Kelley Hoffman is the guru of upcycled vintage clothing. She is the founder and designer of the brand ReFash Studios and we spoke to her about her process of reimagining vintage pieces, what inspired her to create the brand and her love affair with fashion.
What prompted you to become a designer?
I’ve always enjoyed the palpable “buzz” that comes from wearing a beautiful garment. It just fills up your senses and instantly elevates your mood. Eventually I found that new ideas in clothing were harder and harder to find via traditional mainstream channels. I had lost access to that excitement…and I missed it. As an alternative I decided to take a deep dive into the vintage clothing arena and then proceeded to fall madly in love. I was absolutely blown away by the craftsmanship, the fabrics, the details and all the forgotten shapes. I also really enjoyed the fact there were so many lovingly home-made pieces by dedicated housewives and homemakers. I became an avid collector of all things vintage – especially the unusual and the most outrageously outdated pieces. But eventually, even here, the novelty began to wear off and I found myself again bored by repetition. There was really nothing left for me to do at that point but take matters into my own hands, literally. Largely self-taught I started experimenting with different techniques and, yes, I made a lot of mistakes but I also learned a lot. My confidence grew along with my skill-level and I started to trust and really lean-in to my own creative voice, regardless of the critics. I’m so happy that I did. Being authentic to your vision is by far the much bigger buzz!
What made you move toward sustainability?
First of all I think we’ve all had the experience of buying the $5 shirt on the clearance rack, washing it one time and finding out the hard way it’s ready for the rag bag and never worthy to be worn in public again. The quality of fast fashions are just a reflection of our own “disposable convenience” mentality. Consumers are willing to pay $5 for just the one wear. It’s a coffee. It’s not a commitment. There’s no love in them. We don’t have a relationship with these pieces. No emotional investment beyond the $5. So we perpetuate the cycle because we are bored with what we have and we crave a constant supply of replacements, that we will also throw away.
Meanwhile in our thrift/vintage shops are a surplus racks of out-dated (therefore largely undesired by mainstream shoppers) higher quality, American made garments with all the extras. You have to see the total disconnect of our actions to our stated values and the sad irony of it all. We already have an abundance of low cost, higher quality materials that are just waiting to be updated or restyled to make them relevant, wearable and (dare I say?) even loved again. Being previously employed as a creative problem solver for a Fortune 500 company, my mind quickly locked on to this opportunity. How could I not answer that call?
Who or what is your biggest inspiration for designing?
A few years ago I happened to watch the autobiographical video of Iris Apfel. Life changer! It felt like she was talking directly to me. She talked about how the current design world has become so homogenized in their offering that it’s almost like a uniform. She inspires us all to challenge the so-called rules and I absolutely love her for that! She chooses to be authentic to her own style and taste rather than dressing to please others. She’s also revolutionary in that she doesn’t put a lot of value on natural beauty. That it’s really overrated and we are missing the bigger picture. Style should be about self-expression, artistic freedom and how it makes us feel. Give yourself permission to be beautiful on your own terms. Truly she is the rare bird of fashion!
What kind of sustainable or innovative materials do you use?
My favorite materials to work with are thrifted vintage, preferably with flaws. I love the idea of reworking them to give them new life and help them find their new forever homes. The most outrageously unwearable items can transform into the most spectacular high-fashion looks with a little dedicated effort and a lot of vision. Cinderella stories always my favorite.
What’s your greatest accomplishment?
Getting past my fear of failure. If you’re in a creative field you’ve got to get comfortable with failure. I’ve come to realize that if I’m not failing often enough then I’m probably not pushing my boundaries very hard. And that’s where my best breakthroughs seem to happen. Right out there on the jagged edge. Not everything I try is going to be a masterpiece and I’ve learned to make peace with that. Failing sucks, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just part of the creative process – keep going!
What would you change about the world today?
I think there are a lot of changes already in store for us coming out of this pandemic. We’ve all had some pretty major life changing events in the last few months. No one is quite sure what the “new normal” will look like long-term. I hope that since we’ve all taken a long break from the fast-fashion buying cycle that perhaps we can choose to demote our appetite for it to just a side-dish (or even garnish)? I would wish that we made more mindful purchasing decisions that could halt the cycle of fast-fashion waste for good. That as we fill the need for beautiful things to wear we are also choosing to invest (our dollars and our emotions) in pieces that will last longer and serve us better.
What are your plans for the future?
It’s been such a thrilling ride so far just having our pieces showcased at “The Confessional Showroom” in NYC! Johnny Cohen, the owner and our agent, has really been just phenomenal in helping us to get the word out and connecting us with his amazing network of stylists, photographers and industry professionals. Thanks largely to his support we’ve already been included in dozens of incredibly fashion forward and creative editorials happening in the city. It’s been such a huge confirmation to see our pieces featured so frequently! Based on all the wonderful feedback we’ve been getting and how our brand has been received so far I think our natural next step will be to develop a strategic retail partnership in the city to also make some of our showroom items available for sale to the public.
Looking into the future long-term I see us expanding our collaboration efforts with even more local designers to help further develop and promote the eco-fashion movement as a true industry option for both designers to create and fashion consumers to purchase.