Entrepreneur Feature, (web)

Local artist spreads environmental message through clothing

Lucy Hough | Wednesday, June 22, 2011 Story here at UP Second Wave.
Lanni Lantto displays one of her upcycled creations I Shawn Malone

Lanni Lantto displays one of her upcycled creations. (photos by Shawn Malone)
Many people have overflowing drawers of ratty, old t-shirts in a rainbow of colors. There’s always the inevitable point in our lives when we’re faced with the decision of what to do with the shirts we haven’t worn in a long time: are they in good enough shape for a Salvation Army donation, or should they just be thrown away?

Lanni Lantto has a solution. She takes old t-shirts and turns them into unique and hip headbands that women across the country have proudly worn to perfect an outfit. She considers this activism in its own right, by encouraging a proactive lifestyle of reuse.

“I thought I had to be behind a desk to be an activist, making phone calls, networking, and it really didn’t fit with my vibes,” Lantto says.” And that’s when I decided I’m going to do fashion, which I never thought I would be doing.”

Lantto is an unlikely designer. She has a degree in international law and no formal training in fashion design, but she has created an entire line of clothing with a mission: “Be bold, be unique, be green.” The clothing, called (re) by Lanni Lantto, is meant to express the importance of not recycling, but upcycling. Though they sound similar, the difference is the energy that is put into the process. Recycling is when you take one thing and make something else, but upcycling can use the original material as a base.

“In upcycling, we just take something that exists and add on and make it into something better,” Lantto says. She gives the example, “It’s just taking a tire, and then doing something really cool to it as is, and now it’s a planter.”

Lantto, who works in a Marquette apartment, does this with clothes. Like the t-shirts she turns into headbands, Lantto looks for “pre-loved materials,” like old clothes she finds at St. Vincent de Paul’s or Salvation Army, and then adds onto them or takes them apart and adds them to something else to create a line of clothing. Her clothes have creative, asymmetrical cuts and use unusual patterns to make one-of-a-kind dresses, shirts, skirts, and accessories.

Lantto typically creates clothing for three separate purposes. She does some commissioned work, in which people will give her old clothing that they own to improve; she creates pieces for the stores that she sells her clothing in, including the Zero Degrees gallery in Marquette and Lowenstein’s Antique Marketplace in Negaunee; and she also creates clothing specifically for her professional line of clothing.

Zero Degrees provides a space for local artists to sell their art, and is staffed by the people who showcase their work. Lantto works a regular shift at the gallery.

“The cooperative’s aim is to create a dynamic and diverse community of artists for the purpose of supporting, celebrating, sharing and selling art,” says Justin Savu, an artist in wood furniture and wood wall art and chairperson of the gallery’s 44 members.

Savu says that Lantto has a great social and environmental message to her work and that response has been favorable.

Lantto started designing clothes in this way with a lot of hesitation. She had no experience even sewing, but she wanted to try. She got some teaching jobs to pay rent and started experimenting with clothing she found at resale shops. She made enough pieces to participate in a couple of fashion shows and got feedback about her clothes, which encouraged her to start her own business.

“The first step was believing in myself, and I think a lot of people stop themselves from following their dreams or taking that next step because they just don’t believe that they can do it and they don’t have the confidence,” Lantto says. “So I had to first go through a lot to gain the confidence that I could be doing it.”

At the same time, Lantto lost her teaching jobs because of the poor economy. She had to think of other options, so she went to Europe to study green fashion trends there, benefiting from Europe’s forward thinking ideas on fashion. She learned the term upcycling and learned about how people around the world incorporate green ideas and activism into their clothing.

Now she lives in Marquette, where she grew up, and is making clothes and selling them in stores in the area. She says people in the Upper Peninsula have responded well to her ideas and she was surprised by the amount of people who participate in upcycling. She hopes to one day move to a more fashion-focused town, but she appreciates being a part of the green community in the Upper Peninsula.

“Marquette is always seeking to be innovative. It’s always seeking to get new entrepreneurs out there to the public and to help them succeed. Marquette’s really booming, in the next 10 years I’m so excited to see where we’re going, especially with eco-friendly design,” Lantto says.

She says that she is happy to have found a way to make a difference in the world in a creative way. The best part, she says, is that by providing people with clothes that they might really like, she is encouraging them to think about where those clothes come from. She hopes this will encourage people to think of upcycling things they already have before throwing them away.

Lucy Hough is a student at Northern Michigan University and is studying history and journalism. She is the former Editor in Chief of the NMU student newspaper, The North Wind.