Jared DeSimio has a day job as an education technician at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham. But in his spare time he’s an artist, working with discarded fabrics and clothing to turn them into functional and unique items. A modern-day ragman, if you will. He got started in 2008, teaching himself to sew on his wife’s old machine. “Kenmore, beige, probably from the 1980s.” These days he has multiple machines, including a serger, and a deepening interest in quilting, looming and Japanese mending techniques. He’s also got some interesting ideas for the way one of Maine’s biggest companies could send a sustainability message through reinventing an old design.

TAILORING TALENT: DeSimio said his initial impulse to start making bags, and then clothes, came more from an aesthetic interest than anything related to the sustainability movement. “I liked used things, the aura that they kind of gave off, that they had been lived with, that they had some kind of connection to a person.” Over time, though, that changed, and he started using sustainability as a design challenge: “How much of this can I use? How little of it do I have to throw away?”

KEEP IT GOING: Mending became something of an obsession as he explored the potential to “keep things going.” He found a lot of inspiration on Instagram, where he saw samples of two Japanese methods of mending. Boro creates new fabric from scraps of old garments or fabric. “Peasants would keep every scrap of fabric they had.” Sashiko is functional embroidery, a running stitch that you might use to, say, patch a favorite item of clothing. DeSimio has used this method on everything from a slipcover for a co-worker to his own jeans (he’s a big fan of indigo-dyed fabric). He recently built a box loom, which he uses to weave scraps of fabric together (like a rag rug), and he is also inspired by American quilting. Recently, he turned an old quilt into an anorak.

ON TREND: It just so happened that visible mending became sort of a fashion thing. “You are seeing it more in fast fashion. At Target, my kids can get jeans that have been visibly mended.” How does he feel about being trendy this way? It’s problematic. “It diminishes what people like me and other artisans are doing.” And the practice in fast fashion is to latch onto something, then dump it quickly. He’d rather see beautiful mending be a habit, not a trend. DeSimio’s hope is there will be “value in the process rather than the product.”

SEARCH AND RESCUE: He’s always been a thrifter, but does less of it these days, visiting just a few regular haunts and trying to keep the habit in perspective. “You get the fear of missing out, like, ‘I have to go every day.’ ” Instead, he tells himself, “Whenever you can go, it is going to be an opportunity for discovery.” Like the sweatshirt made on an antique loop wheel loom that he found recently, a Japanese brand that he’d learned about online and which he thinks would have fetched $250 new. “The inside is just really nice. It is made in a way that is superior and slow. Those are the values that I really think about.” That was a “Holy Grail” kind of find. So was the L.L. Bean olive-drab anorak from the 1950s or ’60s he found recently for $8. That was a “black script” find. Meaning? The black label with L.L. Bean written in gold cursive. Even if DeSimio keeps the thrifting to a minimum, he’s never going to stop. “There are things I am always looking for.”

JARED AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT: What would they be? “One in particular is L.L. Bean’s Rainbow Lake coat.” This is not something we’ve encountered; what does it look like? “The silhouette is much like a field coat.” Except it is covered in random-seeming patches of red, green, beige and navy corduroy. Very stylish in the early 1970s, apparently. Abercrombie & Fitch once made a similar jacket, which famed writer Hunter S. Thompson favored (Johnny Depp wore a version in the 1998 movie adaptation of Thompson’s book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”). DeSimio said the Bean version goes for up to $1,000 on the vintage market. He does not expect to be able to afford one, but he does have an idea for a way to get one, new.


TALK ABOUT SIGNATURE LINES: DeSimio thinks Bean should bring back the coat but “have it be a sustainability statement.” Meaning, using scraps of clothing from returns. Here is what he would like to say to the powers that be at L.L. Bean: “This is a beautiful garment that you used to make, and I would love to spearhead the re-creation of it.” From DeSimio’s perspective, it would be a great way for people to access a much-longed-for garment from the past (just do an internet search for “rainbow lake jacket” and you’ll see how much people want this coat), but made with today’s materials (cast-offs, of course).

PRICE POINTS: One thing DeSimio admits he’s not great at is pricing. He charges $50 an hour for mending, which might include resurrecting a friend’s favorite jeans. There are good things about this work: “I can do that anywhere.” But on the downside, he has to prioritize how much of that he signs on for. “Is it taking away from the more exploratory stuff that I do and want to be doing?”

COOL IN SCHOOL: Do any of his students ever comment on his style? Yes! “I value their feedback because if they go out of their way to say something, then it must truly make an impact on them. It’s a great opportunity to talk about the value of self-expression and having confidence in yourself. And to talk about the values I have in regard to being a conscious consumer and our relationship with clothing.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols

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