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Cristina Bolling, McClatchy Newspapers, Published February 08 2012

Woman gives bargain cast-offs new life

Where you see a frumpy long-sleeved shirt salvaged from Goodwill, Devon Freund envisions it transformed into a cute tank-top – with the sleeves becoming two wine bottle bags.

Where you see an out-of-date denim skirt, Freund imagines the perfect makings of flower headbands and T-shirt appliques.

The 36-year-old Huntersville, N.C., woman combined her sewing prowess, whimsical fashion sense and frugal outlook to “upcycle” thrift stores clothes into on-trend yet affordable fashions for women and kids.

She also repurposes furniture and home goods, and sells all her creations at three locations in the Charlotte, N.C., area under the label Jelbel Designs – named for daughters Isabella, 8, and Jezel, 6.

“I basically take apart anything I can and repurpose it,” Freund says.

Freund’s business is part of a growing trend nationwide, as the tough economy and a desire to become more eco-friendly have driven people to try to find new ways to repurpose old goods.

But Freund has taken it farther than the average craft-booth vendor or online Etsy crafter, and is selling her goods in brick-and-mortar shops around town.

Freund didn’t set out to start a business when she began creating new looks for her kids, adding cute ruffles to the bottom of a pair of jeans here or embellishing a top.

But when the compliments and “Can you make one for me?” inquiries kept rolling in, she decided to try her hand at selling in craft shows. The items sold so well, she started selling them in local spots around town. “I think people love the fact that it’s one-of-a-kind and it’s very green,” she says.

Her designs, also available online, range from the funky to the frilly.

She sews seven days a week and shops for fabrics at salvage shops like Salvation Army, Goodwill and Value Village. She wastes practically nothing. Even tiny scraps become little embellishments on tops or headbands. Strips of leftover material can be made into patchwork scarves.

Freund says the beauty of upcycling is that she doesn’t obsess over patterns or make any extensive plans when working with fabric.

“It works best if you don’t overthink it,” she says.

A NEW LOOK FOR FURNITURE

Freund also refinishes furniture, adding color stains, clever drawer pulls and updated cushions to things she finds at thrift stores.

Freund says she spends at least two to three hours sewing every day, in addition to the several hours she spends each week stocking the shops where she sells and teaches classes.

She says the endeavor is “not too lucrative yet, but it gives me a little bit of cash.”

She pays a fee to sell her items at the shops where she sells – or in the case of 32 Flavors Boutique, she will work at the store in exchange for paying rent.

She loves the thrill of the hunt when it comes to furniture. She and her husband, Andrew, bought a small cottage on the Catawba River in 2010 and furnished the entire thing on a $1,000 budget, using all upcycled furniture and accessories. She and her daughters customized old beds by breaking up china and creating mosaics on the headboards. Stained chair cushions got sweet new appliques to add charm and hide blemishes.

MAKING OLD CLOTHES NEW AGAIN

At the Light Studio Salon in Cornelius, N.C., owner Brandy Church used to have a small consignment boutique connected to the salon.

She allowed Freund to sell her work in the boutique, and they were so popular Church discontinued the consignment portion of the business and let Freund fill the store with her items.

“Customers just love coming in here,” Church says.

On a recent weekday morning, four women sat at sewing machines in the Light Studio boutique as Freund taught them how to decorate and attach denim hearts onto shirts they brought to the class.

“It’s so cool, I just love the idea,” said Pascale Salahie, who was customizing clothes for her two girls. “You find a piece of clothing, and you change it, and it’s new again.”

LOOK GREAT, SAVE MONEY

Growing up in Ontario, Freund would sew curtains and do simple projects with her mom, the late Deen Goldman. Freund says her mom was a “beautiful woman” who worked in an art gallery and loved fashion but had a knack for dressing well on a budget.

The two had a special relationship. Freund was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2006, while juggling a move from Florida to Huntersville and raising two tiny daughters. Goldman, who lived in Florida, would come to Huntersville for weeks at a time to help out.

Freund recovered. But in 2008, Goldman was diagnosed with melanoma. She died in January 2010.

While working in her second-floor sewing room, Freund says she feels close to her mom, who she believes would be thrilled to see her daughter finding joy in this creative venture.

“This is my therapy,” Freund says. “She was so positive. I can hear her saying, ‘That looks lovely, Devon, keep going.’”