From the merch table to the runway

Charlotte Reid is turning festival T-shirts into one-of-a-kind dresses

Published on July 3, 2014

Local clothing designer Charlotte Reid wants to get in your closet. She wants to have a good dig around at the back, where you’ve stashed the T-shirt you bought to remember the best concert of your life, but which doesn’t quite fit anymore.

That band T-shirt you wore every day in high school until it got so raggedy your mom wouldn’t let you wear it? Yeah, give her that one, too. Once she works her magic on them, your best-loved T-shirts will be wearable again — so wearable, you’ll get compliments they may never have earned you before.

Reid, of Charlottestreet designs in downtown St. John’s, has developed a reputation over the past 10 years for her warm and fuzzy clothing made from recycled sweaters. Picking through charity shops and carefully laundering her purchases, Reid redesigns the sweaters into skirts, dresses, legwarmers, scarves and other eco-friendly, sustainable fashion items.

For the summer, she’s been ditching the sweaters for cotton T-shirts, and has struck up a partnership with some local festivals to redesign their unsold merchandise.

“I’ll do anything. I’ll turn it into a dress and (people) will love it.”

In her studio and shop, Reid has a sale rack with some eye-catching finds: a black and yellow Nirvana dress, a mini-dress made from fellow fashion designer Barry Buckle’s 2009 run for St. John’s city council, and a dress fashioned from a T-shirt with a map of Rawlins Cross.

She has dresses made from Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival T-shirts, Mummers’ Festival T-shirts, and — her favourite so far — T-shirts from the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

Reid has kept the festival’s logo and T-shirt art intact, but has paired them with pieces of co-ordinating fabric and colours and restyled them into flattering cuts for women.

“I’m happy to get to recycle the fabulous prints the women’s film fest does every year. I just love getting my hands on that,” Reid says.

Reid opened up Charlottestreet in 2004, having graduated from Dalhousie’s costume studies program and moved home from the mainland, where she had worked on productions like “Trailer Park Boys” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

More recently, she’s worked in the wardrobe departments of “Republic of Doyle” and “The Grand Seduction,” although Charlottestreet is her main job. Her designs are sold at Johnny Ruth/Living Planet, Collectz and the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador shop in St. John’s, as well as in shops around the island, in Halifax and Ottawa.

“I feel pretty lucky to get to putter around all day and do what I want,” she says, smiling.

Some local festivals recently approached Reid, offering her their merchandise.

“We had boxes and boxes of merch from previous years. So many people collect these shirts because there are new designs every year, and we were trying to think of creative ways to get rid of the shirts, essentially, or share them,” says Jenn Brown, industry liaison for the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. “Charlotte was just like, ‘Hey, if I could come over and take some of those shirts, I bet I could make some really awesome dresses.

“This is the 25th anniversary of the women’s film festival, and we’re doing a lot of retrospective work, so it’s really neat to see it now manifesting in these beautiful dresses. We love Charlotte’s designs and we also love seeing the logos get out there.”

Reid — who says she’d love to get her hands on any old Peace-A-Chord T-shirts — will be at this year’s folk festival in Bowring Park, sewing on site, and likely doing the same thing at the film festival.

“I’m thinking it would be fun if people wanted to give me their measurements and colours, I could make a dress while they’re in a screening,” she says. “It takes a couple of hours, so I could probably make one during a screening if I didn’t have too many distractions.”

Charlottestreet is located at 267 Duckworth St.