Earth-Friendly Fashion Cry – “Save the Ties!”
A few years ago Brooke Costello couldn’t use the word “recycled” in describing the unique line of fashion accessories she produces at the helm of her independent Chicago-based design company, Tongue Tied.
“That didn’t help the sale,” she explains. “So I coined the term ‘respirited.’ I’ve seen it used by other people since, but I believe that term originated with me.”
Couture on a Budget
Now the association of her wares with the recycling movement contributes substantially to the bottom line. “People across every socioeconomic level are responding to the concept,” she says. “Shopping in resale boutiques is born of the philosophy that you don’t have to spend a king’s ransom to wear couture.”
Since founding Tongue Tied in 2006, Costello has proven that her creativity goes far beyond an apt turn of phrase. From the original concept of the waist sash she created by combining a couple of men’s ties into an eye-catching accessory inspired by the Japanese Obi, she has branched out into an entire line of items ranging from totes and purses to laptop sleeves and cell phone cases, accent pillows, headbands, shawls, stoles, and ascots. Her latest creation, the Truffle, can be worn as an ascot or belt.
All of these one-of-a-kind pieces are handmade using repurposed ties. “I’ve always been struck by how beautiful ties are,” she explains. “Each and every one of them, even the kooky ones.”
But ties go in and out of style at quite a clip. Considering the frequency with which ties are purchased or given as gifts, there’s an ample surplus of them hanging unused in closets around the country. Most ultimately land in landfills or in resale shops and thrift stores where they may be of little use to the shoppers who patronize such outlets.
These are the places Costello trolls for finds. It was just such an establishment she wandered into in the spring of 2006, the day after accepting a buyout package from the Chicago publishing firm where she’d been employed at as advertising sales executive.
A New Look with Old Ties
“I walked into this resale shop on a Saturday morning and walked out with 20 vintage ties,” Costello says. She had no idea what she was going to do with them. She selected two of the ties that, she observed, looked as though they had been “separated at birth” – with complementary color palette and fabric – and pinned them together to create her first Obi.
Costello describes wearing the pinned-up obi to a bridal shower the next day. “All the women crowded around me saying, ‘What is that?’ I asked them if they thought I could do something with that design. They said, ‘Absolutely!’ The hostess gave me the name and number of her seamstress. She stitched up the obi and I had my first piece.”
Innovation just seems to come naturally to Costello. “Something I’ve said my entire life is, ‘Well I can make that!’ ” she says. From that initial showing and first design, Costello stepped up production and marketing, employing a team of local seamstresses to fabricate the unique accessories for sale at Chicago popular outdoor event, the Randolph Street Market Festival.
Since then, she has expanded into other outdoor shows, gift shows, and select retail outlets. She continually comes up with new ideas for fashion and home décor accessories, using men’s ties, women’s scarves, upholstery samples, and other recyclables.
“A couple of designs came about because I was looking for ways to use parts of the ties that were landing in my scrap bin. I was taking the narrow part of the tie to make headbands and setting aside the whole wider portion – there had to be some use for all that material!” The solution was the “sling kaching,” a holster style sling for mobile phone, camera, or I-pod, which can also be used as a minimalist purse for an evening out, carrying essentials like keys, ID, and cash.
Tongue Tied customers also are continually inventing new looks and different ways to wear the items, Costello says. “Anyone who loves accessories will always figure out another use for something.” As does she. While arranging various Tongue Tied accessories during a recent fashion shoot, she gave birth to three new applications for the items on the spot.
Maintaining a fast-paced schedule of events and showings out of her Chicago base as well as in Kohler Wisconsin, Miami, West Palm Beach and hometown St. Louis, Costello remains loyal to her Missouri roots: her Cardinals themed sling-kaching is a big seller in the Gateway city.
Holiday shoppers will have an opportunity to purchase Tongue Tied accessories at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart One of A Kind Show and Sale.
Open to the public from December 3-6, the show attracts 50,000 attendees from throughout the Midwest and features unique gift items from more than 500 artists, artisans, and designers.
A complete listing of future shows featuring Tongue Tied merchandise will be available at www.BrookeCostello.com, when the designer’s site goes live in December of this year.
Tie One On for Charity
Tongue Tied wares are also available through private events; information will soon be available online. “Hostesses can sponsor in-home fundraisers through the Tie One On program,” Costello said. “Select a charity partner, and Tongue Tied will donate 20% of event sales to your cause.”
Supporting great causes by selling accessories fabricated locally from re-purposed materials strikes Costello as a winning proposition from every angle. As she says, it enables her to complete her chosen mission: “Lessen the landfills — produce locally — save the ties!”
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