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Rising Stars: Meet Stephanie Olshanski

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Olshanski.

Hi Stephanie, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
It started with a moment in high school when I set out to try to only buy clothes and accessories made in the USA. I found out pretty quick that there were hardly any brands operating this way and they were all way out of my budget range. The next best thing then was buying secondhand as the money was going to the thrift stores and not back to the brands. Little did I realize that the bargain-finding skills and fashionable creativity I developed back then would turn into an education-driven upcycling passion project and business!

When I moved to California from the east coast in 2018, I dabbled a little bit with painting lyrics and art onto jackets I found from a thrift store. That then grew into making physical alterations to “broken” clothing and jewelry, adding my own creative touch, and gifting what I made to friends and family. I think my ideas about how the fashion industry should be and my own upcycling techniques have solidified as well as grown exponentially just over the past year or two, especially with all the free time I had in 2020.

Now, I’ve gained specific knowledge like how the thrifting world operates: much of what we donate is shipped across the globe and ends up in someone else’s landfill. Like how most fabric and material that clothing, jewelry, and accessories are made of is impossible to recycle due to the materials used. These two facts alone demonstrate the need to reuse what is already in the system and then reuse it again and again. Turns out my knack for upcycling is part of the missing link to help turn the system around.

I continue to always be making, whether it’s for a client now or for myself or loved ones. I even have dreams of getting into silversmithing and seeing how to repair and recycle “broken” items made from precious metals. The possibilities are endless!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I think I’m still in the middle of the road, actually! The struggle has been finding the right combo of time and resources. I do have a full-time job, so I can afford to exist in Southern California, but I think the main part of being an entrepreneur is making sure that what you’re doing gives you the most fuel at the lowest parts of your journey. I get really sad if I don’t do something creative and make things with my hands on a very regular basis. It gives me life, even when faced with the sometimes-hard road of being in the sustainability sector. I have a great support system and a group of women around me who also run small businesses so that helps immensely. Another unique part of starting a business with something I’m passionate about is that I’ve gotten to know myself way more than I ever thought I would. Sometimes it all can be overwhelming but most of the time, the Upperhandmedown journey has grown directly with my own and that’s really exciting to me!

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am an educator and upcycler. I take the idea of the circular economy and apply it to currently affordable fashion. The cheap stuff is usually the worst for the environment (including humans) at the production and waste stages, so I’m seeking to upcycle those materials and products that are already in the system into things that can have a little more life before they have to be disposed of, giving the system more time to turn the linear economy into a circle. This includes taking old jewelry and refashioning it into something you’d want to wear today, repairing and taking care of clothing in ways we lost a long time ago, and spilling art and fashion sense all over the place while doing it! I’m most proud of the name, Upperhand-me-down. I really do think the secondhand economy should become first and fast fashion should become last and eventually nonexistent. I’m just helping to give it the “upper hand” the secondhand needs.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
Take action. It’s a lesson I’m still learning and will continue to learn. Even if everything is going perfect but you have some new ideas. You can sit on and develop a thought or idea all you want but until you actually pick up the phone, cut into the fabric, create the website, or take some kind of action, you’ll just stay where you are. And no one wants that!

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