'Project Runway' Contestant Is Recycling Thread Clippings Into Stunning Handbags

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Nov. 28 2023, Published 12:46 p.m. ET

Fashion is notoriously bad for the environment, especially fast fashion, but Kelly Dempsey is one designer who is setting out to change that trend. The former Project Runway contestant is known for her sustainable fashion designs and skill with upcycling thrifted items.

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The runner-up from Season 14 of Project Runway, Dempsey creates her own unique, sustainable fashion items and even teaches online courses on sewing and upcycling. One amazing project by the former reality star turns recycled thread clippings into fabric to create stylish handbags.

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Kelly Dempsey of 'Project Runway' has found a clever way to recycle thread clippings.

On her Instagram page, Kelly Dempsey shared a gorgeous handbag made largely from recycled thread clippings. In one short video, she's holding a wad of brightly colored threads and then shows off a metallic-looking handbag with bright pinks, purples, and silver, with her name featured on the label. A longer video features footage showing Dempsey's process for creating this handbag.

Dempsey demonstrates how she arranged the "trash" threads on a piece of recycled denim and then sewed on a piece of plastic to hold the threads in place. (She says the plastic is either a recycled shower curtain liner or vinyl.) The designer also shows her work on her sewing machine, mentioning a new attachment she uses to create this purse.

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As you might expect, this beautiful upcycled handbag got plenty of love from commenters:

  • "Puffy stickers from the 90s 🀣🀣 I save all my yarn scraps to use as stuffing but this would be a cool project to do with them too!"
  • "Love your thread clippings bag. Trade mark it before someone else does."
  • "Thanks for sharing! I kept my ends from a special large tapestry just in case."
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Dempsey also explains on social media: "My inspo for this piece came from partnering w/ @mettler_thread using their recycled thread called SERACYCLE which is made from 100% post consumer PET bottles." It's fantastic that such a talented designer is committed to more sustainable practices like using recycled or "trash" items to make something new and beautiful.

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Kelly Dempsey has done lots of upcycling since her time on the 'Project Runway' reality show.

On Dempsey's business website, she explains that she grew up with a mother who ran a craft store from home, which helped instill her sense of creativity and resourcefulness. She's developed online courses such as "Cleaning Your Thrifted Finds," "Thrift Flipping 101," and "Sewing Basics: Zero to Hero." These align with her mission to inspire others to build a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry.

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Dempsey shares other upcycling fashion projects on her Instagram and Facebook accounts, often with tips that followers can use to make their own. She's also an advocate for stopping the use of fast fashion and standing up for workers' rights. For example, in an Instagram post, she broke down the six lowest-scoring fashion brands on the fashion transparency index, including Shein, which is known for worker exploitation and cheap consumer prices.

Dempsey is not just an occasional upcycler but has made reusing and upcycling integral to her creative projects. Fans can purchase her items or pay a small fee for one of her instructional courses to duplicate her work (available via her website).

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