Shannon South gives vintage leather jackets and pants new life as sexy handbags.
Made from used leather clothing and scrap material, Shannon South’s ReMade in the USA collection of bags is a great way to make a fashion statement while keeping your conscience clear. The amount of clothing that gets sent to landfills every year is staggering, The Fiber Economics Bureau reported that the average American throws out about 68 pounds of textiles per year. The Council for Textile Recycling found that of this waste, only about 10 pounds per person is recycled. Giving tired old leather jackets and pants a new life as gorgeous handbags seems like a great way to boost that recycling number.
If you want, you can even send in your own old, no-longer-loved jacket and South will transform it into a bag based on one of her current designs.
South studied at The Royal College of Art in London, and earned a Masters in Industrial Design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating, she lived in the Netherlands for a while, working with internationally acclaimed designer, Marcel Wanders, who taught her the value and beauty of “the story” in design. South also spent time living in Oslo and Copenhagen, places that greatly influenced her design work and aesthetic.
After moving back to the United States, South started designing bags. She was, however, deeply troubled by the process of sending CAD drawings to China and having her bags mass produced. She decided that the only way she could feel good about what she was doing was if she used only repurposed materials and manufactured locally.
She went to Goodwill, found a leather jacket, studied the details and let them guide her design process. She fell in love with the result and “quickly became obsessed with studying old jacket details and seeing them on bags.” Thus, ReMade USA was born. Last year, she packed up her studio in San Francisco and moved to New York City. All of the bags are now made by hand in South’s studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and at a handful of her manufacturers in Manhattan.
Shannon South at work in her studio
The main material South uses is leather, but she also works with everything from used denim to vintage doilies, and the bag linings are all made from vintage scarves.
“Repurposing materials is a very thoughtful process and it means that every object made is unique,” says South. Because she works with an existing garment rather than a piece of leather or fabric, South has to constantly adapt her basic designs to work with the details of that particular garment.
“No two jackets that I find are alike. Each one must be deconstructed and design decisions must be made. My patternmaking has to be smart and creative, fitting within the constraints of the given material.” For the customer, this means that even though you choose between basic styles from the collection, no two bags are alike.
For this new collection, South decided to include pieces made from vintage fur.
“I’ve wanted to work with vintage fur for quite a long time and mink is something I was drawn to for its luxuriousness,” she says. “I came across a vintage stole, which I made my first samples with and loved the results. The combination of mink with the buttery soft leather is beautiful.”
Fur is a pretty controversial topic within ethical fashion, something South is fully aware of. “I would never endorse using new fur, but there is a lot of old fur that has been hidden away for several years and is out of style.”
iPhone & iPad cases made from reclaimed leather and vintage mink fur
One of my favorite things about the new collection are the brass detailings that can be seen on some of the bags. This was inspired by one of South’s old studio neighbors, Fay Andrada, a metalsmith who uses brass as her medium.
I interviewed Shannon a few years ago, as her first ReMade USA collection (which was picked up by Barneys) was coming out so when putting together the lookbook for this new collection, she asked me if I would model the bags for her, which I was of course happy to do. We spent an afternoon in South’s Brooklyn apartment with photographer Evan Browning and what came out of it is what you see here.
All ReMade USA bags are handcrafted in New York City
Shannon South’s vision has remained constant from the start, even though she has now added jewelry and home accessories to her line.
“I see reMade USA as part of a back-to-basics, holistic approach that is in line with the way I try to live my life. It sees beauty in the past, praises a lifestyle of ‘making do’ and has a deep appreciation for things that have been cultivated by hand — be it tomatoes from a garden, a piece of wood from a salvage yard, or a bag that has been hand-crafted from an old jacket. In the end, I am trying to lead a life of authenticity and responsibility, doing what I love and attempting to be as good as possible.”