Friday, May 27, 2011

going green with REUSE jeans

by frédérik sisa

(Me wearing REUSE jeans. And proof that I'm not a photographer. What am I looking at? The green grass, of course, because green is the theme.)

It’s not enough for the sophisticated fashionista to pull together an expressive style; how the elements of that style are manufactured and used are increasingly important factors to consider. Considering that we’re still far from the day when we won’t have to think twice about the ethics of what we buy, it’s immensely satisfying to find and wear clothes with a conscience. Like REUSE jeans, which I featured a few weeks ago.

Taking advantage of their offer of sample jeans to try out, I opted for the one pair that fits into my wardrobe: the grey-coloured Protect. At the least, I was expecting a good pair of jeans, certainly as good as my Levi’s , Dickies, or Quicksilver. It was a bit of a surprise to discover just how good these jeans really are – enough to put them in a different class than I what usually wear. The designer class. Suddenly, and without diminishing wardrobe staples from Levi’s or Dickies, I can understand why designer brand jeans, whether big label or small, can have such prestige. Anyone can take a pattern and churn out a pair of pants. It takes a designer to bring in detail and offer a refined fit. REUSE does all that with consideration for the environment built-in to their fashion concept and production.

Aside from whatever mysterious reason underlies why their men’s jeans are $45 more than women’s jeans, the design and manufacturing qualities of the jeans are unimpeachable. (At $95 a pair, along with the nice selection of shorts and skirts, women really have a good opportunity to spruce up their wardrobes with eco-friendly and affordable design.) Here’s the breakdown:

Materials: 80% recycled, 18.5% fresh cotton, 1.5% spandex. Neither crispy nor limp, with just the right amount of stretch.

The fit is flattering and comfortable, with a slender boot cut profile that isn’t tight or loose. It’s right in the Goldilocks zone, and it definitely says designer style.

Stylish detailing, from the buttons to the score marks. Unlike other designer brands who pimp their customers by plastering logos all over their clothes, REUSE keeps it low-key and takes advantage of the fact that the brand is also the message they embrace and want their customers to adopt. (R.E.U.S.E: Recycle. Environment. U. Save. Earth.) Just look at the shape of the buttons and the way in which the word REUSE is incorporated on a belt loop. Subtle, but effective.

I really couldn’t be more pleased with the jeans. REUSE is a stand-out brand. Hopefully, though, they will expand their men’s line – at five pairs, the offerings are bit on the stingy side – to include more colours and fits.

Visit to check out their collection. And if you join them on Facebook you’re liable to find all kinds of discounts…

Note: In the interest of disclosure as per the FTC, my review, which is strictly impartial, is of a free sample provided to me by REUSE jeans. Many thanks to Tricia Kent of Public Relations Divas for arranging it. All images in this post, such as they are, are mine; please don’t use them without asking me first.

Friday, May 20, 2011

walk the eco talk with paperfeet

by frédérik sisa

So what DO you do with those vinyl billboard posters once they’ve accomplished their advertising assault? I admit I never considered the question beyond the general issue of what we do with all our “stuff” when we’re done with it. After seeing Wall*E, I remain surprised that we haven’t already reached the point when the surface of our little blue ball is covered with trash and needs robots to clear it all away. But for young entrepreneur Jimmy Tomczak, the question proved the answer to an idea that combined the great outdoors, barefoot living, and a practical (and inexpensive) alternative to higher-priced footwear like the ubiquitous Vibram FiveFingers. What began as a failed experiment with flip-flops made of Tyvek (the same material used in FedEx envelopes and in buildings as a protective membrane) eventually led to the durable, weather-resistant 3-ply PVC vinyl used in billboards. Jimmy started making sandals from these discarded billboard posters, in the process launching TOMBOLO, LCC with a focus on making and selling “uncommon goods for the common good.”

Jimmy’s sandals are called “paperfeet,” and they’re foldable, portable, waterproof, and durable enough to keep the soles of your feet protected while offering all the benefits of barefoot footwear. Each pair is unique, with colours and patterns varying with the underlying billboard art, and comes in one of two forms – the basic “skinny” for $29.99 and the $49.99 “grippy” which comes with a thin layer of recycled rubber at the wearpoints. Here’s a look:

Whether the style works or not is purely a matter of preference, of course, but paperfeet are notable not only because they embody a DIY ethic rooted in upcycling discarded materials, but because they’re part of a business model that subverts the usual capitalistic/consumerist perspective. Instead of starting with profit and, maybe, reverse-engineering itself into some kind of moral framework, TOMBOLO adheres to a model called social entrepreneurship. I caught up with Jimmy via eMail to talk about it.
What is social entrepreneurship, and how do you envision it serving as a business model?

