Fashion is the third most polluting industry in the world. When we think and talk of pollution, the image that comes to mind is usually that of power plants or chemical waste flooding lakes and rivers. And yet, the very garments we wear are continually impacting the planet negatively. More than 99 percent of the clothing thrown away in the U.S. can be upcycled but sadly more than 85 percent ends up in landfills. Even in those landfills, these materials don’t just go away — nylon takes 30 to 40 years to biodegrade, while polyester requires more than 200 years. So, how can we love fashion without contributing to the destruction of our planet?
Well, there are ways — buying upcycled fashion is one of them. T&J Upcycling founders Ty Kranz and Jakkie Greer are doing just that. “We are committed to creating environmental sustainability by giving a new purpose to disposable material, thus reducing fashion consumption and textile waste,” Kranz and Greer said. Upcycling fashion involves using pre-existing clothing, accessories or deadstock — fabric left over from the fashion industry — and restructuring them into new garments. T&J Upcycling looks at recycled clothes creatively and transforms the clothes into fashion works of art. We sat down with Kranz and Greer to learn more about their upcycling design company and their commitment to creating environmental sustainability in fashion.
303 Magazine: Growing up, did you always have the interest in working in fashion?
Ty Kranz: Fashion, growing up, seemed to have surrounded me or at least it was the environment I created for myself. However, never keeping up with “trends” I seemed to have enjoyed messing around on my own and stepping outside the norms of the industry, which eventually led me to be the designer I am today. I have always loved to look good and capture the attention of others but wanted to do that mindfully, therefore I knew I had a lot of maturing to do around the idea of fashion.
Jakkie Greer: I had an interest in fashion but never dreamed of working in the industry. I always strived for the element of novelty — something different when it came to fashion — so I would add something to my outfits that would make me stand out from the rest.
303: When did you realize you wanted to work in fashion?
Ty: I realized I wanted to work in fashion when I was constantly asked where I had bought my outfits and often times than not, I had just cut up a t-shirt and turned it into something I liked. Also, modeling has been the biggest part of my life since a young age — it kept me going through my seizures and brain surgery — so I connected the two and evolved the lifestyle into that of now — a designer
JG: It wasn’t until I met Ty that I knew that I wanted to work in fashion. The second we started bouncing ideas off one another and shared our dreams of changing the world is when I realized this is what I was meant to do.
303: What inspired you to start T&J Upcycling? Did you train professionally?
T&J: Our passion for fashion and our desire to better the economy inspired us to start T&J Upcycling. We are committed to creating environmental sustainability by giving a new purpose to disposable material, thus reducing fashion consumption and textile waste. We are continuously learning about new methods and technologies as we go and Ty is also going to art school studying fashion design.
303: What does sustainable fashion and upcycling mean to you?
T&J: Sustainable fashion means extending product life without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Upcycling gives people an alternative — to donate the clothes they are no longer wanting — or find use for, giving us the opportunity to re-purpose that material and turn it into something fashionable and trendy.
303: What’s the most challenging thing about running an Upcycling business?
T&J: T&J Upcycling is a relatively new concept that faces the challenge of a lack of general knowledge about the new and trendy initiative. Our goal is to change that. To engage customers into this new concept. With our fashionable design our creativity/innovation and uniqueness of our product as well as the good environmental and social cause, we hope to give people the motive to not only buy our product but to become more environmentally mindful in all aspects of their lives.
303: Is there someone who inspires you and why?
Ty: Personally, Iris Apfel has been a huge inspiration of mine in and around authenticity and breaking norms in the industry while making loud statements and being unapologetic. Aside from Iris Apfel, the world inspires us, the people. We are so powerful and crave love, acceptance, to be heard and connection, more than anything. Whether in the most obvious forms or not — and through fashion and this movement — we hope to build bridges to mend the gaps that have been created to separate us as a whole.
