Using Re-Purposed Materials

Passion Behind Products for These Artisans

Editor’s note: We recently had an opportunity to speak with three artisans leading the way in the hand-made sector, who also hap-pen to be passionate about using re-purposed, or re-cycled materials to make their products. Following are their stories:


The 3 Sisters Design Co, owned and operated by Martha Bennington, creates jewelry, accessories and home décor from recycled and found objects. With vintage license plates we make ear-rings, bracelets, key fobs, buckles, and beer and wine coozies. From bicycle tire inner tube we make bracelets, belts, and flasks. Record albums are reborn as handbags, jewelry and clocks. From fire hose we make cases, bags and bracelets. Guitar picks, dominoes, pennies, nickels and old vintage keys are turned into necklaces, earrings or bracelets. We have a zero-waste policy, which literally means by the time we’re done working with a recycled material, there is little to nothing left over.

The original purpose of working with recycled products began with just the idea of giving new life to nostalgic items like record albums. It then grew to encompass the idea of working with materials that other artisans didn’t consider working with, and the challenge of designing something around an object that wasn’t thought of as jewelry. It now also includes the concept of not filling up the land-fills, that there is no ‘away’, when you throw something away.

I am passionate about sup-porting Hand Made and Made in America. Supporting handmade is supporting innovation, creative thinkers, inventors. It creates jobs, it supports families, it stimulates the economy, and is such a vital force for any community.Same goes for Made in America. When purchasing from The 3 Sisters, not only are you purchasing a hand made item and supporting the artisan, made in America, Source Local movements, but you are also part of keeping recyclable material out of landfills, and reusing, reclaiming obsolete items. When retailers carry our lines it introduces the consumer to the idea of ‘thinking outside the box’ by purchasing a re-invented product.

I love the challenge of working in non-traditional materials, but for every one amazing thing that makes it all the way to the retailer, there’s 10 other amazing ideas that didn’t make it over a hurdle. One of those hurdles is material sourcing. Unlike just buying the raw material I need from an internet source or a local factory or business, sourcing for us can be tricky. There isn’t a store that sells used fire hose, so it was interesting and complicated to locate a source. And once the source (or sources) are located, I need to be sure they can continue to supply us with raw material and supply us consistently. It can be pretty tricky to get all those ducks lined up. There’s also the challenge of working out the ‘how’ of what to do with the raw material, whether its cutting a record in half, or gluing inner tube, to printing and sewing with fire hose. It’s a fun challenge to figure out how to put to things together that nobody thought to put together before.


Restrung Jewelry, owned by Naomi Celestin, is know for making fine jewelry from guitar strings that are donated by musicians and people from all over the world.

I started this as a fun hobby, but about 4 months in, I realized it was turning into a full time job, and I needed help. I just couldn’t keep up with the volume of jewelry we were selling at local markets and to stores. When thinking about hiring production assistants, I wondered who I could hire that might want a part time gig, working from home, as I did not have a studio at the time. Stay at home moms came to mind, as it was the perfect job to do from home, and as independent contractors, our women could work as much or as little as they liked, allowing them to work around family obligations. That’s where I started, and from there, we grew to a team of a dozen local women who help with production, sales and administration. As a single mom myself, I felt that this was the direction we wanted to move in, and I have never looked back. I am very proud that our little company is able to support suck an incredible team of women.

ReStrung is a green product, made in the U.S.A. from recycled guitar strings. Our collection is affordable, highly collectable, and easy to wear. We are women owned and operated, and we donate a portion of our profits to two organizations in New Orleans that support musicians – The New Orleans Musicians Clinic and The Roots of Music.For our first 5 years in business, our strings were largely donated by individuals, and often we found ourselves in need of a particular type of string to keep up with the demands of our growing wholesale business. We would often put the word out on social media when we needed strings, and our devoted string donors would help spread the word. Things got much easier for us last year, when the CEO of one of the U.S. largest string manufacturers stumbled upon our booth at a local market and asked if we needed strings. Sfarzo Strings now sends us all of their factory seconds. We get a box each month, and now always have an abundance of strings. For them, its a tax-deductible donation, so it’s a win-win for both of us. We are very grateful for this partnership!


Attic Journals is owned and operated by the husband/wife team of Michelle Sanders & Miguel Salinas, who are committed to sustainably off-setting the book-discard pipeline by up-cycling as much of the book as possible in their diverse line of gift & decor items made for the wholesale market & every day people.

Having worked in libraries throughout her school-aged years, Michelle became keenly aware of the pipeline to the landfill most discarded books endured. As a native Portlander, where the ethic of recycling is revered, she received formal training in high school and college on the impacts of humans to our planets ecology. With a natural knack for crafting, she started to investigate and experiment with how to offset the way books were discarded and work on a way to divert them from the landfill. Then in 2004, while living on the coast of California, Michelle had a moment of inspiration about the closet full of books she had spared from the dumpster during her library working days. That evening, on her living room floor, Attic Journals – a company commit-ted to innovative engagement with the byproducts of book production was born! In 2008, after Michelle had moved home to Portland and began working to grow Attic Journals into a legitimate business, Miguel became a part of the team (and the love of Michelle’s life).

Having been raised in southern Mexico by a mother who is renowned in her region for the mole’ sauces she sells, Miguel was ardently aware of the work ethic and logistics necessary for running a family business. In addition, his work experience in food service, light manufacturing and transportation formed his keen understanding of running a small, efficient production space and allowed him to be innovative in how to do this work with in a way that honored our environmentally aware under-girdings.

In the years since, Attic Journals has evolved into a burgeoning busi-ness that works hard to be as sustainable as possible from Portland, Oregon. The line of 20+ items are unique, affordable gifts, perfect for the hard to gift people in all of our lives.” We work really hard to provide good customer service because this is our job. We are not driven by trend, we are driven by our ethical approach to work. Books hold such a special place for us. We love being a part of the maker movement. We bank on nostalgia because everyone who loves books, owns books and they are meaningful to them,” Michelle explained.