Designers Transform Castoffs

Project Runway meets Chopped: Designers transform castoffs into fashion treasures, thanks to determined duo

Designers turn castoffs into treasures thanks to determined H-town duo

Magpies and Peacocks Ahshia Berry and Sarah-Jayne Smith
Ahshia Berry, left, and Sarah-Jayne Smith at the launch of the Field ReFind collection for Career Gear in March 2015. Photo courtesy Ana Lavalle / Ana Lavalle Photography
Magpies and Peacocks rose
This cuff used to be a pair of pants donated by the founders of Houston PetSet. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks Karen Roberts Zelda & LUCY 1
Vintage-inspired cloche hats from Artist in Nesting Karen Roberts. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks Elaine Turner
These pieces were all created from a larger leather product donated by Houston designer and business owner Elaine Turner. The final collection ended up having 30 pieces. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks pocket squares
Pocket Square from Field Refind, the men’s upcycled collection benefiting Career Gear Houston. “We’ve gotten crazy support from men on Twitter and Instagram,” Smith says. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks cuff
The pattern on this cuff is all Magpies and a perfect example of a true upcycle, Berry explains. “If you get a purse that’s really heavily worn, we’ll get enough leather for a wallet or wrap.” Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks cufflinks
Handmade cufflinks from skateboards by previous Designer Incubator artist John Guiney. Guiney is a local wood and laser artist and founder of Secret Weapon Design. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks Hermes
“This is the quintessential Collars and Cuffs collection,” Berry says. The collar was made from a donated Hermes men's tie that was deconstructed and put back together. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks Lucy 2
Vintage-inspired cloche hats from Artist in Nesting Karen Roberts. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks tie pin
Tie pin from Field Refind, the men’s upcycled collection benefiting Career Gear Houston. “We’ve got vintage and repaired things being made,” Smith says. Photo by Brittaney Wilmore
Magpies and Peacocks Ahshia Berry and Sarah-Jayne Smith
Magpies and Peacocks rose
Magpies and Peacocks Karen Roberts Zelda & LUCY 1
Magpies and Peacocks Elaine Turner
Magpies and Peacocks pocket squares
Magpies and Peacocks cuff
Magpies and Peacocks cufflinks
Magpies and Peacocks Hermes
Magpies and Peacocks Lucy 2
Magpies and Peacocks tie pin

Sarah-Jayne Smith and Ahshia Berry are running out of room in their Midtown warehouse. It's like a fashion Candyland, stocked with clothing, jewelry, bags and furniture. "We have Salvatore Ferragamo handbags, Forever 21 handbags, vintage Dior cuff links, wedding gowns, costumes," Smith says.

But pulling back the layers of glamour will show you the big names are just a small part of Magpies and Peacocks: An organization branded as the non-profit that helps other non-profits.

Magpies and Peacocks works with designers to upcycle items that would otherwise be headed to the trash pile. 

"It’s always charity, community, business. That's the roadway," Berry says.

"We get a huge kick out of people stepping up to the plate, reaching across the aisle and helping each other out," Smith adds.

Launched in 2012, Magpies and Peacocks works with local designers to upcycle, or increase the value of, items that would otherwise be headed to the trash pile. The new products are then donated to non-profits and sold at their events to help them raise money. So far, M&P has helped over 50 charities.

"If it’s not good enough, it gets remade," Smith says. "We want it to be human. We don't want it to be machine-made because that's not our journey, but at the same time it has to be worth something."

Partners with Peacocks

Another method happens each quarter, where organizations are nominated and two are selected to become partners with Magpies and Peacocks. This year, it's Career Gear Houston and Houston PetSet. Collections are based on the organizations and sold online through the Magpies and Peacocks website. The chosen non-profits each get a percentage of the sales from their collections.

 It's part of a strategy that turns belts and ties into dog collars or tweed jackets into iPad covers and laptop cases. 

It's part of a strategy that turns belts and ties into dog collars or tweed jackets into iPad covers and laptop cases. Each year, the charity diverts over 500 pounds of materials to be upcycled.

The push to make even a small dent in how much waste is created is why they collect everything from accessories and furniture to light fixtures and shoes.

Berry says you can get your item and monetary donations to Magpies and Peacocks simply by calling or emailing to let them know you have something to give.

But they also have a more social aspect to donating, where they partner with a local business to host a Closet Deposit event. You can drop off items, shop and mingle —usually with champagne and light bites to boot.

"We're not replacing your Goodwill run or your Purple Heart pick-up. We're not taking stuff from those charities," Berry says. "We want to be able to curate stuff and make better use of it."

Concept beginning

The organization's concept really began to take shape when Smith worked as an interior designer. She noticed her clients all shared common habits when it came to clinging to personal belongings.

 The good, the bad and the broken in those piles can easily clutter a closet. But Magpies and Peacocks says, give it to them anyway.

 "We all kind of vet our stuff, but we don’t do it very honestly or openly," Smith says. "There's anything you've ever been gifted, anything you've inherited but it's going to stay in that box until you figure out what to do with it. And I won't even get into that category of stuff with swing tags on them because it makes you happy to look at it, but you're never going to wear it."

The good, the bad and the broken in those piles can easily clutter a closet. But Magpies and Peacocks says, give it to them anyway. If nothing else, it could offer the hidden treasure needed to continue growing "Artist in Nesting" – their program aimed at nurturing emerging designers. Smith and Berry describe it as "Project Runway meets Chopped."

Designers are given a task and the donated raw materials to create pieces that will turn into a collection. A percentage of the sales from that collection will then benefit a local charity. Part of the program is also teaching designers about the fashion business and connecting them to the retailers where some of their products are eventually sold.

"They get the branding and marketing side such as being featured on the website down to the packaging," Berry says. "Then each order is shipped with a handwritten note that mentions who made the collection."

Artist in Nesting

Smith says the Artist in Nesting program (also known as the Designer Incubator) takes the guesswork out of it for stores partnering with up-and-coming designers who might initially be seen as a risk if they don’t have experience with pricing, packaging or quality control.

Since 2012, Magpies and Peacocks has helped 30 young designers. The latest is painter and art teacher Karen Roberts. She owns the company Zelda & LUCY, which features her collection of 1920s-style cloche hats made from men's suiting and brooches. They range in price from $60-75.  

Roberts' collection was recently highlighted at an Artist in Nesting event at Langford Market in the Heights.

"We’re saying there's a place for young designers here, and we can showcase them," Smith says. "We don't want to lose our graduates to New York. We need to show them that they can be successful here."

That's also why Magpies and Peacocks will host their signature event, "Catwalks and Classrooms" in September. The design competition will have 25 students create two to three upcycled looks from donated materials. Students as young as 14 taking fashion design courses can participate. Scholarships are among the top prizes awarded to the winners.

"We're talking about building relationships with people," Smith says. "Getting designers to collaborate with schools, getting schools to collaborate with charities. We're trying to build bridges so that Houston's a better place to incubate designers."

You can find collections made for Magpies and Peacocks at CarrieAnn in Uptown Park and Impromptu and Olivine in the West University/Rice Village area. Wardrobe Boutique in Montrose will carry a Magpies and Peacocks accessory collection beginning in mid-July.