Up & Undies
I chatted with Ardis Burr of Up & Undies. She helps divert excess clothing from landfills by upcycling old t-shirts into new underwear. She shares why upcycling is important to her and the process to get your very own pair of undies!
Tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to start Up & Undies?
Ardis: Well, I've been a sewer since I was eight years old and got access to the sewing machine, so learning to do the sewing wasn't a big deal. But the undies part was simply because I had a favorite pair and they stopped making them, but they were so comfortable so I thought, "Well, I'll just give it a try. Why not?"
I wanted to upcycle some old t-shirts my boyfriend had, so I used one of his old work shirts, and it had the logos on it. Then, he actually ended up getting laid off, so then it was kind of like a joke to wear those underwear. It was so much fun. I see these t-shirts around the street and I think, "Oh, that would look great on a butt. You know?"
As a sewing person, you horde your little scraps that you wanna save, all the little cool bits that are left over and make dolls and doll clothes. I guess I started Up & Undies because there are a lot more t-shirts than there are of awesome underwear for adults. So, no reason to stop now.
"...People have too many t-shirts and everybody wears underwear."
Can you explain a little bit about the sustainability problem that you're solving with Up & Undies?
Ardis: All my life I've been sewing and crafting, and the idea of craft, and art, and upcycling, and recycling, and reusing is ... I mean, people are starting to think about it now. You can buy a new t-shirt for $15.00, I guess, as a souvenir, but people have too many t-shirts and everybody wears underwear.
I don't really know how to answer that question well, except it just is kinda obvious to me. Let's take a toothbrush, for example. It's a stupid example, but a toothbrush serves a purpose. You brush your teeth with it, and then after it's become too dirty, or old, or soft, or something you can still use it to clean a drain. But, that's not really upping the level or value of that toothbrush, it's reusing and repurposing the toothbrush.
But, my thought with undies is that it's upcycling because it used to be a t-shirt that you probably wore, probably has a stain or a hole, but in general it has a great graphic on it, it's super soft, you love the color. And so by turning it into something that is of equal or greater value is upcycling. So, it continues the life of being clothes. It's not turning it into art or something that goes on the wall, it's still a durable good that stays in the system, and you don't have to buy a new pair of underwear. You have turned your t-shirt, which you couldn't wear anymore and was no longer useful.
I don't know, that's how I think of it as being sustainable, because people will continue to need to wear clothes, continue to need to wear underwear. They can do this instead of buying three pairs from Costco for 10 bucks that are made in China under uncertain conditions and putting terrible things in the water.
If someone just wanted to give you some t-shirts and make some underwear out of it, how does that process work?
Ardis: Well, I get the measurements of the person that they're intended for and what kind of style they want. Whether they wanna have a french cut high on the hips, or more of a hipster low on the belly style. Then we talk about where they want the graphics to appear. Like, if it's a happy face, do you want it on the front, on the side, on the tush? It's sort of a design process, and then I go for it.
I was looking through your Instagram earlier today and I saw that you sometimes dabble in other types of design, so do you have a favorite design, either of undies or other things that you've made?
Ardis: Ever?! Dude, I have to think about that. It's been over 35 years. I could think of a few Halloween costumes that were pretty awesome. After I make the underwear sometimes I'll end up using sleeves from t-shirts. I cut them into long strips and then I knit them into tiles, and then I sew those tiles into a rug. And it takes a long time and it's pretty messy, but the end product is really comfortable under your feet, kinda like pressure points. It's pretty fun to play with the colors and make these fun rugs.
I guess there's a project that I'm not done with it yet. I lived in Japan for a while and being a weaver/sewer/dyer person, I found the thrift stores that had old kimonos. I tried to stock up on the good, beautiful silk kimonos, and so I take them apart and use them for clothes. It's upcycling because nobody wears kimonos anymore.
Actually, you wanna hear a good story? A friend of mine, her aunt lived in the countryside, and her aunt died and had worn kimono all her life. She didn't even have pajamas, she actually slept in them. But when she died, the silk is so heavy and they don't have a lot of room for landfills there. They had to actually pay to have a big stack of kimonos taken away and destroyed! I heard that story and I was like, "No!" I mean, there's shops in Seattle that sell them for 200 each, just an old, plain kimono. You know?
Do you have any craft shows where people can see your stuff in person? What's the best way to learn more about Up and Undies?
I had my last show [a few weeks ago] at the Seattle Recreative. They sell donated art supplies, so anything from marble tiles, fabrics, geez, everything -- I mean, wood, paper, beads...
It's a pretty cool place and they teach classes on how to make upcycled stuff. I work there part-time and they had an art walk in Greenwood, so that was my last show.
I don't sell [the undies] in any shops. If anybody knows of a shop that wants to have them, let me know!