Melissa Tan works on a dress for her brand “With Love” in her victorian home in the Mission District on Wednesday April 3, 2013.
By Kayla McIntosh
Photos by Gabriella Gamboa
The name SCRAP says it all.
Tucked away in SF’s Bayview neighborhood, a junkyard/teacher’s donation center/starving artist’s paradise is waiting to be sifted through. Melissa Tan is completely at home. Carrying two frumpy shopping bags, she rushes past the metal gate and scurries up the mini-flight of stairs into her personal nirvana.
“It’s a good thing I’m not alone otherwise I could spend hours here,” she says nonchalantly.
Her cat-lined eyes are set on the fabric section placed dead center of the cluttered store.
Tan glides past the store’s “free” section, which is stuffed with retro CDs and tattered binders, and walks straight to the recycled fabrics. Most would be immediately overwhelmed. SCRAP is filled with thousands upon thousands of art-related knick knacks.
A plethora of bright and dull fabrics are rolled up and tucked away in dozens of shelves along the aisle. From brown leather to fuchsia jersey to neon lycra, myriad textures are present. Some textiles are new and shiny while others are pungent and dowdy.
Tan starts grabbing.
Dressed in all black, her half shaved red hair makes her stand out. She is rambunctious, humorous and a self-proclaimed hippie who adores designing sustainable clothing. She relentlessly picks up and puts down fabrics that she finds interesting, random or just plain ugly.
It’s a game of the senses.
She unrolls many of the fabrics and chuckles to herself when amused.
“Look! It’s elastic bands for guy’s underwear,” she says with a huge grin as she dangles dozens of the grey and black bands.
Barrels of worn leather are positioned in the middle of the cramped aisle. Grass green velvet is carefully spun around a metal contraption.
Tan sifts through the boxes on the other side of the aisle and finds a small bag of black fringe. She quickly shoves it in her bag. She may feel like using it for her next Burning Man costume.
SCRAP is a non-profit reusable art center but most importantly, it is where Tan purchases most of the fabrics for her recyclable clothing line, With Love. Her label consists of whimsical circle skirts in mesh, velour and jersey. She also has draped tees made of two separate tops. A standout piece is her black mini skirt made of mesh and fringe. Perfect to wear as a swimsuit cover up.
Every fabric used was either salvaged from SCRAP or from an piece of clothing that was never going to be worn again.
“The most sustainable thing to do is to not buy anything new,” Tan proclaims. Her ideology is that sustainable fashion is only sustainable when in fact, no new material is being used.
The green movement in fashion has been around for decades. This movement refers to the notion of not using fabrics that have been sprayed with harsh pesticides and synthetic fertilizers for the sake of growing cotton. Repurposed and recycled fashion shows off a softer side to an industry notorious for consumerism and self-indulgence. Eco-conscious designers are popping up and creating successful names for themselves in the Bay Area community.
Designers like Tan are producing garments that are either from organic textiles or recycled materials. In pursuit of protecting the environment, designers are putting Mother Earth before the apparel.
Another brand following the eco-conscious trend is Clary Sage.
Environmental lover Patti Cozzato founded the line in 2008. Her store is located on the upscale Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights.
Out front, a small sign with the words “Clary Sage Organics” hangs above the door of the store.
Inside, the interior reflects the aesthetic of the brand. Repurposed pieces furnish the space. The countertops are weathered pieces of wood sanded down to give off a rustic vibe to an otherwise cold space. The concrete floors are polished with grey scraps floating throughout. The walls are covered in metal beams and reach high into the ceiling.
Melissa Tan sews a dress seam at her victorian house in the Mission District on Wednesday April 3, 2013.
“It’s all her vision,” Catherine Kwei, head of the Clary Sage stores, says about the modern interior design of the comfortably sized storefront. The “her” being Cazzato, who has manifested a yoga and lifestyle label featuring textiles like organic cotton and bamboo.
Clary Sage initially launched as a yoga brand that sold leggings and tanks but has since expanded to fashion pieces like tees, tunics and wraps. Like the label, With Love, designers of this eco-friendly brand use repurposed materials as well.
