I am often reminded that a lot of the coolest developments today are in reinvention. Some of the most interesting developments in architecture, fashion, and tech are from designers and engineers reinventing old materials. And why not! We have so much waste it should really be the material of choice. Gabrielle Susara takes old denim jeans and leather and reinvents them into awesome statement denim jackets at her brand Bonfire Vintage. Learn about her, her process, and some super awesome jackets below!
First question! We all have jeans, and we’ve all bought jeans. What should people know about the denim industry before they buy their next denim jacket or next pair of jeans?
Jeans have always been in style. We’ve all got that one denim jacket or that super comfortable pair of jeans that are a staple of our wardrobe. I find jeans make everyone look good and feel confident. Everyone except for our planet.
Denim’s lifecycle begins with cotton which we would think is relatively sustainable. However, it takes 7000 liters of water to grow cotton for only one pair of jeans. After this, the cotton needs to transform into denim which takes large amounts of paraffin and starch in order to smooth it. The problem is that these are very toxic products which are then directly dumped into the environment.
The most harmful step, which was really an eye-opener to me when I lived in China; would be the dyeing process. This is when all the synthetic colors of indigo blue are used in factories to dye the denim. There are entire cities in Asia where the toxins have eroded the soil and polluted the water; not only does it harm the planet but it is extremely toxic towards the workers and locals who live in those cities.
What’s your background, how did you get into fashion?
Throughout my life I’ve been exposed to so many different cultures, I was born in France but raised in Asia. Part of a culture comes the way they dress – so their sense of fashion. Three years ago, when I went to India for the first time I got to experience the whole process of creating a dress from the local women living there. This process included going to textile markets, choosing the fabrics, designing/fitting, and finally sewing it to life. It was definitely an eye-opener for me, I loved the culture behind the creation of clothes.
It’s funny how I don’t come from this sector at all or would’ve never expected fashion to be a way to express my creativity, but since founding Bonfire Vintage, it is definitely my main medium.
How did you get into sustainable fashion and upcycling?
I am currently pursuing a degree in Business and Sustainability because my future career will need to have a deeper meaning; either an impact on the environmental level or the humanitarian level. This is why I found myself beginning a project that combines things that I attach importance to – creativity, environmental impact, and design.
Why denim? Is there anything particularly special about what you saw in jeans?
I chose denim because I am obsessed with everything jean related ( I have no problem wearing denim on denim)– and I was shocked when I found out a few years ago the process in of making denim. Moreover, I saw the potential in creating an upcycling company using denim since it is one of the biggest pollutants in the textile industry.
What inspires you from your own life that you infuse in Bonfire Vintage Jackets?
I definitely have a lot of Asian influences in my art and designs because I grew up in Asia and am Eurasian. There is also a lot of geek culture influence such as Sci-fi movies or Asian animes and also big pop art influences in my designs (the very first jacket I launched was inspired from The Matrix). Since I have started, all the jeans I received came from donations.
How do you source your materials?
All of the pairs of jeans I receive are from donations and the customization I do sometimes are from second-hand jackets. It is very easy to deconstruct a jean, but quite challenging to sew it into a jacket. The first jacket I tried to sew took me 3 weeks to make. Now I am opting to sell jackets for a higher quality, so I work with a local seamstress who does the deconstructing of the jean into a jacket.
What’s your design process?
When it comes to the designing the jacket, this is entirely up to me. Once the design is sketched, I then go to local fabric shops/markets where I rummage about looking for the best fabrics. Sometimes a fabric can inspire me in creating a design which is also great because this completely changes my design process. For some of my jackets, I sometimes use photoshop to create certain graphics, which are then serigraphed onto the fabrics. I also use a lot of textile paint whilst creating the final jacket, as well as using embroidery. It is relatively time consuming but clients are usually extremely satisfied with their original one of one upcycled denim jacket.
BFV is upcycled denim jackets, so what makes a perfect denim jacket?
I think a perfect denim jacket is one that is one of a kind, high quality, that a jacket that you’re proud to wear. It should be able to express who you are, have a certain story and it should fit for multiple seasons.
Who is the BFV woman?
The stylish, eco-friendly student or working woman. She is a vintage lover, loves something unique, and cares about where her clothing comes from. The jackets are also designed to be unisex, something for both men and women. And of course, for those like me who cannot spend 300euros on a custom designer jacket.
Sustainability is all about the journey. We are all starting from a place of mass consumption, whether we are a designer or consumer. What’s your advice for those starting their sustainable journey?
Those starting their sustainable journey, there are so many communities and startups out there. For a long while I thought I was alone, then I found this ethical startup incubator (Ronalpia.) Now I’ve had the chance to meet so many other entrepreneurs who are also building their sustainable projects.
As small designers, our biggest advantage would be that we create original totally unique pieces. Definitely, emphasize on creating items that are unique and limited. I would also say that the best marketing strategy would be to ask yourself why you want to get into upcycling in the first place, what is the story behind it. Clients will love to hear your story, especially if it’s a meaningful one.