creations.

"I just felt it was important to tell the story behind each piece. Customers might look at an item and think that's nice, but when you don't know what it used to be, you're losing its history and identity, and that's what really makes it come alive."

Steampunk earrings

Like Missy, upcyclers can seemingly turn any bit of trash into a treasure. The popular shopping site Etsy.com is the mother ship for this movement; connecting those who want to make things for a living with those who want to buy unique products. Here you'll find everything from Steampunk earrings to a footstool made with children's shoes.

campaign-sign chair

Elsewhere you'll find products that are pure genius and LOL funny: like a chair made from political campaign signs; wallets crafted from bike inner tubes; or handbags entirely composed of Capri Sun juice bags.

William McDonough and Michael Braungart founded the upcycling movement in 2002 with the publication of their book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things." 

The authors claimed environmentalists were being shortsighted. The architect and chemist said recycling, for instance, was actually "downcycling;" creating hybrids of biological and technical "nutrients" that were then unrecoverable and unusable. The authors called for entirely eliminating the concept of waste, while preserving commerce and allowing for human nature.

River Rouge Plant roof

One of their first and most-notable projects was to repurpose the roof of a Ford auto plant by covering it with soil and plants. The garden served as a natural insulation and put oxygen back into the atmosphere. The example captured the public's imagination and a new movement was born.

In addition to the crafts community, mass marketers have bought into upcycling. You’ve probably seen several upcycled products on the market today. Reusable shopping bags are often made from plastic bottles, t-shirts, or other upcycled materials.

sun-chips bag

Even commercial food manufacturers, knowing a marketing opportunity when they see one, are creating upcycled food packaging. Sun Chips has practically shouted from the roof tops about their new compostable chip bags.

For small businesspeople like Missy Blakeslee, however, satisfaction is in finding the right use for the right items and placing them with the right people. It's a bliss she's followed since age 10 or 12, and one she'll no doubt follow for many years to come.

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1 Comment

I love how Etsy is making it possible for people to sell one-of-a-kind items like the kinds Salvaged Threads makes. Small shops can become brands and open stores that allow them to take credit cards, and feature their products without having to worry about what has always been the problem with one-of-a-kind items: Stock. Once an item is sold, that's it - out of stock for good. This has always been a huge issue for eCommerce stores wanting to sell homemade stuff or original art. Etsy has solved that for so many.
Posted by Everett