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How Kristin Mallison Is Making Recycled Fashion Cool

One of the first garments Kristin Mallison ever made was a skirt crafted from recycled pink and blue fabric scraps fastened together with safety pins. Mallison, now 28, recalls wearing it nearly every week in high school in Detroit, Michigan. She bought the materials from her local Salvation Army.

"I started to kind of crudely make my own clothes when I was 14," she said.

Mallison’s use of safety pins and repurposed fabric was inspired by her love of punk music and the DIY aesthetic that matched. She loved bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols, and frequented Detroit rock venues like Alvin’s and The Magic Stick.

Mallison then started creating more designs out of thrift store finds because she found them more interesting than conventional garments. She attended Pratt, where she focused on fashion design with an emphasis on sustainability. Today, she makes one-of-a-kind garments out of recycled materials like old t-shirts and upholstery fabric, which were just sold at the Insta-famous indie clothing pop-up shop, Cafe Forgot.

In 2017, Brooklyn-born friends Vita Haas and Lucy Weisner created Café Forgot as a platform to showcase independent designers. The shop carries clothing by Gauntlett Cheng and Lou Dallas, as well as lesser-known designers that use crafty aesthetics. Cafe Forgot has gained notoriety in the mainstream fashion scene with profiles in publications like Vogue and Garage, and through influencers like Alyssa Coscarelli and Jo Rosenthal.

According to Haas and Weisner, who started the boutique selling their friends’ designs, being an ethical business is their main goal and their popularity has been a welcomed bonus.

“Most people that we work with work in a sustainable way,” said Haas. "A lot of them either receive fabrics or they recycle them."

Mallison, who sells her designs through Instagram and DePop, has been following
Cafe Forgot since it started. She discovered the shop through Francesca Longo and Sophie Andes Gascon—both former Pratt classmates who sold their designs at Cafe Forgot during its beginnings.

"Everybody at Cafe Forgot is some of the best that come from Pratt," Mallison said.

From 2011 to 2015, Mallison studied at Pratt with the above designers. They all have similar craft-inspired aesthetics and use mainly recycled materials, which Mallison attributes to the school. Every class she took at Pratt talked about sustainability, and there was even a resource room with recycled fabrics.

“They encouraged you at the school to make things that looked kind of, in a good way, amateur," Mallison said. "You didn't have to be super clean and technical."

In October, Mallison decided to attend a Cafe Forgot pop-up in hopes of meeting Haas. Mallison discreetly introduced herself, talked about her Pratt colleagues who sell at Cafe Forgot, and then the two followed each other on Instagram. The rest happened organically.

Within several weeks, after spotting a tapestry skirt on Mallison’s Instagram, Haas asked Mallison to sell her designs at the store. She started with three items: several patchwork shirts and a tapestry skirt made from a reclaimed piano bench. These items were on sale at Cafe Forgot’s most recent pop-up, which took place from November 10 to 17 at the Picture Room in Brooklyn.

On the shop’s opening night, Haas wore a full look from Mallison’s collection: a green tapestry skirt woven with a violin design and a t-shirt crafted from a floral tapestry fabric.

"It was very fun working with her. I hope we can work with her again," Haas said.

Mallison’s collection was so well received that items sold out almost immediately. She churned out more and more garments each day the shop was open and sold a total of 10 items.

“As things kept selling, I just kept making more and more,” Mallison said. “It’s very motivating to keep on trying to make inventory.”

And Mallison’s still creating. Since the pop-up, she gained 100 Instagram followers and earned requests for custom items. She’s producing more and more items out of old upholstery fabric, inspired by her collection for Cafe Forgot. There’s a tank top made out of a floral needlepoint pillow you might find at your grandmother’s house, and a t-shirt with a kitten on the front and dramatic tasselled sleeves made from curtains, to name a few.

"There’s just something really nice about using something that belonged to someone else at one time."

The slightly kitschy, home decor influence comes from Mallison’s day job—she designs for a curtain company. She takes fabric scraps from work, which helps keep her costs low and allows her to reuse textiles that would otherwise go into a landfill. She makes everything at home on a Singer machine, which she thrifted in Michigan and an old serger she picked up for free at a yard sale. Mallison takes pride in making clothing using zero waste, and plans to continue creating recycled fashion.

Despite her trend-eschewing nature, Mallison is well aware that craft-inspired fashion is not going to sell forever, and plans to adapt with aesthetic trends as the industry changes.

"I'm really conscious of what is going on in fashion, and it does have its effect on what I'm going to make,” she said. “I’m not going to want to make the same thing forever. I’m going to get bored and want to make something different.”

Words: Hayley Lind

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