Waste Not
Remade in the USA:
A Conversation with Designer Shannon South

In the world of sustainable fashion, few designers are pulling off the business model with as much style and substance as Shannon South. BBMG’s proprietary community of Aspirational consumers, The Collective, recently partnered with Shannon for the Remake My Leather Challenge, and we sat down with her to discuss what makes Shannon’s line, Remade USA, different from other sustainably designed product lines.

How did you get started as a handbag designer?

I'm trained in digital design and have a Master's in industrial design. After years of working as a web designer, I wanted to do something with my hands. When I started making bags, I designed and crafted each and every one of them myself. I like making bags because they are tangible and useful objects. A woman interacts with her handbag all day long. That became more satisfying to me than building websites.

Share a little bit about how your service works.

Remade USA is a custom leather jacket-to-bag transformation service. People will send me their old, out-of-style jackets and then pick from a few basic designs on my site. I then do a bit of reconstructive surgery and make it into something they can use daily again. The new item then serves as a useful totem of all the importance that jacket held for them.

What inspired you to start Remade USA?

I started Remade USA in 2009 and was inspired by several things. As a trained industrial designer, I was very aware of the amount of waste being created and the toll it takes on the environment. It sickened me that we can buy throw-away products and fast fashion, use them for short periods of time and chuck them into the landfill.

The amount of waste the United States produces annually certainly inspired me to not make anything new. I wanted to experiment with transforming discarded items into useful products and see where I could go with it. I also was thinking much about the state of the U.S. economy at that time, lack of jobs, outsourcing to China. ... In addition to the obvious, Remade USA has to do with the hopes and dreams for my country.

What about leather appeals to you as a textile?

Leather has always held an elevated place in my mind as a luxury material. When I was in high school, I saved my money to buy a black leather motorcycle jacket. I think because of its durability and people's respect for the material, a leather jacket used to be something that was like a second skin—usually being worn with everything, often being worn for several years. Leather is a material that lasts. Because of these things, it also embodies many memories of a specific period in life. Leather jacket pockets also tend to be treasure chests: I often find small things like receipts and notes that are very tactile and personal. On my site, I have started to catalog the stories, along with before and after images.

In The Collective’s Remake My Leather Challenge, members posted about the stories behind their leather. Why did you feel the winner's story was most compelling?

Amy, who won the challenge, explained that her leather jacket originally belonged to her father, who has since passed away. Her fondest memories growing up involved using the jacket to play dress up with her big sister. Amy wanted me to remake the jacket into a gift for her sister so that she could keep their father close to her on a daily basis.

I loved the fact that the winner's story was so clear and that the jacket held such strong childhood memories involving her entire family. Most of all, I loved that she wanted to give it as a gift to her sister as a token of their shared memory of their father. It's wonderful when my transformations are given as a gift because it affects the other person in such an unexpected and profound way, sharing the experience of the story in physical form in a memorable way.

What was unique about The Collective's process and the community?

The Collective is a community of people that are all mindful about their purchases — similar to my typical customer. I liked the fact that the participants are already in my target market and that this contest was a fun way to introduce my brand to them.

What can we expect from you in the months ahead?

I've always wanted to expand Remade USA into home accessories and broaden my search for other materials that work well when repurposed. The Shannon South line is my collection of bags and accessories that are made from remnant leather from the furniture industry and manufactured in limited quantities in NYC. As I mentioned earlier, I have a background in industrial design — I would love to do furniture and lighting one day.

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