A Designer’s Advice for Breathing New Life into Old Clothes

Jill Aiko Yee

Designing is an ever evolving process. The eighties, nineties, my Asian American heritage, and education at Los Angeles’ OTIS College “fashioned” the designer I am today. Shortly after I graduated from OTIS, I landed a job at Clover Canyon label. I was privileged to work alongside the founder Rozae Nichols and fashion icon, Nick Wooster. I also worked at Illia, a leather company in LA, under designer John Murrough.

The insight and experience I gained from working with these professionals inspired me to start my own line. I specialize in contemporary workwear, creating a “uniform for the creative woman.” One of my brand principles is to listen and share. Listening to customer’s needs and wants and in turn, sharing my knowledge and suggestions, is the most important factor when dressing clients. Customers are invited to my studio for a private, relaxed shopping experience. We drink, play dress up, and chat. I believe in supporting the lifestyle of a woman paving her own path, and I am honored that my designs are part of that path.

How to Breathe New Life into Old Clothes with Dye

Image via Matt Sayles

Understanding each client’s lifestyle and bringing confidence and beauty into their closet and life, is what I think about most when designing. I not only design, I also draft, cut, sew, and dye my pieces and I am constantly learning new methods and techniques. My collections often consist of dyed fabric – I love the break and transition from color to color, it is very ethereal.

Dip-dyeing, also known as ombré, is an excellent way to revamp old clothing and it can easily be done at home. If this is your first time dyeing clothing, I recommend practicing on hand-me-downs and natural fibers, like cotton. With summer around the corner, salvage your old jeans into new shorts! The process is easy, and if you’re open to experimenting, being wildly creative, and having fun you’ll be making pieces in no time!

How to Breathe New Life into Old Clothes with Dye

Here is a how-to on dip dyeing clothing:

Shopping list:
1. Indigo Dye Kit
2. 90% – 100% cotton garment works best
3. Stainless steel pot from good will
4. Wooden mixing stick from home depot
5. Hanger, or clothing rack, with drop cloth underneath
6. Dish washing gloves
7. Apron, or old t-shirt to protect what you’re wearing

Directions:

1. Mix up a batch of indigo dye with hot water on your stove. I recommend using the natural dye kit my friend and co-collaborator Graham Keegan makes and sells. I prefer using a stainless steel pot, however, a bucket of hot water will do the trick as well.
2. Start by thoroughly wetting your garment. Dip it as high as you want the color to go, and leave it there for a minute.
3. Draw the garment out slowly, and don’t let the dye drip back into the vat (the air bubbles in the drips can compromise the vat).
4. Rinse in a bath of cold water in your sink.
5. Hang the shorts on the line for a couple of minutes. This process exposes the indigo to air and helps set the dye.
6. Dip the shorts, and hang 5 or 6 more times. Each time dipping it less high than the last. The result will be a smooth ombré into deep blue. This technique is really easy and fun! I have used it to revamp anything made of cotton or plant fibers like linen. Try it with a white vintage cotton slip, your partner’s tee shirt, or a denim jacket. It’s a great group activity to do with friends, and the more you experiment and play around the easier it will be.

How to Breathe New Life into Old Clothes with Dye

During LA Design Festival last week, I hosted an open studio featuring women-owned design companies. I was blown away by the response, and sold out of many styles. As a result, I’ve decided to open the studio for shopping every Saturday from 11am – 4pm. All are welcome! It is located on the 11th floor above Pattern Bar in Downtown LA, one block from the Ace Hotel. It’s not just a shopping experience, it is about community: there’s complimentary rosé, we chat about design, dyeing, and personalized styling tips.

This month, designs by Botanica Workshop are in studio for sale. If you’re not in LA, check out my online store at www.jillaikoyee.com for collections, new design methods, and upcoming events!

Top image via Sarah Renard

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A former dancer, Jill believes that clothing must allow movement and expression. She designs for the creative active woman we all possess, and lives by the motto that femininity and joy come from confidence in the work we do.

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