One fun thing about going to fashion/blogger events has been meeting incredible people who have a unique spin on fashion and the world. Enter Traci Claussen of REpurosing NOLA. I met her at the Nolcha Verde (green night in spanish) event and was knocked out by her burlap and leather bags and by her warmth and friendliness.
We ended up keeping in contact and over the course of the year I’ve enjoyed Traci’s generosity in the form of scarves, handmade tapestry Christmas stockings, bath products, and my ver own custom made bohemian chic handbag, which came in time for my birthday.
While mega-huge fast fashion brands will hoodwink you into thinking that they are ‘recycling’ Traci and REpurposing NOLA are really helping the N’awlins economy by working with what’s around to create new and useful consumer goods. I know for a fact that Traci’s products from scented candles to hand lotion to bags are well made and of great quality, I thought it was time to celebrate the New orleans entrepeneur and her groundbreaking business salvaging New Orleans piece by peace.
Sassy Ethnic Bohemain: How did REpurposing NOLA come about? What prompted you to start creating consumer goods?
Traci Claussen: The idea to start REpurposingNOLA came about while renovating my warehouse loft. The building was an old sugar mill from 1910, however the conversion-developer (circa 1985) removed the “soul” or spirit of the structure when converting it as a project for the 1985 World’s Fair in New Orleans, converting old warehouses into apartments.
After finding several salvaged items from local non-profits who had been deconstructing since Katrina, I decided to repurpose the salvaged items that interested me (like an iron fence gate that had a heart design, side light windows, fireplace mantels, etc) back into the loft as functional, conversational “art” pieces.
With two boxes of leftover bamboo flooring, we made folding chairs; with leftover cypress scraps, we made pandora boxes and serving trays. We sold out of the dozen trays and boxes within a couple of weeks, however, the profit wasn’t there to retail those items. My wanderlust took over one day while drinking coffee at local roaster, and travel bags we born! After testing the concept in Los Angeles at a well attended festival, making sales and receiving positive feedback from consumers, I decided to move forward with the idea.
SEB: What exactly makes your business ‘sustainable’ and why is that good business?
TC: REpurposingNOLA is sustainable in that we are able to reuse materials from our community that would otherwise be waste, and transform those materials from their original life to another (i.e. coffee sacks into travel bags/handbags/curtains/stockings; leather belts into straps; remnant drapery + upholstery materials that are extremely durable in extreme weather conditions making our bags last longer than mass produced).
We believe it is good business because these materials already exist, in excess, in our community.The way we source materials also allows us to pay our seamstresses very well to produce locally, which in turn puts more money into the local economy.
SEB: In addition to clothing, accessories and home furnishings- you also have a skincare/fragrance line! How did you get into doing that?
TC: The fragrance collection came about because another local entrepreneur who makes soy candles with essential oils received the wrong kind of glass tumblers from a supplier. That supplier told her to keep them no charge, but they weren’t the design she used. When she told me about it, I bought them off her under the condition that she would produce custom-blended candles exclusive to my brand. We sat down with essential oils and played mad scientist until I liked the first three that were true to the brand: Signature (Ginger-bergamot); Iced Southern Pecan (my daily dose of local coffee); and Hot Yoga (peaceful intent).
We quickly sold out of the 200+ tumblers and the fragrance line was launched! There was no going back, customers were addicted! While it started with a reuse story, it now has become an extension of the brand in that they are all a truly UNIQUE piece of New Orleans.
In celebration of our 6th anniversary this September, I’ve created a SIXTH scent that captures the essence, ethereal spirit of New Orleans with an herbal, amber, floral and citrus note. If that moment of twilight, dusk and dawn had a smell, it would be SIXTH scent. We’ll offer it in 11 oz candles, 9 oz lotion, and loofah soap bar.
SEB: Does New Orleans have a large sustainable, eco-friendly maker group? Are there any other artisans that you would recommend?
TC: New Orleans has a very large sustainable, eco-friendly maker group! Mostly craftsman who design gorgeous pieces of furnishings from some of the wildest pieces of salvaged goods, many who show at the annual Green Project’s Furniture Salvations event.
The craftsman who produced my initial designs (trays/boxes/chairs) won the Best of Show for 2008 at their event! Post-Katrina brought a great need for sustainability to New Orleans and the population was open to it. Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation, and Global Green have made great strides in rebuilding the 9th ward with sustainable housing. The influence from Central America that is found in New Orleans also lends itself to reusing materials. There’s an entrepreneurial mindset down here that is large.
The Higgins Boat helped win WWII: Andrew Higgins was a fisherman who redesigned the flat boats he used to navigate the bayous as a way to carry troops to Normandy. Higgins was a New Orleans businessman.
SEB: Could you ever see yourself opening a REpurposing NOLA outside of the Crescent City?
TC: Absolutely! In order for the brand to grow, it has become necessary to reach outside New Orleans. I recently made the decision to refocus our resources towards online sales and wholesale orders because the brick and mortar formulas are not proving to be sustainable for our business model. We are currently looking to add outside sales reps to target boutiques in key customer cities that will help us gain traction nationally. The idea to relocate the brand production in a couple of years to either NYC or LA is a definite possibility.
Our spirit is still Made in New Orleans, though! It will always be our “secret sauce!”