The Magic of Upcycling Your Clothes with Drea Johnson

Drea in her design house.

Drea in her design house.

It’s Slow Fashion Season—no new clothes for 3 months—and the perfect time to look in your closet and see what items need some love with alteration and upcycling.

Learn more about upcycling, mending, and alteration, and how you can turn old jeans into your next one-of-a-kind favorite piece with the owner of Hidden Opulence Design House.

Who are you?

I'm Drea Johnson! I'm a body positive model, entrepreneur, advocate of intersectional feminism and sustainable apparel. I'm from Southern California and now live in Portland, Oregon. I've always had an affinity towards sewing and started doing that when I was 5 years old. I began tiny businesses starting in 1st grade and have always been crafting and selling things at school from beaded trinkets, to candy and then custom patches and tapering the skinniest jeans in high school. I have a background in both retail and production of fashion. I've had the great honor of working as a brand rep assistant at T&A showroom and executing alterations/repairs at Michael Costello. I also am an alumni of Cal Poly Pomona and earned a bachelor's of Science in Apparel Production there.

Hidden Opulence is my vision of all my passions combined: sewing, engaging in the local community, styling, pushing others to present their most vibrant authentic selves, and most importantly, stressing how we can achieve these things while keeping our planet in mind. With Hidden Opulence we have the ability to serve both our community with alterations and those within the industry with small batch production. (Very excited about our new Seattle client!) We place extra importance on the those who are POC, identify as queer, or simply need more support embracing their own bodies. When Hidden Opulence is a vendor, we retain all or our scraps from past orders, and salvage materials to create upcycled goods to continue sustainability outside of your wardrobe.

How did you start in alteration, mending, and upcycling?

I was raised in a Mexican and black home and my first memories of all 3 of these things was from my grandmothers, Guadalupe and Naomi. They both had tips on tricks on getting the most out of everything, of out necessity. This way of living trickled down to my mother and father and how they up-kept our household. My mother took cloth diapers and old newspapers and turned them into cleaning tools. Conditioning leather and mending socks were typical weekend lessons from my dad. I began executing garment alterations, mends, and upcycling when I was in middle school and high school. For myself I would scour yard sales and cut and alter to my liking. For others at school, I would taper and embellish pants and shirts with patches. I recall one summer morning quickly converting a long sleeve button up shirt in to short sleeve for my older brother and hemming his pants for work.

Helping a client re-love old items.

Helping a client re-love old items.

How do you describe your own style?

I love anything bold, gaudy, and bright. I love mixing prints with a surprise lip color. I just like to have fun and my style is how I can express myself. I'm allergic to metal so I have to be very selective in the jewelry that I will wear on my neck that touches my skin. This prompts me to find funkier earrings and fun shoes to compensate. I typically draw inspiration for my outfits from anything and everything—from a bird in a nature documentary and flowers in the neighborhood, to paintings at the museum.

How do you incorporate alteration and upcycling into your own closet?

In the way that fast fashion is created, it is fundamentally impossible for it to fit every body type and I believe this has added to the commentary of people believing their bodies have imperfections. Alterations are the way we can feel our best in the clothing that we already own. Upcycling is how we can continue to enjoy the wardrobe pieces we love without having to let them go. I've started wearing jewelry and clothing that once belonged to my mother and I regularly spend time setting items aside and repairing them at the end of a work day. Same goes for clothing in my partner's wardrobe, executing darning [the skill or activity of mending a hole in knitted material by interweaving yarn], on jeans and socks. When items don't fit quite right second hand I've added darts or hems to help them fit better. My favorite items to come across are those vintage homemade pieces that aren't quite finished. It lets me add my own touch and warms me to think about adding something to the garment for the future wearer.

A hole to butterfly beautiful metamorphosis.

A hole to butterfly beautiful metamorphosis.

What is your go-to look?

My go-to look has to be anything hot pink, platform shoes, bold dangle earrings, my pink glasses, and purple lipstick. I like to focus on the elements that comprise a go-to look instead of brands or labels. On most days I couldn't tell you who I'm wearing unless it's local jewelry.

A purple lip makes for a Slow Fashion Season approved accessory.

A purple lip makes for a Slow Fashion Season approved accessory.

What's a piece in your closet you wear to make more of a statement?

A vintage hot pink cross front jumpsuit (i removed the shoulder pads) from a local Portland thrift store called ReRun. All of my statement earrings have come from Artifact

What is your advice for someone trying to learn more about mending and upcycling and incorporating more of it into his/her wardrobe?

Wherever you are, I think the best way to jumpstart learning something is to do it in person. If Youtube, Instagram, or Pinterest have you scrolling and not sewing, reach out to your local sewing store. If they don't already have workshops for basic sewing/mending skills they will definitely know someone who is teaching one. I am currently in the planning phase to launch a few mending mixer's with Hidden Opulence this summer. So if you're in the Portland Area, stay tuned for our update!

Check out Hidden Opulence the next time you are in Portland.

Check out Hidden Opulence the next time you are in Portland.

Thanks, Drea!