Their most famous duds include a pair of knee-hitting yoga pants that come in both organic cotton and recycled water bottle fabric. That’s right. Water bottles can also be used to create chic workout gear.
Designed, manufactured and sold exclusively in San Francisco, Clary Sage has been a staple in the community for the past five years.
Their main clients are eco-conscious shoppers and small business supporters.
Kwei wants consumers to know that living an organic life does not stop at what you put into your body but what you put on the outside as well.
To her, Clary Sage centers on “teaching a lifestyle about living well [and] being well, including what you wear.”
Protecting the environment is the focus of all designers that aim to create eco-friendly articles of clothing.
It’s not just local designers either. Back in 1988, the out-of-the-box, Parisian based Maison Martin Margiela sent models down the runway in a gown constructed of repurposed leather from a butcher’s apron. More recently, fashion model Elettra Wiedemann wore a Prabal Gurung dress made of recyclable materials to the annual fashion prom known as the Metropolitan Gala held in New York City in 2011.
People in the industry have begun to embrace the concepts of sustainable wear. Labels are beginning to let it be known that organic garments don’t have to be dowdy.
The brand, Mina+Olya for example.
Designers and founders, Mina Yazdi and Olya Dzilikhova, teamed up and eventually founded their luxury label in 2011. For the past few years, they produced three collections for the fall and spring seasons.
Some of their favorite fabrics include sustainable wools, organic cottons, silk charmeuse, and hemp.
Their design aesthetics are classic and crisp. Their fall 2013 collection consists of conservatively tailored wool dresses and structured outerwear in muted palettes of grey, camel and plum.
Their collection is sold exclusively at the boutique Curve in the Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Myriad fashion brands have sprouted up throughout the years yet most are difficult to find. Sites like Eco Fashion World serve as guides to all things related to style and sustainability.
Founder and nature enthusiast, Magaly Fuentes-Sagan, finds herself now juggling her newborn and her site.
“The issue of sustainability as a whole is important to me,” Fuentes-Sagan expresses.
Her love for the outdoors, her personal health and animals catapulted her and three others to create the informative site. A variety of designer brands, articles and guides are available to eco-friendly followers.
After graduating from San Francisco’s Art Institute, Fuentes-Sagan immersed herself in the fashion industry for several years until she burnt herself out. Globe trotting was her next move and it was then she discovered the harsh realities of textile manufacturing.
“While traveling, I realized that I did not want to leave the fashion industry but wanted to travel a different road within it,” she explains.
Melissa Tan searches through aisles of recycled fabrics at Scroungers’ Center for Reusable Art Parts (SCRAP) on Wednesday April 3, 2013.
She eventually asked herself what about the fashion industry troubled her so much and came to a solid conclusion.
“The answer came easily and had a lot to do with overconsumption and any abuse to workers and the environment,” she admits.
Back in the Mission, Tan is working away at an intricate fabric on her ironing board. Using fabric wax, she precisely marks up the areas she wants to chop off.
After a recently taking a belly dancing class, Tan’s been playing Turkish music while she sews to keep herself entertained. She stands still for a few seconds, peering at the ornate material and deciding on which steps to take next.
“I got this fabric for free off of Craigslist,” she says gleefully. Some “crazy lady” posted that she needed some materials to be taken off her hands and Tan just couldn’t resist.
Tan’s traditional home was transformed into her in-house studio after she was booted out by her prior landlords.
“They raised the prices so more startup companies could start coming in,” Tan sighs.
All around her home is a touch of Tan’s creativity. On her mannequin rests a black velvet and gold cotton gown. Half the bustier is velvet. If Vivienne Westwood created a dress for a gypsy ball, this would be it.
“I like to look at it and come up with ideas,” she says of her creative process.
In the back of her kitchen rests all of her other recycled fabrics. Some from the Garment District in Los Angeles but the bulk from SCRAP. Three tall black shelves are stacked with numerous textiles. Zippers and buttons are tucked away in boxes for Tan to rifle through if needed.
Tan stands and peers at her wall of reusable textiles and tries to decide her next move.
No matter which direction she chooses, the result will be a stylish garb with a repurposed edge.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original article incorrectly identified the surname of Eco Fashion World’s owner. Her name is Fuentes-Sagan, not Fuentes-Saga.