The Refashionista

Saving the world one dress at a time

By Katherine Robinson

Photography Courtesy of Jillian Owens

In the immortal words of Coco Chanel: “Fashion fades, only style remains.” But where does last season’s must-have clothing go to die? The fashion funeral homes, better known in Columbia as the thrift store or Goodwill, are the final resting places of fashion before it is buried for all eternity in the local landfill. An astounding five percent of all landfill production is textile waste, which calculates to approximately 68 pounds of waste per household per year. That’s more than a few loads of dirty laundry.

Jillian Owens, local blogger, has found a way to resurrect and redo the dregs of the dress world into things that are fabulous and fashionable – and with a purpose.
Jillian’s thrifty roots go all the way back to her childhood home in rural Kentucky. As a girl, she remembers going to Saturday morning “rag pulls” – basically yard sales, but for textiles – and coming home with bags full of cool clothes. Local thrift stores were also perfect places to find worn-in jeans and oversized shirts to complete the punkish style she sported throughout high school.

A family move to the Palmetto State led Jillian to the University of South Carolina, where she was a theatre major in stage management. Today Jillian works for the South Carolina Arts Commission by day, but by night, she has returned to the theatre as a costume designer, including for a recent production of Plan Nine From Outer Space. She even participated in the Columbia Design League’s Runaway Runway, a fashion show of recycled materials, where her most memorable design was a ball gown made from the pages of trashy romance novels. But her passion to refashion the world one day at a time led her to the world of blogging.

A yellow and white giraffe print jumpsuit became a chic dress, perfect for traveling in New York, after some alterations and a bath in black and teal dye.

Several years ago, she received a sewing machine as a Christmas gift. “I thought it might be fun to make my own clothes. However, it turned out that fabric was expensive and making something from scratch was too time consuming.” So this self-taught sewer went back to the thrift store and began refashioning items she found there. Jillian prefers to shop the off the beaten path thrift stores, where clothes are sold for a dollar a pound and stored in warehouse bins. Armed with a pair of latex gloves, Jillian digs for buried treasure. What she finds may not look like much to the naked eye, but at home she is able to reinvent a tossed out dress with a little creativity and a good pair of scissors. Cutting the sleeves off and shortening the hem can turn an oversized muumuu into an Art Bar-worthy cocktail dress. Tossing a stained blouse into the washing machine with purple dye can change “destined for the dump” into “destined for the dance floor.” Excited by her creations, Jillian decided to share them with friends via a blog,, and this past year, much like her wardrobe, the blog took on a life of its own.

On July 1, 2011, Jillian proclaimed that for one year she would be remaking something new every day. The lovely folks at Revente, Revente’s Last Call and Sid and Nancy donated their damaged stuff to make Jillian’s wardrobe for a year. In turn, she has donated everything she remade back to Revente’s Last Call, where all profits go to the Columbia Women’s Shelter. She writes on her blog: “In a nutshell: Yay! I’m helping keep clothing out of the landfill! Yay! I’m helping women in need! Yay! I’m using my creativity to do something more than a little nutty! I really hope I’m clever enough for this.”

Well, clever she is. Jillian has been challenged by the cheap quality of some new fabrics, as well as the difficulty of making pieces bigger, which doesn’t happen often, given her petite frame. But she has come up with some fantastic designs. Finding the time has been her greatest struggle. “I have become quite the multi-tasker,” she says.

After they’ve been worn once, her new creations are washed and ready for the racks at Revente’s Last Call. This is where Jillian’s creative talent and philanthropic heart come together to make a difference in the lives of Columbia women.

Located on Millwood Avenue, Revente’s Last Call opened its doors in September 2010 as a last chance store for clothes that had been consigned at Revente in Five Points but didn’t sell. Owned by Debbie McDaniel and managed by Patti Rosenfeld, the store donates all profits to the Columbia Women’s Shelter, which offers safety and assistance for homeless women by providing an environment that fosters recovery, rehabilitation, personal responsibility and respect. Revente’s Last Call has donated more than $35,000 to the Women’s Shelter, and Refashionista is helping to grow that number.

According to Patti, Jillian’s refashioned items are hot sellers. “The highlight of my morning is checking her blog and seeing her newest creations,” she says. “We get callers asking if her latest designs have been brought in.” A typical refashioned design will sell for between $35 and $50. Jillian’s clothing donations over the course of one year will contribute more than $12,000 to the Women’s Shelter.

Jillian confesses that she is not a true fashionista. She does not follow the latest trends or designers and will not score any points when it comes to fashion trivia. Her blog is more about finding a personal style and sustainable ways to wear something new every day. Her efforts have helped the environment as well as local women in need. As her year of refashioning comes to an end, the Refashionista is only just beginning. 

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