MARQUETTE - Lanni Lantto works surrounded by fabric and clothing of all different sorts. Her studio is filled with curtains, dresses, slips, lace table runners and T-shirts.
All of that fabric, however, wasn't purchased at a fabric store. Lantto is an "upcycler," a clothing redesigner specializing in remaking clothing by adding pieces of different kinds of reusable fabrics, from lace to camping tent material.
"What really bothers me is the wasteful surplus that ends up in the landfills. We have too many clothes in the world," she said.
Clothing —shopping for it, wearing it, washing it, picking it out — is a big deal for most Americans. Re-designing or “upcycling” clothing helps reduce the amount of waste generated by fashion. Above, Marquette re-designer Lanni Lantto attaches a lace table runner to the back of a formal dress, sprucing up the dress and providing a new use for the table runner at the same time. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
A self-described "left-brained person living in a creative person's body," Lantto said she never planned on becoming a clothing designer.
"I've always had a deep seed planted in me that's focused on human rights and caring for the earth. Originally, I was very focused on getting the degrees," she said. "I didn't know anything about clothes."
A graduate of the University of Michigan in women's studies, she received a master's degree in Brussels, Belgium, in international law in 2006. While living in Washington, D.C., however, she discovered a small ceramic owl at a thrift store.
"I went home and I took any material I had, mostly old T-shirts, and I recreated that design on a skirt," she said.
Later, after moving to Ithaca, N.Y., she helped create the costumes for three low-budget film projects.
"You don't have a budget. It all started from the idea that you don't have to have a lot of money to create things," Lantto said.
Now she has set up a studio in Marquette, called (re) by lanni lantto. Besides creating redesigned T-shirts and everyday wear and taking custom orders, she also works to put together a showcase collection each year, which isn't sold until it has been photographed and documented.
Her studio is organized into finished pieces, pieces that are being redesigned and a closet of thrift store finds that are waiting to be reworked.
"These are all the pieces I collect from the thrift stores," she said, carefully pulling pieces out of the closet. "These are all curtains and chair covers and God knows what else.
"I call it fashion redesign. I take old things and make them new. I don't take a pattern and use new fabric."
Her designs include everything from appliqued T-shirts to formal wear. One of her gowns was created from material from a tent, another contains portions of a parachute.
"I'm inspired by what I see first. I let the materials speak to me. There's no boundaries that way," she said. "If I see a curtain or if I see an old coat - anything. It's usually the fabric that draws me into it."
Drawing attention to the idea that clothing can be upcycled into something unique and wearable, creating no new waste, is Lantto's mission.
"There's a lot of waste in the fashion industry and there's something we can do about it," she said. "As consumers we should be aware of the immense waste involved in the fashion industry from production to packaging. You have the cotton pesticides, you have the wages that are really low, you have the electricity and water that's used to create it."
In January and February, Lantto will be leading two workshops, one through the Marquette Area Public Schools Community Education program and the other through the Marquette Arts and Culture Center, that help participants learn how to shop at thrift stores and to upcycle their own clothing. To register or for more information, contact MAPS at 225-4210 or MACC at 228-0472.
To learn more about Lantto's work, visit www.lannilantto.com or search for (re) by lanni lantto on Facebook.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.