Each day, from early morning to early evening, people take their unwanted and old things to one of St. Vincent de Paul’s trailers or retail locations near Eugene, Ore. Worn jeans, used furniture — and old records — pile up.
Mitra Chester’s new role at St. Vincent de Paul aims to help the nonprofit organization cut down on waste by reimagining and remaking unusable donations into clothes and fashion accessories.
Chester, a fashion designer who previously co-owned a pair of local boutiques, has helped create UpSmart, a new “upcycled” fashion line for the agency designed to “save resources through shopping.” The line of clothing, accessories and jewelry is created from at least 80 percent recycled materials.
The offerings include RE-PLAY, a new line of fashion earrings and necklaces — made from the vinyl that used to provide the sounds of The Moody Blues, Tina Turner, Glenn Miller and other musicians of the LP era.
Damaged vinyl records are a product that St. Vincent isn’t easily able to donate or sell. “There’s not a lot you can do with records,” said Chester, a native of Colorado.
So she teamed up with Jason Pencoast, founder of Shadowfoxdesign, to manufacture 13 different styles of earrings and 10 styles of necklaces based on Chester’s designs and cut from damaged LPs donated to St. Vincent.
Pencoast is among Chester’s fans.
“Her artistic personality is eclectic and resourceful and innovative,” he said. “She’s always taking different materials and things that would otherwise be trash and turning it into something pretty cool and fashionable.”
Chester comes up with the idea for each piece of jewelry, and Pencoast then uses a laser-cutter to cut the pieces out of vinyl.
The endeavor is just the latest in St. Vincent’s efforts to recycle, reuse and reclaim. The agency already remakes partially used candle wax into skateboard wax; builds new furniture from donated scraps of wood; started Aurora Glass, a glass foundry that remakes broken glass into decorative items; and uses worn-out clothes and linens to make pet beds, washrags and leashes.
Chester was born in Boulder, Colo., but spent time growing up at her father’s house in the mountains east of Fort Collins. She said it was during her early years that she learned to be creative.
“I was raised pretty poor with limited resources,” she said. “I learned to make the most of my limited resources with creativity.”
She recalls that playing games with her brother, Dannon Canterbury, were among her first outlets into creativity.
Canterbury said he and his sister both grew up as introverted kids who expressed themselves through art. “Both of our parents were craftspeople,” he said. “We learned how to use our hands at a pretty early age.”
In the mountains, Canterbury explained, the two were somewhat isolated from television and tended to create their own games.
“We were always looking for opportunities,” he said. “If we were inside (we were) playing Legos, or if we were outside we were looking for other stuff to make.”
Chester said it wasn’t until much later — after a study-abroad trip to Jerusalem — that she became interested in fashion.
“The culture was so different that I didn’t feel restricted,” she said. “You kind of get this opportunity to reinvent yourself.”
After graduating with two degrees in anthropology and religious studies from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Chester moved to Austin, Texas, where she started work at Buffalo Exchange. It was in Austin in 1999 that she started to design her own clothing.
Then, in 2003, she moved to Eugene, deciding it was a good place to raise kids.
After working as a freelance designer, she bought Deluxe, a resale and designer boutique, in 2006. She helped open Kitsch, a similar boutique, two years later.
Soon after, however, the effects of the economic downturn began to create challenges for small businesses. Chester said she employed her knack for reusing things as much as possible, but ultimately wasn’t able to stay afloat.
In January, she started working full time for St. Vincent de Paul.
Chester said she hopes to create even more product lines in the months and years to come.
“We have vast amounts of resources that come through our organization,” she said. “It’s really cool transitioning from a business where I did everything myself to an organization like St. Vincent.”
Follow reporter Alando Ballantyne on Twitter @alando46.