Arts & Leisure

Bates Student Creates Upcycled Clothing

Talia Sperduto is a junior here at Bates College and the owner of the upcycled clothing company Tal and Mai Design. I was able to catch up with Talia this past week to hear about her background in clothing design and creation, her inspirations for starting Tal and Mai, and what is plans to do next. Tal and Mai design started freshman year. Ever since she was little, Talia would make scrunchies for herself and others out of old clothing she had around her house. Once she got to Bates she began making them for her friends and soon began receiving requests from people around campus for then. Due to their growing popularity, she decided to start selling them and made an Instagram account so she could post photos of them and people could direct message her to claim different colors and patterns. After starting the Instagram, she began sewing other aspects of clothing such as shorts, shirts, jackets and dresses, all out of upcycled material that she either already owned for found through thrifting. 
Talia has been sewing since she was a young girl, when took sewing classes with her mom. Her mother, another expert seamstress, would sew Talia and her American girl doll matching dresses. Talia started off with knitting and embroidery but soon moved onto sewing after taking a sewing program through 4H, a youth development and mentoring organization. In the program she was able to be mentored by an amazing seamstress who worked at a fashion house in New York. Since then Talia has worked in many clothing creation environments, she works at the Bates Seam Shop and spent her last summer interning at the Drift Collective, a clothing company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Talia spoke to me about how she was drawn to working at the Drift Collective due to their design principals as well as their environmental perspective. While interning there she helped to design a couple of clothing items, helped with their sewing work, and researched new materials for them to use for Drift to use for their bathing suits. Currently they only have bikinis but are working towards a male line in the near future. The Drift Collective aims to create a connection between the products that they are creating and the people coming into their shop. The goal in creating this connection is that people will have a more personal experience with the products and stop the fast paced consumption that often happens when you buy bathing suits. Talia helped to find the new material of their bikinis, a material called econyl fabric. The fabric is made in Italy, where the producers work with fishermen to take old fishing nets on the ocean floor (as well as carpet going to landfill) and redesign the material and turn it  into new nylon strands that can make new stretch fabric. The work that Talia has done at Drift Collective has inspired her to keep up with her passion of creating clothing and has also taught her skills that she will one day apply to her own company, such as learning how to communicate with other companies. Next summer she will be designing their next line of swimwear. 
At Bates, most of Talia’s work is commission based, meaning that people come to her to plan out what they would like for her to create and then she creates it for them and charges them for her labor. The materials she uses for her own clothing creations are almost exclusively upcycled pieces made out of natural fabrics. “I thrift a lot, find things that are unused in the places around me and draws inspiration from that” that says. “For instance a lot of the scrunchies I make are inspired by old lace doilies, I had a ton of excess doilies from my grandmother and found more lace like that from vintage and consignment shops”. Talia’s focus on natural fibers stems from the threat of micro plastics on the environment and human health. 
“If you wash your clothes and they are not made of natural fibers such as nylon, every time you wash it the particles break off and go into the water stream. These particles eventually go into the ocean and lakes and ponds, which destroys ecosystems that are there and creates new bacteria in these spaces and disrupts the animal and plant life. We are drinking it too. The average person consumes about a credit card’s worth of plastic every week just from the water they are drinking. Try to stay away from fabrics that have those stretch materials in them or if they do have to use stretch fabric, I want to work with a source that is using material that is already there rather than creating new material.” 
When asked if she has found a strong market for her upcycled clothing at Bates, Talia says that yes she has. People often reach out to her and are interested in the message that she has of being more sustainable with clothing. Talia often receives direct messages on social media from people asking her to advise them on clothing they should buy or brands they should follow that have similar sustainable messages. Talia is currently abroad in Spain for the winter 2020 semester, but I would encourage all students to follow her Instagram @tnm_design to see the work she has created.