Out with the old, in with the new. It’s simple logic that we’ve all heard before, but does it really apply to fashion? Sure, there are numerous lists constructed by fashion editors around the globe that all aim to tell us what we should being doing to our closets. What happens when those lists start to recycle? Yesterday’s out can quickly turn into tomorrow’s in. Through upcycling—fashion’s new craze on old clothes—Cassie Neahring is finding hidden gems in what most people are tossing out of their closets.
What exactly are upcycled clothes? Imagine taking an outdated or tarnished garment and transforming it into something trendy and stylish. This is the concept of upcycled clothing and the theme of Cassie’s store, Out On a Limb.
Today, Cassie is busy sewing up new items for her store. It’s too early to tell what the garment will end up being, but it’s already starting out as a rave review. As new potential customers look on, Cassie flings the garment across her design table. The thin, floral print fabric dramatically whisks through the air before perfectly landing in place on the table. Cassie’s fingers slowly trace the floral print. As she lifts the print from the table, her eyes closely examine the item’s current structure. Her intense gaze lets you know that she has much bigger plans for the unassuming piece. As Cassie moves from the table straight to the sewing machine, she starts to sew and give the dress a new life. What was once a tossed dress in the half off bin is now turning into a trendy and chic fashion statement.
It’s in these moments where you realize the magic of Cassie’s store: not only are you able to feed your shopping addiction, but you’re also given a front row seat to experience the brilliant mind and creative hands behind the garments. “This is some really interesting stuff,” one customer says. Cassie nicely offers her thanks and begins to talk about the entire process. “I spend about eight plus hours a week searching through thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales,” she says. “I imagine what each piece can become before purchasing and excitedly bring each dress or skirt home. Most of my pieces are from the late 50’s to the 80’s—I only upcycle vintage and retro items.”
Like so many bargain shoppers, Cassie can count on finding uniquely stylish finds in thrift stores. What she wasn’t expecting was for her love of thrifting to lead her down a new career path. “I love scavenging for unique items,” Cassie says. “I decided to start buying items in all sizes to sell to others. I then quickly realized that many clothes have good bones but need altering or restructuring. I then found my calling—saving pieces from being otherwise ignored or thrown away for good.”
Cassie is all about helping women rediscover the beauty in clothing. The process starts by shuffling through items at thrift stores and bargain shops. Once Cassie finds a fabric that catches her eyes, she starts to examine it and give it a story. What was once a retro dress, fit for an office filled with 70s décor is re-imagined to a trendy and contemporary piece conceived for the runway.
“I pick up each piece and give it a quick look over to see what I have to work with,” she says. “I then pull back sleeves, pull up hems and imagine the dress or skirt taking a new shape. Some items I immediately have a vision for, others I buy because they just have such a great color or print and I have to figure out how I will alter it with a second look.”
Cassie continued this process for years until she had enough items for a store. “I began sewing seven years ago,” she says. “After I made my first few skirts for friends and myself, I took a batch to DNA Galleries and then a few other local boutiques and vintage stores.” After spending time in the Plaza District and watching the area grow, it started to feel like home to Cassie. It wasn’t long before she decided to leave her own mark on the up-and-coming neighborhood. “I found the perfect location in the Plaza District.”
The upcycling process can be extensive. While some pieces may call for just a few alterations, Cassie also completely transforms pieces by altering their look, shape and style. Sometimes the final product doesn’t always turn out as planned. “Trial and error is part of creativity,” says Cassie. “If I start upcycling a piece and see it isn’t working out the way I had hoped, I just stop and re-imagine what it could become.”
One of Cassie’s greatest creations was a 70’s floral/plaid dress that she re-imagined into a one-of-a-kind wrap dress. “It had big pockets on the front, two layers of ruffles around the shoulders and ruffles on the bottom of it at knee length,” she says. “In addition, it had some rickrack around the pockets and shoulders. I decided to turn the dress around, make the back the front. So I removed the pockets, all the ruffles, the rickrack and shortened the length to mid-thigh. I then went through and secured all of the seams, gave it a new hemline and finished all the edges. It ended up being the most adorable one-of-a-kind mini wrap dress!”
A vivid imagination is needed to do Cassie’s job. She says that she likes to work with individuals who like to dream along with her. “Making people happy with my craft makes me happy. Out On a Limb is a space that lets other local artists and makers share their pieces with the city. I am constantly in awe of the fact that I get to sew all day for a living!”
Cassie is already dreaming up her fall collection. She says that it will feature handmade items in addition to the upcycled clothing that she’s known for. She’s expanding beyond the Plaza District by starting her own online boutique. She says that her customers shouldn’t worry though, she’ll stay in her space and continue to alter the way we see clothes.
Visit Cassie’s store, Out On a Limb, at 1710 NW 16th in OKC or shop online at outonalimbboutique.com.