The common definition of social entrepreneurship says that a social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change.

“Paperfeet” are patent-pending minimalist sandals made from durable and waterproof upcycled billboard vinyl. TOMBOLO is the company behind this eco-beach adventure gear, founded to encourage conscious consumption, creative reuse, and a get-outside-and-live mindset of everyday exploration. Every year enough billboard vinyl is thrown away that if laid out it would more than cover the state of Massachusetts. Waste can be diverted from landfills by creating functional products like paperfeet. A tombolo is a rare earthly land bridge that connects an island to a mainland. TOMBOLO “manufactures good” – connecting people with both tangible and intangible innovations for the collective good.

What are your inspirations and influences?

I try to pull together the innovation of Edison, the talent of Da Vinci, and the business-meets-art creativity of Warhol while staying true to what I really want and what the world really needs. You can learn as much from the interpreting the lyrics of a song from your favorite band as the book content of a $400/credit hour university course, but I drew on the inspiration of both to dream up new goods by TOMBOLO. Every day I talk to people and try to facilitate the creative connections between people-people, people-places, and people-things.

You're currently looking for funds to "upgrade and scale manufacturing and to pay for professional design consulting that will improve the fit and finish of the soon-to-be retail-ready sandals." How is that coming along? How can people help?

We need your help to grow this social venture. You’ll be contributing to a movement towards conscious consumption and creative reuse or simply “upcyling” and “saving the environment” by diverting waste from landfills. Please check out to learn more.

Also, if you know any companies or individuals interested in a unique co-branding and advertising opportunity please use the contact page at or find us on Twitter or Facebook @paperfeet. We’re interested in creating unique full-size banner ads that will be displayed at the launch party and beyond, blogged about online, photographed, tweeted, facebooked and more. Have you heard of We'll give the sponsoring company a similar chance at promotion and we can eventually turn the ad into our next set of shoes or other innovations.

Are you working on other products? What is your vision for TOMBOLO five years from now?

Yes. Paperfeet are TOMBOLO’s first innovation. Creative reuse and conscious consumption are long-term mindsets for TOMBOLO and the world. In 5 years it will be fun to measure how much “good” TOMBOLO has manufactured. TOMBOLO is also seeking space and funding to establish a multi-use innovation hub aggregating entrepreneurs, influencers, and people to build community while motivating and supporting one another in creating both the tangible and intangible innovations of tomorrow.
This sort of forward-looking way of doing business is, I think, the future of our economy if we are to have any hope for a healthier planet. If more companies like TOMBOLO and REUSE Jeans can think innovatively and brilliantly about how we use our resources, it won’t just be the fashion industry that will benefit. Here’s hoping.

Visit to learn more about Jimmy's story, paperfeet, and what TOMBOLO is up to next.

Many thanks to Jimmy for his time and for use of the images.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rubimoon River

by frédérik sisa

I’m sensing a theme in the sorts of design that are attracting my attention these days: loose, flowing designs bursting with colour and showing off disciplined patterns. Maybe it’s because the weather here in LA has been weirder than the people presenting themselves as presidential candidates, particularly on weekends, but summery apparel brings to mind the happy weather of a sunny SoCal day. Here are a few items from Rubimoon’s collection of dresses, tops, skirts, and sandals, which are all handcrafted in Bali.

Ami Dress ($70)

Maxi Dress ($89)

Flowers Halter ($20) with Wrap Skirt ($50)

Nomad Sandals ($48)

You’ll find these and more at the Rubimoon website.

What particularly catches my eye, however, is not so much the clothes, which are lovely, but the story behind them. I’m always inspired by people who, despite the inevitable detours life will offer, somehow return to fulfilling a life-long dream. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to start living the life you want. Unfortunately, my intention to feature an interview with the woman behind Rubimoon, Anke, has been foiled by the vagaries of technology. I get the impression that my eMails are getting lost in cyberspace or unceremoniously categorized as spam. Nevertheless, her website does give us a glimpse into how Rubimoon came into being. To quote:

I wanted a clothing store since I was 8 years old.

That’s all I wanted.

Little did I know about the many different adventures and miracles that were lined up for me.

