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Winnipeg man upcycles vintage pieces into wearable ‘90s nostalgia

As a child, Keenan Holcombe watched many cartoons such as Digimon and Dragonball Z. Now he turns vintage items like blankets and sleeping bags into clothing. Joanne Roberts has the story.

A Winnipeg man is taking upcycling – re-working something old and making it better than it was before – to a new level, by giving people a hit of ‘90s nostalgia they can wear.

“I was born in ’89, so I grew up all through the ‘90s just loving those – X-Men, Dragon Ball Z, Digimon, Pokémon, Sailor Moon,” said designer Keenan Holcombe.

Now, Holcombe has found a way to rework old merchandise to give it new life – and a new purpose.

“I make custom clothing that I find at the thrift store or Facebook Marketplace and I turn them into cool clothes,” he explained.

“All these shows and stuff, it’s so cool to be able to bring the stuff that I watched as a kid into something that you can now wear.”

Clothing designer Keenan Holcombe holds up an Avengers sweater he made from existing merchandise. (Submitted by: Keenan Holcombe)

The Winnipeg-born and now Calgary-based Holcombe says his business began while he was working at a landscape company.

“I kept telling everybody at my job, I really want to do this full time, it would be so cool to just wake up and sew all day,” he recounted.

“It’s funny, you know, now I’m doing that.”

And it’s getting a lot of attention from celebrities like Avril Lavigne and rapper Mod Sun, and magazines like People.

NFLer Tommy Tremble stands with his friend and a custom sweater made by Keenan Holcombe. (Submitted by: Keenan Holcombe)

‘Helps save the environment’

But it’s not just the thrill of the find or the excitement of creation for Holcombe. Upcycling also has its benefits. According to research from the University of Waterloo, 500 million kilograms of textiles end up in Canadian landfills – enough to fill 133 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“It just helps save the environment in general,” Holcombe said.

Allyson Linklater, the owner of Redeemed The Consignment Place in Winnipeg, says she’s spent her whole life upcycling fashion, and it’s a way for her to have the clothing she wants.

“That’s the lifestyle for me,” Linklater said. “I don’t buy anything new, outside of underwear and food.

“Because I’m a different generation, it was affordability. From very young I liked nice stuff and couldn’t afford it, so I would make it. Back in the day we had home economics, I would sew and make it and I would have nice things.”

Allyson Linklater, who owns Redeemed The Consignment Place, says she’s been upcycling clothing since she was young. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

Holcombe says anything is possible with upcycling. People just need to imagine and give it a try.

“I just think that it’s so cool that you can take something that was basically garbage to somebody, they just threw it away, and I can turn that into something that somebody else is gonna cherish and love and wear all the time.

“Just start and try. There’s nothing stopping you except for yourself… Grab a sewing machine. Grab a blanket or something at the thrift store and give it a go.”

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