Lynn Philpott and Betse Tessman convert discarded sails into satchels, while Rene Capizzi salvages vintage jewelry and creates contemporary rings, bracelets and necklaces. All three are Redondo Beach artists with an eye on the environment.
Boat sails and canvas boat covers provide the raw materials for Philpott and Tessman's new business, —formerly known as Re-Sail Bags. The two women, avid boaters, became friends three years ago as members of the in Redondo Beach.
The idea of making totes, duffels, purses and grocery bags out of cast-off canvas grew out of the women's concern over the huge number of sails occupying landfills.
"Our No. 1 goal is to keep these things out of the dump," said Tessman, who lives with her husband, Jim, aboard a powerboat docked at the yacht club.
"We're using a product that would be sitting in a landfill for years," added Philpott, a Torrance resident and event organizer. She and husband Tim keep their 32-foot Catalina 320 sailboat at Port Royal.
Philpott conceived of recycling boat canvas into useable products when sails belonging to friends began piling up in her garage. "People would store them with us and forget they were there," she said.
Another motivating influence was the space and tools already allocated to manufacturing boat covers and upholstery at Trade Winds Custom Canvas, which the Tessmans operate out of a 100-year-old warehouse on Francisca Avenue. The warehouse is now home to both businesses.
"I liked the idea that we were already sewing," said Tessman, who became an infatuated seamstress as a student at Mira Costa High School. Philpott, who conceded she had to get back in the swing of threading a needle, grew up making her own clothes in Illinois.
The women, both 57, have designed a reusable grocery bag, called a "burrito bag," that curls into a small tube so it can fit into a purse or pocket.
"The grocery bags are the ones we're really hoping to get going," said Tessman, who expects other beach cities to follow Manhattan Beach's ban on plastic bags in super markets.
Though they've been in business less than a year, the women have already chalked up a reputation for conservation.
"When I walk off of my boat, every single day there's trash in the water," Tessman said. "There are vegetable bags, soda cans, plastic bags..."
More recently, the South Bay Business Environmental Coalition honored Save Our Sail Bags with a 2011 SEED Award (Seeds of Change) for Environmental Excellence in Innovation.
Philpott and Tessman, whose senses of humor tend to bounce off each other, pointed out that the SEED plaque is actually made of seeds. "If you planted it, something would grow," Tessman quipped.
"Of course if we planted it, we wouldn't have an award," Philpott added.
The day I visited, the women were unfurling a huge sail outside the warehouse. Using a cardboard template, they planned to cut the sail roughly to satchel size, and then wash it in Philpott's washing machine or in a huge trash can at the warehouse.
The frugal pair is dedicated to limiting expenses. They use an inexpensive detergent from the store, and only use sails that are given to them.
"This sail was donated to us from the L.A. Maritime Museum in San Pedro," Tessman said. It came from a 129-foot tall ship, called The Bill of Rights.
"Our goal isn't to use the prettiest parts of it," she added, because satchels are not supposed to look brand new.
Although many of the totes and purses are lined and decorated with colorful remnants left over from the Trade Winds operation, rust marks and discoloration are "the battle scars" that bespeak the history of the sail, said Philpott, who adds a card to each bag, detailing the fabric used and the name of the ship it came from.
Besides planning a trip to Catalina to exhibit at a Latitudes & Attitudes event, the women also display their totes and purses at South Bay fairs. They eagerly look forward to displaying at a store soon to be opened next door by their landlord, Kevin Holladay. Save Our Sail Bags products are also available on the company's website.
Transforming old earrings into new jewelry
Renee Capizzi, a Redondo Beach resident and registered nurse, runs out of her home. It all began about three years ago when a jeweler refused to convert her late mother's clip-on earring into a ring due to the lack of gold or gems.
The earrings may have been mere costume jewelry to the jeweler, but they were precious to Capizzi, who decided to assume the task herself.
Redesigning vintage jewelry—especially something handed down in the family—into something contemporary appealed to her.
"If it belonged to a mother or grandmother, that makes it even more special," Capizzi said when we met at her Redondo condo, a small, brightly colored home she shares with her daughter, Isadora, 12, and two cats, Morris and Molly.
After leaving Niagara Falls 15 years ago, Capizzi traipsed around the country as a traveling nurse, settling in Redondo Beach (she loved the weather), where she found work at Torrance Memorial and Little Company of Mary hospitals.
Taking the summer off to "hang out" with her daughter, Capizzi plans to start looking for work soon because "nursing sometimes pays for the rings," she said.
In a business she describes as "recycling the past"—a phrase coined by her daughter—Capizzi scours estate sales and vintage expos for jewelry that is at least 20 or 30 years old.
Once she brings the jewelry home, she preps in her kitchen by cutting off the posts of the pins and earrings, sanding the backs and cleaning each piece.
Design work is done on her scarlet sofa in front of the TV, where she keeps bags of gold, silver and filigreed ring shanks and trays of baubles, chains and pendants within reach.
She uses jeweler's glue rather than soldering—soldering would cause the ring shanks and other delicate pieces to disintegrate.
A vivacious woman with ginger-colored hair and a gorgeous smile, Capizzi designs for individuals, weddings parties (she outfitted her brother's bride and bridesmaids in pearl and pink jewels) and those who want to transform heirloom pieces into something more contemporary.
"When I go to different events and tell people I will design jewelry for them, a lot of them will run home and come back with a set of earrings and say, 'Hey, these were my mother's or grandmother's earrings. Can you make them into rings?' So we’ll talk about what they have in mind, and I'll design them and ship them," she explained.
At house parties, which Capizzi describes as "a girlfriend thing," she presides over glittering displays of crystal, rhinestone, gold, silver and "bling," as she calls it. "I set everything up, and guests come over and have a glass of wine ... and they go shopping." Each hostess is rewarded with free jewelry.
Such a display rested atop black velvet on her dining table the day we visited. Selecting one necklace, she explained how she found a vintage chain and matched it to a round beaded broach.
"I left the pin on the back of the pendant so if someone wanted to wear it as a broach they could," she said. "I try to do that with a lot of my pieces."
As for rings, the shanks are all adjustable, as are many of the bracelets, such as her Capizzi's leather bracelets adored with vintage pins and buckles.
Capizzi also makes bookmarks, cardholders and jewelry for men. Her prices range from $15 for bookmarks to more than $100 for jewelry, depending on the original investment and the amount of time she spends designing the piece.