Sarah-Jayne Smith has considered herself a designer for as long as she can remember, dabbling in photography, painting, graphic and interior design throughout her career. The latter path is where she learned of a "dirty little secret" that many women harbor in their closets.
It's not a sex toy or letters from old lovers. It's the constant lie about how much they spend on their clothing and accessories; how they justify buying replacement pieces by giving the old away.
"There's an odd sort of snobbery about selling your own goods," Smith tells CultureMap. "Like trying to profit from your Prada."
She chose the name based on Aesop's fable about the two birds, the showy peacock and the equal-opportunity magpie, whose personality types represent the fashion industry.
The universal problem inspired Magpies & Peacocks, a fashion philanthropy that Smith officially launched in June. It breathes new life into those not-unusable-but-no-longer-relevant pieces through upcycling, giving local creative talent an inventory of luxury items to fashion entirely new pieces.
She chose the name based on Aesop's fable about the two birds, the showy peacock and the equal-opportunity magpie, whose personality types represent the fashion industry. The organization connects the two to reduce waste, foster creativity and support community nonprofits.
Here's how it works: Magpies & Peacocks hosts "Closet Deposit" parties at specialty retailers to collect inventory from donors, who receive a tax donation receipt for discarded goods. The organization accepts everything, categorizing by rummage, ravage and re-heirloom pieces.
Fledgling designers are granted access to these goods to create their own collections using bits and pieces of donated items. Volunteers help mentor and incubate the artists along the way, offering branding direction, business plan development, publicity advice and money management skills, plus help from milliners, photographers and other independent artists.
Fledgling designers are granted access to these goods to create their own collections.
Each artist's completed collection will be branded under Magpies & Peacocks — a name that lends authority and traction — and the one-of-a-kind pieces will eventually be sold online and through select retailers. (One local specialty wedding store is already planning to put wares on display.)
The new nonprofit has already reached out to Houston high schools and universities, like the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and Houston Community College, which are planning to make it part of the curriculum, matching designers with students in other arts-oriented areas to help with photography, film and journalism. But the opportunity is also available to independent artists in the area.
"We shop and then we give, we shop and then we give, we shop and then we give — but we don't do any of that with a public claim," says Smith, who acknowledges that her organization is breaking the nonprofit mold and distinguishing itself as an unusual charity.
The Magpies & Peacocks board has perceived three distinct areas of need where it will divert the funds it collects from the designed goods: Catwalks & Classrooms (which focuses on arts and educational programs), Snouts & Tails (singling out local animal welfare charities) and Breasts & Tests (to support cancer screening and research facilities).
Magpies & Peacocks will be building up its inventory throughout the winter during Closet Deposit events at at Cakewalk Style on Wedneday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.; at One Green Street on Dec. 8 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m and in CAMEO at West Ave on Dec. 13 from 6 to 8 p.m.