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Upcycling: Fashionista Explores the Cutting Edge of Entrepreneurship

By:  Meagan Priselac Aug 1, 2013
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Upcycling

From outdated jeans to trendy denim shorts, one young entrepreneur is cutting new life into thrift store finds -- turning an '80's fashion faux pas into a millennial "ooh la la."

And she’s doing it in style. As a senior fashion major at the University of Georgia, Lindsay Nation has some tough decisions ahead of her. The most pressing one: her career path.

But it’s a path this fashionista is already paving through a concept called “upcycling”.

The trending buzzword is defined as the process of taking materials or products others deem useless, and turning them into a product of better or higher quality. Nation is using the concept to launch an unconventional fashion line called Clauset Honey.

The name reflects her outlook both on life and how she runs her business. "Without parameters, like a 'clause' doesn’t have parameters in a sentence, I think your closet should do the same,” she explains.

Nation buys old, high-waisted jeans from thrift stores, then cuts them into shorts. Using dye, bleach, studs and a creative eye for fashion, the young entrepreneur makes each pair fashion forward. The refurbished denim cut-offs “bring a lot of style and joy to people’s wardrobes,” she says.

Cutting Jeans into Jean Shorts

Nation cuts new life into old shorts. 

What brings Nation the most joy is starting her own business. Despite a sluggish economy, an article from Forbes magazine reports U.S. entrepreneurship reached a record high. “The percentage of adults involved in startups in 2012 hit 13 percent,” the article states. “It’s “a record high since Babson [College] began tracking entrepreneurship rates in 1999.”

The article also says in 2012, U.S. entrepreneurs reported “greater optimism and confidence in their abilities to start new businesses.” Nation says she can relate.

“As long as I don’t get complacent and as long as I don’t just sit back and think things are going to happen, without me making them happen… I think I can be successful in my future,” she says.  

Dip Dyed Shorts
Lindsay Nation

Top Sellers: Dip Dyed Jean Shorts

Nation admits, “It’s definitely terrifying to go out in the world by myself without any funding or backing.” She says she realizes, “there is definitely a big possibility of failure, especially in a recession” when people are spending less on personal goods. “That’s why it is so important to be interesting and to find a niche that sets yourself apart.”

Realistic Expectations

One successful upcycling company called LOOPTWORKS agrees with Nation. As trailblazers in the industry, co-founder Scott Hamlin says LOOPTWORKS faced many challenges when it launched in 2009. But having realistic expectations set him up for success.

“It was not the best of times economically. And we also knew that we were going down a road that nobody had ever really gone down before,” says Hamlin.

He and his business partner worked in the outdoor and athletic industry for decades. While working they realized the industry was broken. Every year, “15% of fabric production ends up on the cutting room floor,” says Hamlin. That equals about 1 million tons of waste each year.

“There were all these great materials to use that are in forms people aren’t totally accustomed to using,” says Hamlin. He says that’s when the two entrepreneurs decided to “intercept these excess materials to turn them into amazing products.”

Today, the groundbreaking business based in Portland, Ore. successfully, “repurposes abandoned materials into meaningful, long-lasting products” ranging from clothing, to backpacks, to camera cases.

Upcycling, Hamlin explains, entails “creating an inherently higher value product out of waste materials or product.”

Cutting to the Chase

When asked to give advice to young entrepreneurs Hamlin, responded bluntly, “The clothing industry is brutal.”

That may be the case, but it certainly won’t stop the Clauset Honey founder from trying. As a butting entrepreneur, Nation is up for the challenge.

Entrepreneur Lindsay Nation with her Jean Shorts Collection
Lindsay Nation

Clauset Honey creator Lindsay Nation strikes a pose with her shorts at Oyster Boutique. 

Known as “jean shorts girl” Lindsay Nation began selling out of a place filled with potential customers—her college sorority house. But her client base is expanding. Today the fashionable refurbished shorts are selling off shelves in one Atlanta, Ga. store—Oyster Boutique. Nation’s business is also growing virtually. In addition to her Clauset Honey Facebook page, she also runs an inspirational blog.

Several sources report different failure and success rates for small businesses. Some say 50% don’t make through the first year, while others claim the failure rate is as high as 80%. Regardless, these numbers haven’t fazed Nation.

The fashion entrepreneur graduates in less than a year. But you won’t see her filling out job applications just yet. Nation says like her clothing line, her future as a fashion entrepreneur has no parameters. 

“Without risk, there is no reward,” she concludes.