SilkDenim makes new clothing & home goods out of old jeans

The love of creative possibility with discarded denim is only exceeded by the love and admiration Louise and Sarah have for one another.

by Jessa Gibboney
May 14, 2020

Louise Silk and her daughter, Sarah Silk, are “Janes of all trades.”

Through their various skill sets, whether it’s quilting or acting, sewing or mastering the Feldenkrais® Method, teaching or designing, Louise and Sarah found their way to SilkDenim, a zero-waste fashion studio using 100% recycled materials to create “art you can use.”

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Starting Out with Sewing

“The only thing I did well in high school was sew,” said Louise. She was trained to be a home economics teacher before she discovered the art form of quilting during the women’s rights movement in the ’60s and ‘70s. Her 40+ years of artistry took many forms, but quilting and recycling materials have been a constant.

When Louise’s parents died, she gathered all their clothing and textiles and created 20 different quits. “It became the idea of recycling memory.” The sustainable groundwork was established.

“I was raised in an artist’s home,” said Sarah. “My mom always had a studio where she would sew all day, every day, and she still does. It is what she’s done my whole life.”

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Boomeranging to New York (and Back)

The SilkDenim big bag
The SilkDenim Big Bag made from 100% recycled denim.

Sarah found a playground of creative exploration in childhood – one day drawing, the next day sewing, the next morning clothing design. She moved to New York City in 2005, drawn toward acting. After several years honing her acting skills all over the country, she moved back to Pittsburgh in 2015.

SilkDenim, however, was already in the works.

It started with the Brooklyn Flea, the coveted flea market serving vintage, artisan designs, antiques and food. While in New York City, Sarah found herself in a constant state of lugging around goods and wanted to create a reusable bag that was functional and stylish.

“I’ve always been attracted to denim,” said Sarah. “It’s easy to acquire and looks good in my design ideas. It was a natural fit from looking through used fabric and wanting something that was going to last and be fashionable and be cool.” SilkDenim’s “Big Bag” was born.

Upcycling Denim into New Products

“In terms of denim, it’s a fabulous material to work with, it is durable and has so much life,” said Louise. “The minute you start to look at the Japanese aspects of it, the recycling aspect of it, and the patching aspects of it, it was a natural progression.”

Creating from recycled denim took flight, especially once Sarah moved back to Pittsburgh. Sarah and Louise began creating and crafting under the name SilkDenim, or as Sarah puts it “SilkQuilt 2.0, mother/daughter edition.” SilkQuilt is Louise’s fiber art business.

Louise and Sarah started producing recycled denim goods they desired themselves, such as jumpsuits and coats. Adapting to the times, they now offer recycled denim face masks.

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At the Core of SilkDenim is Sustainability

“We don’t throw out a thread,” said Louise. Running a zero-waste studio isn’t easy, but part of the creative challenge for Louise and Sarah is finding unique possibilities for threads and scraps. Creating and stuffing massive floor pillows is one example.

“It’s a rabbit hole that you can go down forever,” said Sarah. “It’s challenging, but also exciting. It’s like a mindful awareness exercise about one’s use of things.”

Sarah and Louise recognize sustainable measures are individualistic. Their route of zero waste production and using recycled materials is not something to be accomplished, not something they set out to do, they just do. It is ingrained in their business ethos and their family.

When it comes to sustainability, “You have to take one little step at a time and keep going,” said Louise. “You can’t give up.”

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Navigating the Mother-Daughter Relationship

Similar to how a sustainable fashion business has its challenges, a working mother/daughter relationship can be confronting at times.

“Initially there were a lot of challenges because we had to find a rhythm of how we could work together and respect each other. We were both used to working very independently,” said Louise. “It helped that I’m well along in my career, and I don’t have the need to be the standout. I have the need for Sarah to have it.”

silkdenim
Photo: SilkDenim

“The generosity of my mom is what made this whole thing possible,” said Sarah. “But it’s also a complicated mother/daughter relationship where I had to figure out how to become responsible and professional in working with my mom instead of being like a bratty little daughter.”

Sarah continued, “I’ve learned how to be a better collaborator. As an actress, it’s much clearer how to be a good collaborator, and what my job is, that is something I am trained to do. Whereas I became a fashion designer by default so learning how to collaborate in this realm, it is an ongoing discovery.”

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In true mother/daughter fashion, Louise and Sarah grow together. They push one another, in art and creation, in sustainable practices and in life. As Louise commented, Sarah has “stretched my skills even further. It’s a special relationship we have and to experience it, there is really nothing like it.”

Learn more about SilkDenim

Louise Silk Individual Projects:

  • SilkQuilt
  • Renew exhibition showcases up-cycled clothing and textiles and addresses global warming. It is located at the Contemporary Craft’s BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery until July 2020

Sarah Silk Individual Projects:

 

📸 Photos provided by SilkDenim. Header photo is a collage of items from the SilkDenim Etsy shop

Jessa is a writer and poet, but above all, a storyteller. Her blog houses poetry and essays on sustainable style, freelance and motherhood. Through her writing endeavors, she has worked with local and global brands such as Carnegie Museum of Art, TRYP Pittsburgh | Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh Opera, Cartier, Earth Brands and George Dickel Tennessee Whisky. Jessa lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Ben, daughter, Louise and their pup, Opal. She wears the same rings every day, believes anything secondhand has a good story to tell and likes her whiskey straight up.

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