Say hello to Jessica Chen: “I’m really just one Canberra local with a sewing machine working towards zero-waste one handmade item at a time”. Her love for sewing and up-cycling (turning pre-loved items into new goodies) enabled the flourishing of her company Made of Us. MOU is “giving new life to unwanted materials and transforming them into practical beautiful things for everyone.”
Jessica’s entire business model centres around the concept of sustainability. She brings up a very real and pertinent problem: “I think everyone cares about looking after the world we live in but many people don’t have the time to read up on the long term environmental, social, and economic impacts of our daily lifestyles and even fewer people have the time and resources to do much about it.” Given the right facts and offered sustainable alternatives, Jess believes all of us are more likely to make choices that bet on a better future. Would you disagree?
“The name ‘Made of Us’ came from this concept of using materials that exist around us as opposed to the constant urge for new and cheap things encouraged by the fast fashion industry.” The truth about Jess is that she loves what she does, and if she’s “making things and putting them out there [she] just couldn’t really justify to [herself] using unsustainable but cheap materials.”
I asked her where she sources used fabrics: Most MOU products use men’s cotton shirts “because many people have unwanted shirts in good condition sitting in the corner of their wardrobes”. Jess relies on her networks (friends, family, co-workers) and the occasional op-shop to supply her with used clothing. Soon, the challenge of limited supply “particularly as we develop new products with specific fabric requirements” will become greater. She’s considering linking up with businesses to source heavier fabrics (such as old curtains).
Jess’ relationship with sewing began in high school home economics. Her first project was a rice-filled froggie with googly eyes. She then became her family’s appointed pant-hemmer. Today, she says sewing is “a large part of how I manage my wellness, it’s something I come back to whenever I’m feeling tired, stressed, deflated, listless, or sad. A couple of years ago I was dealing with a difficult part of my life by being a Netflix-binging couch potato when my housemate’s girlfriend brought her sewing machine over and started whipping up bright and colourful dresses, shirts and jumpsuits one after another. She taught me how to make clothing – which is a lot more exciting than hemming pants – and that helped me a lot to get through that phase. Skip forward a couple of years again and it’s 2020 and we are in COVID-19 lockdown. I pulled out my sewing machine (and knitting needles) and started making and sending gifts for my friends’ newborns and COVID-19 care packages for family in Melbourne. This gave me a sense of motivation and a connection with people around me that led to the creation of Made of Us.”
When she isn’t busy sewing, Jess loves watching sunsets and saying hello to the friendly cows at the Jerrabomberra wetlands. We hesitate to share the secret, because we love the wetlands too, but if you haven’t yet grabbed a coffee and walked around the nature reserve, it’s an absolute must.
She hopes that one day (hopefully in the very near future!), we start making the most out of the things we own whether that means extending the life of a pair of ripped jeans or fashioning a second life for items we own and love.
If you loved her face masks, you’ll be glad to hear Jess’s repurposed oven mitts are available at Local Press Wholefoods. She’s also working on custom-made bread bags and oversized tote bags which will be ready soon!
If COVID-19 worries you and you think used items put you at risk, rest assured Jess is ONTO it. “We have a stringent 4-stage cleaning process in place to ensure that our customers are safe and can comfortably enjoy our up-cycled products.”
Written by: Olivia St-Laurent