Jen Athanas takes apart old clothes, tablecloths, upholstery samples and whatever other fiber comes her way. She reinvents them into bags, scarves, hats, skirts – all sorts of things. Her company, Jen-A-Fusion, has the slogan of “Where Earth, Art and Fashion Collide!” (She also has a great Facebook page for Jen-A-Fusion.)
She sews her creations in her studio at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. We were attending the Spring Festival and she very kindly let me ask her lots of questions about how she runs a successful recycled fiber company. She has been in business for nine years, which is just wonderful.
Why does she use recycled fibers?
When Jen was a girl, she wanted to sew doll clothes and other things. Her mother said she could cut up the clothes that they were planning to give away. As we were chatting, a bunch of girls around 8-10 years old came into her studio to look around. I asked if they would like to sew like Jen and they were enthusiastic. Jen suggested they start with a pillow case made from a recycled t-shirt as they build up their sewing skills.
She never stopped using recycled fibers. She studied fashion design, and one of her major projects was a kimono made from recycled denim. It hangs in her studio still.
Jen says her “signature” pieces are:
- her triangle-shaped purse (pictured in her postcard here)
- her small rectangle purses, made from offset upholstery samples (great for travel because they keep your essentials handy when wearing a backpack)
She likes to mix patterns and use upholstery samples in her work.
Where she gets most of her fabric?
She never buys fabric because most days there are small bags of fabric left at the door of her studio. She can use just about any fabric, even really ugly or stained fabrics, because of how she constructs her purses. She uses a fabric inside the purse as a base, and that lining will never see the light of day once the purse is put together, so it’s a great way to use less desirable fabrics.
Where does Jen sell most of her products?
She attends many fairs and festivals, and does much of her sales at year-end for the holidays. She is very excited that next month she is going to be a featured artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, an artist cooperative in Alexandria.
Jen has an Etsy store, but it can be challenging to sell your product online when everything is one-of-a-kind. It can be tricky to go through all the work of photographing a piece only to sell it at a fair event. She recommended online stores for people who make products that are made in bulk – maybe like my plastic cap animal kits!
How did she inspire me?
It was time to go, but I couldn’t help sharing with Jen my own dreams of Trashmagination. She started coaching me about how to take my Trashmagination ideas and set up an Etsy store. She seemed quite delighted to hear about how I take odd bits of trash and design them into useful, beautiful things.
Other tidbits of wisdom she shared:
- Scrap DC – She told me about a store in DC called Scrap DC where they collect lots of odds and ends that artists and teachers LOVE to use. It’s part of a national movement of stores starting with the word “Scrap” that collects and redistributes craft and art supplies (some obvious, some less obvious. It sounds like EXACTLY the kind of place I want to work at / volunteer at / start in the northern Virginia area. Sounds like a field trip is in order, and soon!
- A Show of Hands – She reminded me about a store in Alexandria that I had visited with Bob a year ago called A Show of Hands that features local artists’ work, especially work made from recycled materials.
- Must Make Postcards – Her lovely postcard gave the idea that I need to make my own cards for Trashmagination with some of my projects featured on it. She suggested I could even start by getting a rubber stamp made up with my basic info and stamp recycled cardstock.
- Local Events – Her website lists about 100 events that I must attend!
- What Makes Me Happiest? – One thing Jen asked me was whether I would get the most joy from selling finished products or from teaching people how to make things, and the answer was very clear to me that I love to teach people how to do it themselves. I like to make the idea of Trashmagination seem easy and every day, so they get ideas when they are holding some random trash object in their hands. That’s a good observation that I need to remember as I figure out how I can best build the Trashmagination vision.
- Bungee Cord Hooks – Jen gave me a very small bungee cord that had lost all its stretchy factor. She said that artisans go through a lot of these things at art shows, but they do give out over time. She challenged me to think of a way to re-use those hooks. I love a Trashmagination challenge! Right at this moment, my first thought is just to replace the stretchy bungee bit and have a new bungee! But perhaps I can come up with some other ideas too.
I felt like I was walking on clouds after talking with Jen. It gives me such hope when I meet Trashmagination soulmates!
(And if anyone needs a gift idea for me, I’d love one of her triangle purses – ideally something in a bright orange or yellow!)