BY SAMANTHA MANDICH
Out with the new, in with the old. Eco-fashion is increasingly becoming trendy in the United States and along with that, upcycling. Upcycling is the process of taking old materials and using them to make something new. This is both a fashion designer’s and fashionista’s jackpot. Instead of throwing away an old dress, you can cut it up and turn it into a shirt or donate it to Goodwill, where a designer might pick it up shortly after.
Lanni Lantto, eco-fashion designer and advocate, makes all of her garments for (re) by upcycling. She also does public speaking across the country and shares her passion for eco-fashion. After hearing more about her, you may never want to buy something brand new again.
With a Bachelor of Arts degree in gender studies and a Master of Arts degree in international law, fashion was not the original plan for Lantto. “I am not a fashion designer going eco; I am an environmental and social activist gone fashion designer,” wrote Lantto on her website, LanniLantto.com.
“I was seeking balance,” Lantto said. “I had just spent six years finishing my college degrees and my brain was exhausted from researching, writing and thinking. I cared immensely for the subject matter but I desperately wanted to be creative and use my hands. I would turn music on and ideas would flood to me about how I could turn regular items in my apartment into clothing.”
To bring her creative inspirations to life, Lantto taught herself how to sew.
“The more I created, the more I realized the potential to use clothing as wearable art to initiate a dialogue on social/environmental issues,” Lantto said. “I really was just trying to enjoy my life a bit more than I had been.”
Even though redesign was not always Lantto’s plan, she said it has always been a key part of who she is as a person.
“I saw redesigning my own clothes as a way of expressing my individuality,” Lantto said. “I started out by just cutting out a cool design from my old t-shirts and hand-sewing it onto another shirt I owned … it was my own small way of expressing who I was to the outside world. I never cared too much about fashion, for me it was always a way to distance myself from the mainstream.”
Lantto hopes to inspire and educate people by designing clothing that follows a “no new consumption” rule. When she speaks publicly about the topic, her goal is to spread awareness and teach others how to get into the upcycling lifestyle.
“It’s important to be educated and that is what eco-fashion does,” Lantto said. “It asks, ‘Why is it important to make this out of organic cotton?’, ‘Why does this only cost $5?’, and sometimes even, ‘Why I do feel empty when I have a closet full of stuff?’ I don’t want to be a part of the problem; I want to be a part of the solution. I think we all do but we just don’t know how. If I can live my life in such a way that others see it is possible, I would call that a success.”
Krista Olson, a junior in fashion design at Mount Mary University, interns for Lantto. Olson asked Lantto to do a presentation for some of the fashion classes on campus in hopes of opening some new doors for her fellow students.
“Working and knowing about Lanni’s company has opened my eyes to something more than just fashion … you can do what you love and make it your career,” Olson said.
Lantto said she is inspired by the lives of saints.
“[The saints] inspire me because they gave their lives up to a higher purpose, they didn’t live just for themselves,” Lantto said. “Their lives weren’t defined by careers and accumulating large bank accounts – yet they had a certain happiness about them. When Mother Teresa was attending to a dying man in the slums of Calcutta, a western reporter said to her, ‘I wouldn’t do this job for a million dollars.’ She replied, ‘Neither would I.’ That is inspiring.”
Many fashion designers live in the future, making collections for future seasons or looking out for new inspirations and trends for the next season. Even though Lantto is a designer, she likes to remind herself how important it is to live in the present.
“As much as I would like to think I’m in control of where I’ll be in 10 years, it’s much better to surrender any attachment to outcomes,” Lantto said. “I do think that eco-fashion will be much more commonplace simply because we have limited raw resources and our cap for polluting where we live is reaching its limit. Also, human beings are inherently good and we don’t want to benefit off the backs of the suffering of other living beings.”
Lantto advises people interested in beginning upcycling to just have fun.
“Don’t judge what you are making. Find what you like; don’t just go to the clothing section, pull things apart and make them stick together. Invite your friends over and swap clothing – Google things you don’t know.”
Lantto recently used a parachute, an old bridesmaid dress, and a party peplum dress and redesigned them into an evening gown. This dress was worn by Eugenia Kuzmina (actress from the movie, “Fury”) and was featured in CocoEco Magazine. Not only can the materials she used be found around your house but they can also be bought inexpensively at thrift stores like Goodwill.
“Thrift stores are gold mines for the creative … and the budget savvy,” Lantto said. “Do you know how much yards of fabric cost? No thanks. Give me a 1970s shift dress in a size XL, I’ll take off the seams, lay it flat and make another dress for $1.99. If you think like this as a designer, you have very little overhead and can charge for your labor – this is a dream business plan.”
You can connect with Lantto and see her designs through many different social media outlets:
See Lantto’s full redesign/upcycling process below!