Home #Hwoodtimes Meet Lisa Marchbanks of Dragonfish Handmade Goods (and Antiquities) in Pasadena

Meet Lisa Marchbanks of Dragonfish Handmade Goods (and Antiquities) in Pasadena

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Marchbanks.

Lisa, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My childhood was tumultuous. My parents often lived hand-to-mouth while struggling to raise a family. My father was a salesman, he sold a variety of things but mostly cars. My mother was a stay-at-home mom but formerly a beautician. There were months when we’d scrimp and save to eat the meagerest of meals and then there were months when we’d eat like kings! My father believed in living in the moment and my mother believed in saving every penny. It was from her that I learned the basis of how I live today. Well, her and all those ReduceReuseRecycle ads that ran during my teenage and college years!

I began my “crafting” journey at a young age, back then I was eager to learn it all. Early on, I learned to knit, crochet, macrame and sew among the countless crafty skills I’ve acquired over the years. However, sewing was by far the most important and the most required by my mother. You see, she is a tiny-framed woman who, at her strongest, was 120 lbs and 4′ 11″ and at the time, adult clothes weren’t made in her size so she often found herself in the children’s department purchasing young girls’ clothing that unfortunately still needed to be altered. She understood her strengths and weaknesses and saw that I took to textiles like a fish to water, which is how at 13 I ended up with a Sears Kenmore sewing machine and was put to task in sewing classes. It was then that my true love affair with textiles began and is what started me on my “useful things” path. I’m not a fan of dust-collecting trinkets or cutesy things which have no purpose except to look cute. I feel like we all should have purpose and so should each of our belongings. Every item I make, and most items I own: all have usefulness.

Fast forward past a 20+ year career in the newspaper and advertising industries (both having changed so much in the last many years) and at a point I realized I really needed to find something different to do with my life but I also knew I wanted it to be a “passion”. For many years I’ve practiced the slow fashion movement in that, I try to shop only at thrift shops and then donate or sell those things I no longer want or need. I’ve always been a conserver in some form or fashion and I’ve also been a knitter most of my life. These two things are what brought me to my current status as an Upcycled Maker. As a knitter, I use what is commonly called in the yarn world, “project bags”, which are exactly what they are: bags made specifically to keep a craft project contained until it’s completed. One day, while searching for a bag, that was either upcycled or made with sustainable fabric, it dawned on me that I could make my own project bag out of some of the clothes I already had in my “interesting fabric & clothing” stash.

In June of 2018, I sold my first upcycled bag.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Every journey has its adventures, right? Sometimes, I feel like I pioneer, other times I feel invisible. And that’s ok. Either way is, actually. When I’m feeling invisible it’s usually when I tend to see the worst in mankind: I see trash on the ground, I see people shouting at each other, I see the media distorting the truth….sometimes it’s just too much. This is when I feel like my part, though minuscule, needs to really mean something. And for me, it’s the drive to conserve and reduce my carbon footprint. And it’s in these moments of invisibility that I realize that sharing the synergy of conserving is really the only way to build momentum. When we build momentum, things change.

At events, spending time with folks who really “get” my work is the highlight of my journey. One soul synergizing with another, each seeing the bigger landscape for what it is and understanding that conservation, reduction of waste, and reuse of what’s already out there is truly what will reduce mankind’s destruction of this planet. So, in that moment, we see each other and feel like family. 

My goal is to help folks become aware of upcycling and the slow fashion movement because we should not only survive on this planet we should thrive, right? We can only do this through conservation, reduction and reuse. I hope that my small contribution, even with the use of some new materials, will help someone (even just one person) come to that same realization.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Dragonfish Handmade Goods (and Antiquities) – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Well, because I pretty much grew up in flea markets, garage sales and swap meets I started out as a purveyor of kitschy vintage swag under the name Dragonfish Antiquities – I am always adding new kitsch because it’s just what I do. I have a quite knack at finding fun and interesting old things and have for many years but today, my true passion lies in being the maker at DragonFish Handmade Goods. There’s nothing like that feeling of taking something old and unwanted and turning it into something beautiful and new and helping to slow the industrial fashion chain just a bit makes it even better.

So, I take old items and turn them into something new and useful, each item is individually handmade and contains elements of a former garment, drape, bedding, etc. My new business tag line for this upcycled work is: Upcycled Maker of Useful Things. I worked really hard on that — I just believe so strongly in items being useful and doing what we can to keep things out of landfills that this new venture just kind of grew out of that.

The Oxford Dictionary describes upcycling as “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.”

There’s quite an extensive process to the making of things from former things first, there’s the preparation of each garment. I work with many different textiles and textures but I have a deep love for wool which is why you see it so prevalently in my work. Unfortunately however, wool requires the most extensive work to get it to a useable state. Each item is first felted, which means washing and drying in hot water several times, brushing off all the pills, and sometimes even mending moth holes. When you were in college, remember that wool sweater you accidentally washed in hot water? I take that sweater and make it into something upcycled and beautiful! So once felted, wool fabric is strong and sturdy and it makes for lovely bags, oven mitts, toys and the like.

For the record, because conservation is always first for me, I usually wash everything I felt in with the rest of my laundry to save resources and coins.

Once washed, I break down each garment by hand and I do my best to conserve every stitch of fabric in each piece so I usually make a plan prior to cutting the garment. This process can take as little as a few minutes and as long as hours depending on the garment and the patterns I choose.

I DO use portions of new fabric on some of my pieces, primarily for two reasons: first, I wouldn’t have enough garment fabric on-hand at any given time to produce a variety of pieces to maintain the kind of stock I’m building and second, I’m a fangirl! And so are many of my friends and customers. We all have our fandoms, and if I can use a small bit of new fandom fabric to encourage folks to support upcycling AND a small business at the same time, well then that’s the tool that hopefully opens the door and makes it a win/win for small business, slow fashion, and the environment.

All of my hangtags are cut from cardboard boxes and are hand-stamped by me and when someone buys something they receive a care card that explains care for the garment but also it includes a thank you from me as a small business owner. My goal is to not only encourage conservation but to also encourage folks to support small business and living wages.

So, once the garment is broken down and the fabrics are cut to pattern; the backing is applied; and then finally the sewing commences and the end result is as you see here.

Everything about this work makes me proud. I feel like I’m, first and foremost, giving back to the earth but I also feel fulfilled in being able to use skills I learned at such a young age to make a difference in the world and to hopefully support myself full-time in the future.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
To me, the handmaking process is the most important and most cherished. That said, I am currently in this momentum-building-leap-frog process of building stock to get to a point of mass. I’m already torn over knowing I’ll get to a place where I’ll have to make a growth decision, I mean I’ll either go the direction of mass production and have to hire staff OR; continue to stay true to my handmade roots and stay a one-woman shop. Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll choose but whatever it is, it will need to make sense; it will need to be low-carbon footprint; and everyone (even if it’s only just me) will need to make a living wage.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Caroline Ducout, Lisa Marchbanks