JG: This is a hard question. I don’t feel like there is one person that inspires me. I am inspired by all of the environmental leaders working for the future of our planet — Sylvia Earle, Wangari Maathai, Marina Silva to name a few. If we are speaking more fashion-related, Oliver Rousteing is the king.
303: Other than your own, which sustainable fashion brands or upcycling brand do you like?
T&J: We have still a lot of exploring to do, but one of our most recent interactions with the owner of Equilibrium. We were connected through a mutual friend and met at the Jackalope in Denver. To hear the movement, they have created and their support around ours was heartwarming. It was amazing to see another local business doing something to make a change.
303: What happens to that part of the clothing that does not get utilized?
T&J: The pieces of clothing that we are unable to repurpose in clothing, we plan to use that material as well for filler for pillows or furniture, make into blankets or sleeping bags to give to people less fortunate.
303: You want to make long-lasting fashion. How do you want to achieve that? How do you determine what is durable design?
T&J: Our product is backed by 100 percent guarantee, loyalty and great customer service with the intention to build relationships. We believe clothes can be recirculated full-circle. A lot of the material donated to use is salvageable. We can take that material and turn into something new and trendy to serve someone else. Eventually, we want to partner with businesses that can break down material and turn it back into thread. Collaboration with the right people could really excite the community.
303: How do you think upcycled products compare with high street finds? Why should people shop for upcycled and repurposed goods?
T&J: T&J Upcycling is an online retailer specializing in stylish, quality items compared to similar mainstream items. We offer an upcycled fashion alternative to traditional options as a way to reduce global waste. We have a very unique vision for our designs. Each piece is limited edition, high quality, one of a kind and handcrafted. We also accept customizable piece inquiries. Our passion is to create a new wave of trendy, street-style, statement-making fashion while preserving our economy.
303: If you were to give some suggestions to a young fashion designer wanting to follow this path, what would it be?
T&J: Trial and error will be key. Allow yourself the space to learn, grow and evolve and remind yourself that you are an artist and the passion burns within you, trust that and your hands/vision. Networking is a huge factor and knowing what it is that you want to accomplish and how to get there. Educate yourself as much possible — it’s an ongoing learning process and it never stops. Fashion is ever going — from the history of it to the present times and the future visions. Travel, seek inspiration and find a motive. Most importantly, do not stop going. It will get difficult at times — you will literally cut your fingers with pins, scissors, needles — you will have long nights and emotionally frustrating ones at that. People will want to say you can’t do it. Keep going.
303: Where do you receive your upcycling clothes from? Take us through the process of receiving the upcycled clothes to the redesigning of it?
T&J: We have been a word to mouth business with the help of social media. Somehow, we have always had inventory and never have had a problem with lack of material. We also advertise that we are donation based and through our networking, we receive donations often. Usually what we do is we sort through our donations and pick out pieces we have visions for. We love to give ourselves themes. As of lately, they have been statement-making. We want to give fashion a purpose.
303: What aspects of your past do you feel helped you become successful in business?
Ty: A near-death experience brought me to the place I am in now.
JG: Losing both of my parents at a young age and having to learn every lesson on my own has shaped me into the person I am today.
303: What quote or saying do you live by?
Ty: This has likely come across differently for others, my favorite saying I have lived by my whole life, through my seizures and brain surgery, as well as addiction, was, “Mind over Matter.” It helped me realize my inner strength all while still allowing myself the space to feel and work through these overwhelming emotions during hard times.
JG: I live by the quote, “You did not wake up today to be mediocre.” I know tomorrow is never promised, so I try and make the most of every day.
303: What can we expect from you in 2019?
T&J: First, thank you to all of our supporters and followers who have stuck with us through the transitions, growth spurts and learning curves. 2019 will finally be bringing us our online store to allow you all to freely shop from us. This will be the year of progress. You will be seeing more fashion shows, pop-up shops and collaboration.
All photography by Karson Hallaway