Posted by Unicorn Goods
We were lucky to grab coffee with Marissa Barrett, founder and owner of Novel Creature. We picked her brain about repurposed T-shirts, dying with spices, and giving back. Novel Creature makes accessories from upcycled and natural materials that benefit AGAPE in providing counseling services.
Marissa Barrett, founder and owner of Novel Creature
Q: What led you to be involved in fashion?
A: I first became interested in fashion in high school when I read an article in Teen Vogue about a girl going to school for fashion design. She was wearing a vintage shirt that she had customized and I started scouring the thrift stores and doing the same thing to my own. I went to college in California for fashion but decided I wanted to do something where I felt I could help people more and changed to psychology, and ended up getting a Master's in counseling back in Tennessee. During this time I created Novel Creature as a hobby, creative outlet, and a way for me to continue repurposing t-shirts. After two years as a counselor, I decided to refocus on making Novel Creature a fashion brand.
Q: Why did you want to start an ethical fashion brand?
A: I was inspired by brands like 31 Bits and FEED USA who don't just stop at using sustainable materials, but support a social mission through their sales. TOMS became really big at this time and the local coffee shop The Well opened up, both of which really inspired me to serve people through my business. Working at Whole Foods Market part time during school gave me a glimpse into how successful social enterprises can be and what an impact they can make for the communities they serve.
Q: How did you start Novel Creature?
A: It started as a hobby as I was dealing with anxiety during grad school and I was just making these necklace/scarf hybrids and selling them on Etsy. Over time I started selling at craft fairs, music festivals, and now through wholesale to stores. My products have become more diverse but my materials are essentially the same because when I began learning about fast fashion and the resulting amount of clothing being thrown away each year I knew I wanted to do something about that. When I was deciding which organization to support through my sales I chose AGAPE (the Association for Guidance, Aid, Placement, and Empathy) which is here in Nashville providing counseling and adoption services. I saw the need for these on a greater scale during my time as a school counselor and even in my personal life dealing with anxiety. I also have an adopted family member so that cause was really important to me as well.
Q: How do you find materials?
A: For t-shirts I go to thrift stores or people donate them to me. I use Army canvas which I get from a local army surplus store, and I either make or order my natural dyes online. Jewelry findings can be difficult to find from sustainable sources and I'm doing research into where to order those as well as collaborating with a local metalsmith for upcoming projects.
Q: Describe the natural dying process, as with turmeric. Why did you choose to use this method?
A: Every natural dye is different, and I'm learning as I go with new dyes. Each dye has be extracted and the process for this can be simply grinding the plant into a fine powder, or soaking the material in alcohol for a few days. Indigo is a much more complicated process but yields one of the most beautiful results. For the most part every natural dye needs a mordant to help the fabric accept the color and this can be anything from salt, to vinegar, to cream of tartar depending on the plant being used. With turmeric the fabric is cleaned then treated with a vinegar mixture, then dyed with the actual turmeric dye bath. It's a lengthy process but I decided to use this when I became aware of the chemicals used in traditional dyes. And if I'm going to use sustainable materials, I might as well go all the way with the best possible dyes available to me.
Q: What is your hope with Novel Creature?
A: My hope with Novel Creature is that it will be sold in retail stores across the United States or even beyond that so that the support to AGAPE grows to a place where the people who need counseling can receive it and where every child who needs care can find a home. I hope to be able to create jobs through what I do and through that be able to employ the marginalized; maybe refugees or the formerly incarcerated. There is a lot of good to be done and I want to do as much as possible with what I've been given.
Q: Describe a single transformative moment that you've had with Novel Creature.
A: Hands down, the most transformative moment I had was being featured in Southern Living in March of 2014. I still don't know how it happened and I'm so blown away by the positive response that I received from that. It challenged me to improve some of the ways I do business from a professional perspective and I'm so thankful for it because I think Novel Creature has progressed so much since that moment.