Interview with CounterCouture (web)

Upcyclers Unite! An Interview with (re) designer Lanni Lantto

–Read article online here. Visit CounterCouture’s website to see the fabulously brilliant ways they transform bridesmaid dresses!!!–

We were so pleased to meet Lanni Lantto at our Spring MNfashion Week event last April called Alter/Nation, an event right up her alley. She specializes in creating the ultimate vintage inspired one-of-a-kind pieces for her line (re). We started chatting about industry, partnerships, education, and agreed that together we can help grow this industry to a bigger marketplace. Because, in fact, a rising tide lifts all boats. She sat down in her tiny UP Michigan studio and answered some hard hitting questions for us… and you.

Lanni LanttoLanni Lantto

What is your favorite part about doing upcycling?
I love that I could potentially thrift shop for a living!  My favorite part of upcycling is breathing new life into something discarded.  When I add an antique fabric on to a dress, I’m thinking ‘I wonder if this table runner ever thought it would become part of the most popular dress at this party!’

What is your least favorite part, or the most challenging part, about taking such an unconventional direction?
Finding the materials to reproduce a design.  For example, I make appliqué designs out of old t-shirts and I put them on shirts/sweatshirts.  It’s impossible to find the same shirt in various sizes/colors without buying it new- I need to be able to have a variety of the same product in order to satisfying customer demands.  Upcyclers want to be able to stay true to their mission which means we need to build relationships with established brands to reuse what they don’t sell.  This is not common place yet.

What do you think upcyclers have to do to differently create a demand for retail buyers?
We need to keep creating pieces that are so cool that people want to buy them.  If the design is hip, if the cut is flattering, if the piece is well constructed, people will buy it – and retailers will carry our lines because it sells.  However, we do have something to offer that gives us an edge; upcyclers are the greenest of the green.  The most eco-friendly fabrics are those that already exist and consumers want to make a purchase knowing they are making a difference.

The designer's favorite piece - made from a tentThe designer’s favorite piece – made from a tent

How is the creative process different from a traditional one?
Personally, I do not begin with the process of sketching or cutting new fabric from a pattern.  I start with letting the materials speak to me.
1.) I find materials in thrift/antique stores.
2.) I hang them in my (way too small) studio.
3.) I spend hours playing with piecing things together.
4.) When inspiration hits me, I begin construction.

Sometimes a piece will hang for 2 years before I find the right piece of lace or satin to marry together.

How do you escape the stigma of “green” and use it to your advantage?
My mission as a designer is part educational.  I’m proud to be a designer who supports my local economy, who is keeping pounds of clothing from rotting in landfills, and can say that I’ve created a business that essentially creates no new waste.  This is why I not only create clothing but I do workshops in my community that empower people to become upcyclers and raises awareness that we all can make a huge difference.

How do you see the fashion industry changing overall in the next 50 years?
The 21st century is an era of reuse in all areas of manufacturing.  We simply understand now that we cannot go on sourcing new materials and buying into ‘fast fashion’- the Earth won’t let us.  Right now, consumers are slowly being offered more choices for buying ethically made clothing- but soon it will be out of necessity.  A shift of consciousness is happening.  The fashion industry should start promoting upcycling designers in runway shows, hiring us as design consultants, and begin building partnerships based on a closed loop no waste model.  It’s truly the model of where fashion will be going.

shirts & sweatshirts made using upcycled t-shirt fabric appliques (for sale)shirts & sweatshirts made using upcycled t-shirt fabric appliqués (for sale)

How did you realize this was something you were passionate about pursuing?
When I was living in Washington DC trying to get my dream job in international women’s rights and I was spending all my free time redesigning in my basement.  I took a leap of faith and moved to Ithaca, NY- once I did that everything fell into place.  Jobs, opportunities, fashion shows, and mainly ideas kept flowing.  I had no idea where they were coming from- I’m left brained by training so to be able to be this creative I know it’s a true gift and a part of my calling.

What do you think the biggest misconception is surrounding eco-fashion?
That it is a tiny section of reality with minimal options.  That it is reserved for only ‘those people who really really care about our environment’ and that’s it.  When it is actually all of our responsibility to make educated decisions about what we support with our money.

How is business going? What are people’s responses to (re)? What’s in store for the future?
It’s amazing to begin a business in a community that absolutely embraces what you do.  I have t-shirt headbands and appliqué bold design shirts in a few stores and have been approached to do an Upcycled Fashion Show in the spring.  I’m slowly developing my Esty store while also creating (re)’s 2011 Collection.  It’s difficult to do everything by myself, especially when you never thought you’d be doing this.  2010 was a year of foundation building & 2011 will be a year of collaborations and creating opportunities to get my pieces on people at a national/global level.

Remade vintage piece. Old prom dress material made into belt. (for sale)Remade vintage piece. Old prom dress material made into belt. (for sale)

What do you think of CounterCouture?!
Love it.  In all honesty, CC was the first brand that I saw where I felt a connection aesthetically. Our style and fabric choices are very similar.  CC gets elegance, edge, and hip style!  I’m inspired by the Tiers of Transformation and how organized and easy it is for a customer to have a piece remade for them.  The girls at CC really are paving the way for a concrete business model- and going that extra step by giving a percentage to a nonprofit.  This is how a business should be, and will be.

Where can we find your stuff?
People can purchase from me online at: or contact me directly via my website

If you happen to be in Marquette, MI, you can pick up my stuff at: (re ) Remade Clothing for ReBlossoms Consignment Shop, Garden Bouquet & Design, and Mango Lane Gallery.

Jumper + Skirt.  Jumper made from a hideous white shirt found in garbage bin in Berlin. Black lining is from a tent & words from a canvas grocery bag. Skirt 100% upcycled from various materials.Jumper + Skirt. Jumper made from a hideous white shirt found in garbage bin in Berlin. Black lining is from a tent & words from a canvas grocery bag. Skirt 100% upcycled from various materials.