Master Upcycler Holly E. Brown
As a female owned brand, have you found any barriers in the denim industry?
One thing I have really tried to do in 2019 is think in possibilities. I am extremely proud to be amongst a growing number of female owned brands that have a common connection using denim as a medium. Because I came to working with denim as an artist and not a fashion designer, I think I bring a slightly different perspective. As we know, the art world is still inherently male dominated and women have had to work hard to have their creative visions recognized. Knowing this I think I brought the same mentality to working in the denim world that I do in the art world. Just work hard, be strong and stay focused.
Also because I have been splitting my time between NYC and The Hague, Netherlands over the past 5 years I have been directly impacted by the strong, independent nature of Dutch women and learned to incorporate some of that into my approach. I look up to industry leaders like Alice Tonello of Tonello SLR and Tricia Carey of Tencel amongst others, who have paved the way for women to have a powerful voice in denim and sustainability., I have felt welcomed by the industry and the experience I had in 2018 with chemical dye lab at Officina +39 in Biella, Italy was a huge turning point, especially with regard to my personal artistic practice and sustainable mission.
You source most of your fabrics from secondhand, vintage, and scrap materials, what have been some of the biggest challenges in doing this?
One of the biggest challenges in sourcing is actually obtaining jeans that are large enough to use for printing. Friends and family are eager to donate, but it’s not always the type of denim I can use. I will never refuse a donation and have found other ways to use smaller scraps for jean repairs or patchwork. Recently, I have learned more about the art of sashiko mending, which I find quite meditative. The one thing people may not realize is that when you open a jean pant leg it’s not a perfectly flat piece of denim, I also work with and around the imperfections in the repurposed pieces. And for me that is part of the fun! Sometimes a fade or a distressed area will inform how I am going to apply the print to the surface or what color ink to use. I’ve also been fortunate to receive deadstock donations from both Global Denim and Kaltex denim mills. If anyone wants to donate, I am always willing to accept used jeans.
How would you explain the importance of brands like yours making steps to become more ethical and sustainable to someone who isn't well versed in what that means?
As a small brand I have a responsibility to promote practices that are both ethical and sustainable. One of the biggest ways in which I accomplish this goal is to keep my production local in NYC. I do all the printing and some sewing myself in Brooklyn, NY. Once the piece is printed, if it is for a handbag it goes to Park Avenue Trimming, the factory I work with that is family owned for the last 30 years. They also pride themselves on a strong mission in ethical and sustainable practices that aligns beautifully with what I envision for Clockworks Press. They are willing to save my scraps, so they can be used again on other projects. I also love being able to go there and have one on one contact with the people who are manufacturing my work. When you purchase products that are made locally you are supporting both of these goals. Sourcing is also a way in which we can be more sustainable, I do try to source as much material from the East coast as possible because that means a smaller carbon footprint.
What do you wish you could be doing more of in the sustainability space and what steps are you taking to do that?
Well, we can always do more, right? I think one of the biggest things I have started to do and want to continue is being more transparent in my production process and sourcing. I think the consumer wants to understand the process it takes to make what they are buying. It’s important as a small business owner to educate the consumer on what it means to be sustainable. Saying you are working sustainably and actually doing it are not always in sync. Since I am working on used denim for my handbags and pillows, no new denim material is produced for my bag to be made. The other materials I have started to repurpose include U.S. Navy camouflage shirts. I found out there was a pattern that was going to be discontinued by the US. Navy, meaning tons of uniforms were going to be entering landfills or end up in thrift shops. I decided that pattern had to be a part of my latest bag for that reason alone! I was able to source and repurpose 30 shirts in the process. I hope that consumers realize that every step we take will help the planet and that as a collective we can make a change. I also think we need to continue helping people realize that less is more and having statement pieces that we will have for a lifetime and can pass onto future generations is the direction we need to go. I have also started donating 1% percent of all sales to the Clean Water Fund.
What is your favourite aspect of sustainability that you implement into Clockworks Press?I have a few favourite aspects that I love to share with people about the sustainable mission Clockworks Press. First, the way I make my collagraph images is on a special board that is actually composed of 100% recycled fibers that are compressed. It’s hand carved so no machines or electricity are used in that process either, just good ole manual labour! I print with inks made from Recycrom, a pigment derived from textile production waste that combine with a fabric binder which allows me to clean up with no chemicals needed. I print on used and repurposed denim and to keep other materials that are part of my bags as environmentally friendly as possible. For example, the denim clutch used aluminum which is one of the most recyclable metals available. And for the new W28 tote I went with a vegetable tan leather which is treated with entirely natural and organic tannins. Vegetable tanning is undoubtedly the most authentic method of dying leather – a technique that has been used for centuries and the most sustainable way to use leather. I also use materials that are meant to last a lifetime, like waxed canvas which will age beautifully! I truly believe that changing our mindset is half the battle in becoming more sustainable business owners and consumers.