After I turned 35, I finally met my husband while visiting a friend in Los Angeles. Dave and I fell in love instantly…the only challenge…I lived in Germany, he lived in Los Angeles. But we made it, we got married, we adopted our four amazing daughters from China. We live on the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii…where we feel truly at home. I am dedicated to raising and homeschooling our girls, that always comes first.

There is just one more thing…I always dreamed of that clothing store…and now at age 47…it is really time! It is my passion and dedication to offer you only clothing that my daughters and I love to wear. Sassy and comfortable, that’s what we say and that’s what we mean.

We (all six of us) travel to Bali and personally choose fabrics and leathers. We have established very friendly and fair trade relationships with manufacturers, who hand make our clothing.

With Rubimoon clothes available online and through boutiques across the US, Anke’s dream certainly has come true.

Note: The usual disclaimer about the images apply: borrowed for illustrative purposes from the Rubimoon website. If I'm asked to take them down, I will do so.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bored with fashion? Go East!

by frédérik sisa

While we tend to create a negative association between fashion and Asia, largely on account of instances of poor environmental and labour conditions in the manufacture of consumer projects, there’s always a risk of turning a reasonable resistance to “Made in China” (or some other Asian country) into an unfair, prejudicial complex that ignores the needs of foreign workers. In this globalized economy,then, the decisions we make on what we buy often require a global perspective.

I ultimately take a classical perspective on the issue, based on the idea that what you can do for yourself, you should do, and you trade with people who do what you can’t do. (Is that sentence Rumsfeldian enough for you?) So: go local when possible, go beyond when necessary. And always try to support the good companies who are sustainable and fair in their practices, whether local or abroad.

Of course, we might be tempted to think that when it comes to fashion there’s nothing out there that we couldn’t already find in our own North American stores. But giving in to that temptation would lead you far astray. Asian fashion, undoubtedly owing to cultural differences that I won’t speculate on, has a different character than Western fashion. The consequence is a fusion of influences that excite the imagination and boldly go where Western designers seem afraid to go unless they’re safely on the runway or in an expensive boutique. Is this a surprise? Not really. Consider cosplay, gothic Lolita, and street fashion in Japan.

As I browse through websites like AsianScent (it's more of a directory than a shop) and, better yet, YES STYLE, I’m amazed at the enthusiasm of women’s fashion. I’m astonished, however, by what I can find on the men’s side, especially since Asian fashion for men is not only unafraid of dandyism, it actively embraces it. That’s great news for guys who are tired of the same-old same-old year after year. The lesson: if you can’t find clothes that are daring enough for you here (even in that shrinking violet known as Los Angeles), then it’s worth turning to Asia to find what you’re missing. Of course, due diligence is always called for in seeking out ethical companies to support...

Focusing on style, here’s a small – tiny! – sampling of fashionable delights I found while perusing YES STYLE. Starting with the ladies...

EYESCREAM (Taiwan) Two-Tone Asymmetric-Hem Top - $35

EYESCREAM Contrast Hem Elasticized Pleated Skirt - $35

Cookie 7 (South Korea) Wrap Detail Low-Crotch Pants - $62

Dodostyle (South Korea) Floral Hoodie - $60

This clothing label by philosophy major turned fashion designer Kim Hyo Jin aims to blend Korean and Japanese sensibilities.

Moving on to men (yes, men)...

REENO (South Korea) Gingham Cropped Harem Pants - $48

REENO Dolman Sleeve Patterned Top -$75
I admit I've never seen a shirt like this before. It's...interesting.

REENO Button-Front Wrap Skirt - $95
Yes, we're still taking about men here.

Free Shop (Taiwan) Patterned Striped Cropped Pants - $38

Free Shop Inset Patterned Leggings Shorts - $48

deepstyle (South Korea) Cowl-Neck Top - $52 - and buttoned culottes - $85

An avant-garde Asian brand by designer Lee Hwa young, who aims to create "sharp and subtly edgy designs that exude soft vibes without crossing into androgyny."

deepstyle Shirt with Buckle Vest - $82

Finally, a pair of wooden sandals from Mizutori, whose history of crafting handmade geta sandals goes back seventy years. These beauties will cost you $240 through YES STYLE, but may be less expensive elsewhere.

Exciting, yes? For more, you’ll just have to mouse on over to and enjoy yourself. I’d love it if you shared your favourite discoveries in the comments below!

Note: Images borrowed from YES STYLE for illustrative purposes only. If the copyright holder of these images would like me to take them down, I will.