For stylist-turned-designer Mai-Lei Pecorari, “make do and mend” isn’t just an exhortation, it’s a way of life. Her clothing line, Kin-tsugi Goods, revels in reinvention. Inspired—and named after—an ancient Japanese art form that that mends broken pieces of pottery with seams of lacquer and gold, creating something even more valuable than its original form, Kin-tsugi uses gold paint and thread to rework vintage and gently worn clothing into wearable works of art. Available exclusively at Eden & Eden in San Francisco, where each shipment is quick to sell out, Kin-tsugi offers a conscientious and considered alternative to throwaway fashion on the high street. Ecouterre caught up with Percorari to talk more about her brand of bespoke, her thoughts on “fast fashion,” and the larger role her label plays in promoting social and environmental consciousness.
How did you get into fashion design?
I have been a wardrobe stylist for almost 11 years with my bachelor of arts degree in costume design for the stage. My career has been predominantly working on photoshoots in the advertising and e-commerce sector, with major apparel brands such as Levi Strauss, Gap, Adidas, New Balance.
For these kinds of jobs, I carry out the art direction from the client and exercise a specific type of creativity and skill, for instance, how to make average garments look attractive and appealing within a limited capacity, how to excel in a team-player environment, how to get the best out of your own department, and so on.
“I [wanted to] to combine my design aesthetic with my growing need to combat fast fashion.
At a certain point in 2014, my schedule normalized to an extent where I had a bit more time and mental capacity to explore projects of my own.
I had an internal drive that needed a creative outlet where I had complete autonomy—somewhere I could combine my design aesthetic with my growing need to combat fast fashion and the current mode of throwaway consumerism. This is when Kin-tsugi Goods was born.
How did you arrive at the idea of reworking vintage clothes?
For almost two decades now, I’ve had a series of small lines where I crafted objects from remanent materials.
From hand-bound journals to leather accessories to clothing, my mission was primarily to revitalize materials and create something new from things that would otherwise be discarded.
I sourced local leather factories that would let me sort through their scraps and purchase what I needed by weight. It was like finding gold when I pulled out pieces of beautifully embossed leather, all otherwise very expensive when buying the full hides.
“I’ve always created something new from things that would otherwise be discarded.
I made sought-after journals, wallets, and bracelets out of these found pieces. People to this day still tell me they carry the wallets that they purchased from me 10-plus years ago.
Because of my love for vintage, from the actual hunt to the ecological effect of upcycling, it was a natural evolution to begin creating an identity for the vintage clothing that I had been consistently collecting and selling.
I had been reading about the ancient Japanese art form of kintsugi, where broken pottery was reconstructed with pure gold in order to highlight the cracks. This made the ceramic piece more valuable than it had been before breaking.
I loved this concept and thought of how much clothing is easily discarded. I knew that I could find good quality, classic silhouettes from thrift and resale shops and renew the garment in an authentic kintsugi fashion.
Your mother is from Taiwan. Does your heritage inform the way you work?
The best way I can describe this is through the Buddhist belief that we are all one energy and connected to everything that lives on this planet.
The manner in which I interact with people, nature, and my surroundings is the most innate connection to my birth country.
Knowing that we are deeply connected to each other drives my understanding that what we do and how we affect others and our environment comes back to us in both direct and indirect ways. This belief is what drives my next moves.
“I have my own idealized paradise where consumer products are only well-made.
How do you see upcycling fitting in with the rest of the fashion industry?
I see that larger companies are more and more making their excess materials available for use. This is such an effective way of utilizing 100 percent of what is manufactured and cutting down on waste.
Viable art and consumer goods can be created out of these scraps, which then become a productive avenue to flow ethically made products into the market.
I have my own idealized paradise where consumer products are only well-made, thoughtfully created, and require a large portion of their production to be ethically sound.
What are you most proud of achieving with Kin-tsugi Goods?
The most satisfying part of producing this line thus far, has been developing the line overall, beginning with various incarnations of the paint and fabric treatments.
It has been deeply gratifying to combine multiple parts of my creative process into one outlet, from the careful selection of pieces from brick-and-mortar resale shops to painting and tailoring each garment.
“Next: Building relationships with organizations dedicated to changing consumer consciousness.”
It’s been a great surprise to see how well the response has been to each of the collections. The success has been largely in part due to being able to stay ahead, as well as outside of mainstream fashion trends.
One of the next important phases is building the relationships with specific organizations that have similar visions of changing consumer consciousness in order to explore how the larger social responsibility role can unfold.
This is just as exciting to me as the creative construction and development processes.