Piece by Piece
By Amanda Harth
Justin Mensinger offers a refreshing approach to streetwear by applying his knowledge of vintage garments and up cycling to his design process. He has created modern art through fashion using textiles sourced from around the country and building each item piece by piece. The self taught designer gives us access to his creative process.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Michigan and moved to Illinois when I was 6, from there I grew up in the suburbs in and around Bolingbrook.
What does your creative process consist of?
All the pieces I’ve been making have been reusing material so each is entirely its own and unique. The process to making each garment therefore is much more extensive and sometimes comes along as I go. I might lay out pieces and different cuts of material and go from there or have a mental image. It really depends on the piece. I like the flexibility and freedom that comes with creating each piece because it’s unparalleled in the fashion world where most things are mass produced. I like to think of my process are more like a painting or a song, where each is unique. I really want each piece to tell a story of it’s own and hold weight as a creation that defies time. That being said, I use a lot of cultural references from the past that create a connection between past, present, and future.
What was the first piece you made?
The first cut & sew piece I made was a pair of shorts out of 4 sweatshirts. The idea came because I actually had a pair of sweatpants I cut into shorts and they fit perfectly. I wanted to recreate them so I had more shorts for summer. I don’t like basketball shorts too much because most are super thin, and cargo shorts aren’t necessarily for me either. At the time I was working at RSVP Gallery and saw this Japanese brand called READYMADE reusing army tents to create handbags. I didn’t know much about cut and sew but knew people who had done it so I studied up and did some research and managed to put together that first pair and from there I just kept going.
Which piece was the most complicated to create?
I’d say the NBA denim jacket I did. It was probably easily over 100 individual pieces maybe more.
Where do you source your materials?
A variety of places, to begin with, I had a huge amount of vintage clothes I had saved up from living in Michigan. Where I lived had about 35 thrift stores within a 20 minute radius. I knew I was moving back to Illinois and needed money so I used to go after class and find stuff I could resell online. Now I source a lot of stuff online from etsy and ebay and that goes back to benefit people re-selling vintage clothes like I was. Also, now I look for more specific items and it’s nearly impossible to randomly come across them.
What are your thoughts around Chicago fashion?
I think Chicago has a ton of potential. I can’t speak on Chicago fashion as a whole as there's so much I don't see or do not know about outside of menswear. I’d say the biggest challenge facing the city is the lack of a centralized garment district and very little means to produce clothes. I think long term it’s beneficial to have the experience of working with very little resources because it makes you more appreciative and innovative with what you do have .
Least favorite thing about being a designer in Chicago?
Maybe not getting the exposure of acknowledgement that comes with being in LA or New York. It seems like people overlook Chicago as a creative hub even though so many greats have come from here. I think also it’s discouraging to see there’s not many garment factories or places that even do production. I know people who are going to school for fashion but that seems like one of the few places that even touches much upon actual garment construction and design. Much of clothing coming from Chicago is done in house by the designers themselves from what I’ve seen, otherwise it has to be outsourced. In LA and New York a lot of designers work hands on with samples and are able to communicate directly with production and suppliers on a whole different level.
Do you have any mentors?
Honestly just books & youtube. I felt I also learned a lot working for RSVP.
What has been some of the most valuable advice you’ve received regarding your work?
Not to sell myself short and devalue the work I’m putting in just because someone else doesn’t understand or appreciate it
So, what are you working on next?
Capsules & Collections