The W28 Story:
The W28 name stands for West 28th Street, NYC this is the location of the water tower featured on the tote. However, if you go to West 28th and Broadway you can no longer see the tower. In 2019 a hotel began construction on the same site and has completely blocked any street level visibility of the water tower. Luckily, I had photographed the water tower before this happened! This is the hand carved collagraph image that was press printed on repurposed denim for every W28 Tote. I have always been intrigued by how the city is constantly changing, I wanted to document the water tower as a symbol of strength in a world that is constantly in flux. A water tower holds one of our most valuable natural resources and one we need to protect.
The W28 Details:
Proudly Made in NYC each First Edition W28 Tote bag is handmade using:
- water resistant #10 Duck Original Martexin® wax canvas in Navy
- Repurposed denim from jeans printed with Recycrom pigment
- Repurposed U.S. Navy camouflage shirts Italian veg-tan leather and YKK metal two-tone zipper with leather riveted pull
- Hand-signed and numbered on the inside on a Tyvek® label
Keeping in line with our sustainability goals we created an ink that combines the
Recycrom™ pigment, made in Italy from textile production waste with fabric-based relief printing binders. The two-tone heavy duty YKK open zipper is a finished with a riveted pull in matching Italian veg tan leather. The open zipper allows you to use the bag as both an open tote or zipped and snapped at the sides for full closure.
The two leather straps have a shoulder drop of 12" making it usable as a shoulder or a cross body bag. The tote has a light grey heavy weight cotton lining and two interior camouflage pockets that can accommodate your cell phone, iPad, small laptop water bottle and/or umbrella, making it the perfect all-around bag.
Included with each tote is a tin of Smith's Leather Balm to condition the vegetable tan leather
Sustainable and Ethical practices:
Clockworks Press works hard to locally source as many materials on the East coast and in the USA. Working with a local Manhattan based family owned factory, Park Avenue Trimming who also maintains strong sustainable and ethical practices has been very important to Clockworks’ mission. For the W28 project Clockworks Press would like to thank L Train Vintage, New York for their help in sourcing the U.S. Navy camouflage shirts. This particular camouflage digital pattern was discontinued by the U.S. Navy in October 2019, therefore increasing the amount that would go into landfills. Clockworks Press decided it was important to reuse this particular color pattern for that reason alone. Clockworks Press founder, Holly Brown was raised as a child of a U.S. Navy father for the first 8 years of her life making the connection just a little sweeter!
About Clockworks Press
Clockworks Press® was founded in 2016 by Brooklyn-based printmaker Holly E. Brown. Through her bold graphic compositions Holly’s prints capture the structures of the urban environment around her. Using hand carved collagraph printmaking as the main medium she experiments by juxtaposing layers of texture with strong geometric patterns seen in architecture. In addition to creating works of art for the wall, she has translated her images into denim clutches, wearable garments, housewares, and now the W28 Tote! Holly received a B.F.A. from Syracuse University and an M.A. from Brooklyn College. Her work has been exhibited group shows throughout the United States and Europe with a solo show in the Netherlands in 2016. Holly’s prints can be found in the permanent collections of The Library of Congress, Yale University and Princeton University among others. She has collaborated with Juan Manuel Gomez of @devberazul, Officina +39, Tonello for Magic Happens at New York Denim Days 2018 and produced denim prints for a four piece limited edition capsule collection with denim brand andagain. Holly also teaches art in New York City and printmaking workshops at Atelier In Drukwekkend in Delft, The Netherlands. The Clockworks Press studio is located in the Textile Arts Center at 505 Carroll Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
For more information visit www.clockworkspressco.com and follow on Instagram at
This approach to craft, passion, and fashion is one I would really love to see more of. You can truly see how everything is connected when Holly explains her product. It is clear that every step has been throughout thought through for a timeless piece you will have forever. Because hey, who doesn't need a tote though :p
I hope you enjoyed meeting Holly! For the meantime, STAY DILIGENT FRIENDS!