Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A new life for disposed New York umbrellas

A Haitian designer has found a way to clean New York streets from unused umbrellas. 

by Ngalula Beatrice Kabutakapua 

An umbrella dress. Photo courtesy of Himane.

When she was 13, Catherine Edouard Charlot took her father’s shirt and made a skirt out of it. She had no idea she was already “upcycling”: taking something old and creating a new unique garment out of it.

Catherine was born and raised in Haiti, where she studied fashion and made the first steps into upcycling. After ten years of living in New York, she started her own company in 2004, Himane. Thanks to the idea of transforming old umbrellas into bags and dresses, Catherine obtained an award for innovative and exceptional creativity from the European Union’s Women Investors and Innovators Network.

When I spoke with her through her landline in Brooklyn, she was getting ready for a trip in North Europe. During the chat, she confesses she didn’t know her business would have grown so much.

What is your definition of upcycling?
I take what people consider trash and upcycle it to give it uplift. And it changes entirely. You can recycle an old dress into a new bag. You take one item and change it into something completely new

When you started, where you are aware you were upcycling?
Not really. I just wanted to do something that was unique. And for me it was a good way to do it. By seeing the amount of umbrellas on the streets of New York, I wanted to do something that was good. When I started, it was something I wanted to do because I felt like it was right.

What happens after you find the umbrellas?
I collect the umbrellas, take them apart, wash them, cut them and use them to make whatever design I have in mind. And I do also use other material, but they are all made out of recycled fabric, like bottles, organic cotton or full clothes.

Where do you buy your other material from?
Everything is done right here in my studio, and all the material that I use has been found either in Brooklyn or Manhattan or in Queens. I also purchase leftovers from factories . 

Tote made from upcycled earthquake disaster tents. Photo courtesy of Himane.

Has the government given you any support in your environmental fashion business?
I never got any help from the government or received any money. My business is all about me, I invested in this. It would be great if they could help businesses such as mine, since we’re doing something that is profitable and it’s helping the environment.

What suggestions would you give to people who want to recycle their clothes?
I try to tell people ‘take a look at your closet, look at it with a different eye, and if you don’t want to recycle or upcycle, donate them! Do something with it’.

Are you working on any new project?
In Haiti, my home country, I started turning old tents into bags. I’m just doing this to help a group of 75 to 150 young kids who have nothing. Their school was entirely destroyed after the earthquake. So I decided that half of the amount for every single bag I’m going to sell is going to that cause. I give myself until the end of this year to be able to build the school for those kids. 

Catherine Edourd Charlot's new eBook, “Earth Day and Every Day: A Beginner's Guide to Green Activities and Recipe” is now available on 

1 comment:

  1. Such a good idea to recycle umbrellas into clothes or bags. I have so many broken umbrellas... I should totally do something like this. :-) Inspiring article. Thanks for posting!