It’s no surprise that I gravitate towards things that are handmade. As mostly a maker of clothing and lingerie, I not only desire the me-made, but I understand and appreciate the value of treasures crafted with human hands. What started off as a humble project in 2009, Wise Owl Shop has grown into a blooming brand that offers upcycled clothing, neckwarmers and soon-to-be boot sleeves. Its home base, which is in the basement of the same building as Madalynne Studios, is a glorious jumble of garments, shoes, sewing notions, fabrics, tree branches and hardcore machines. The dame behind the label, Ashleigh Loeffler, disassembles thrift and vintage clothing and re-assembles them into new, fashion pieces. Her hailed (and very cozy) neckwarmers use recycled fabric as the outer liner and new, micro-fleece as the inner liner. The kicker? Each one is finished with a wooden button that Ashleigh slices from a fallen tree limb from her family’s home in Pennsylvania. How’s that for one hell of a story.
Tell us your story: It was the woman who lived next door to my grandma who got me into sewing. Her name was Eleanor. She altered my family’s clothes, and I would go over to her house and watch her work. I took home economics in high school, and this is when I started to make my own clothes. I had a hippie aesthetic, adding patchwork to my jeans and such. I didn’t sew for a long time after, only picking it up when I had my daughter. I was very into baby wearing, so I made a lot of baby wraps. One winter, Kevin, my husband, was vending his glasswork at Christmas Village in City Hall and I made a neckwarmer just like my current ones. I received so many compliments that I started selling them. The next season, I was helping someone vend and he put me in touch with his wholesale contacts. A year later, I attended a show on my own. That was 3 years ago and we’ve been growing ever since.
Process: First, I shop a factory that receives vintage and thrift clothing from places like Salvation Army. It’s huge – blocks long. I spend an entire day sifting through a two thousand pound bale of scarves, usually leaving with anywhere between 500-600 pounds. The following 2 or 3 days, I wash and dry the items at the laundry mat. After, I cut each one to size here in the studio, and then serge it to the fleece.
Each button is made from fallen tree limbs I gather at my family’s home in northern Pennsylvania. Using a band saw, I first slice them and then, I let them dry. I cut when the wood when it’s wet; fresh wood is better to work with. After, I use a sander to smooth the surface and apply Howard’s Feed and Wax. It’s the most eco friendly wood finish I can find. Last, I drill a hole through the middle.
Best thing you’ve made: I consider myself a self taught seamstress, so a lot of the things I make are very simple. My favorite piece is a jersey knit dress; the silhouette was so basic with two pieces of fabric serged together and armholes and a neckline cut out. I still wear it and I still think it’s awesome. I can do whatever I wanted with it – wear it with sandals, put a belt around it, etc.
Your machines: Vintage-wise, I have a 1929 industrial Singer straight stitch and an old Singer zigzag machine. I’m not sure the year on the zigzag – I call it the blue one! For the buttons, I have a band saw, belt sander and a drill press. For finishing, I have an industrial serger and a home serger.
Do you sew for yourself? Not really, but I somehow found time to make my daughters Halloween costume last year. She was Daphne from Scooby Doo and I rubbed off the pattern from an existing dress to make her costume. It was a fun process, minus the sleeves. It was the first time I had to set a sleeve to an armhole, and it got a little funny at the underarm, but I figured it out. She loved it.
Mentor: I worked at a gallery in Chestnut Hill called Windfall Gallery. It was my first job when I moved to Philadelphia after high school, and the owner was the first person who recognized and fueled my creativity. She allowed me to express my style in the store’s display and merchandising. I also joined her when she attended wholesale shows, and for me, that got my artistic juices flowing. I had the opportunity to see work that most people didn’t have access to. It was an art overload. Most importantly, she taught me to keep my boundaries. If I have an intention with my business, it’s okay to stand by it. Some people tell me what my prices should be, but in the end, it’s my decision and I should stick to it.
What do you still want to learn? Leather! I’m not sure what form I would want to create from it, maybe shoes? I’ve made a few moccasins, but they were very much prototypes. Still needs a lot of work!