WhoWHATWhereWhy: Depression Couture recycles clothes for kids

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What to do with children's clothes once they're stained, snagged or just too small is not a problem for Kathleen DeMartino. Others may consider such outfits destined to be ditched, but this mother of two from Fox Chapel turns them into a handmade-in-Pittsburgh line of girls' apparel called Depression Couture.

"It's taking the incredible ideals of the Depression housewives, who would look to remaking things that no longer fit their kids or themselves," she says. "That's where the name comes from. It's kind of going back to the era of feed sack fashion."

Ms. DeMartino, who has an art degree from the Center for Creative Studies College of Art & Design in Detroit, has been sewing and designing for years. Prior to Depression Couture, she created and sold PetuniaBaker, a higher-end collection of children's clothes. The idea for her latest fashion endeavor came when Ms. DeMartino's daughter, now 10 years old, spilled chocolate milk on her favorite T-shirts.

"I tried to come up with something to do with them because she had a fit."

Ms. DeMartino pieced the tees together into a new skirt for her daughter, which moms at the Picket Fence in Shadyside "oohed" and "awed" about when she wore it shopping.

"The shop owner overheard, and it just kind of took off from there," Ms. DeMartino says.

Fast-forward a couple of years and Depression Couture's mix of skirts, tops, denim jackets and more for sizes 2 through 14 is sold at the Picket Fence, Lullabye Landing Boutique near South Hills Village and So Me in Glenshaw. Clothes also are available at www.etsy.com/shop/DepressionCouture.

Price points vary, from $24 for a knit sweater hat to $146 for a two-piece holiday outfit made from recycled and felted sweaters. Keeping the cost sensible is in line with the collection's eco-friendly nature.

"If you can stay true to your story, that is who your brand is," she says. "I think there is a demand for something like what I do."

The process begins with gathering recyclables to make over into new looks. In addition to her own children's closets, she shops for fabrics at used clothing sales, and local friends in the design industry give her fabric samples when they're out of season or discontinued. Everything is boiled and disinfected, and some pieces are dyed.

Her designs are inspired by European patterns. The prepped fabrics are then cut and sewn together -- all by Ms. DeMartino, who can turn out about 50 pieces per month if needed, depending upon the order. She often gets requests from mothers wanting a sweater like their daughter's made in adult sizes. Stores have been selling out their stocks in a matter of days, she says.

"There's value in things that don't fit you anymore. You don't just throw things in the trash just because you can't use it anymore," Ms. DeMartino says. "At the end of the day, it is fun. As long as I'm having fun, I'll do this for a very long time."

Information: www.depressioncouture.com.


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com.


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