Dallas designer makes clothes, accessories out of refuse.
The first thing you notice when you meet Sandra Artalejo is the trademark wild mane. Her ‘do’ is a shock of reddish brown curls ready to launch. But somehow, with a lovely golden ribbon, recycled from the holidays, she ties it all together and creates ‘a look.’
The delicate balance that tilts between wild and willful is what makes Artalejo joyful, yet serious as an artist. This precarious tipping point, though, is never in danger of going too far in the either direction. She knows when to throttle it up and when to scale it back.
On this evening, Artalejo is dressed in black from head to toe, gilded Christmas ribbon notwithstanding. She’s the perfect blend of beatnik and bohemian. The monochromatic black this evening belies the explosion of color and joie de vivre that oozes from her pores.
I meet Artalejo in a quaint coffee shop in Dallas’ Bishop Arts District, a too-hip zip code chock-full of all things eclectic, from midnight martini bars to too-cool-for-school fashion shops. It’s where Artalejo is in her element and ready to talk fashion, the good, the bad and the ‘what-the-hell were they thinking’ faux pas the industry regularly commits.
Artalejo is part of a new and growing green vanguard in fashion. But don’t mistake the ‘green’ appellation with dull and boring. Artalejo’s idea of green is a fearless blend of fun and fantasy, a whole new school of doing more with less.
To explain how she creates — turning refuse into reuse — she talks softly and simply. It’s the transformation of trash to treasure. “I see waste everywhere,” she says. “I want to do something about it.”
To illustrate, she pulls out a rectangular, multi-colored, canvas-like shoulder tote about the size of home plate. Before becoming an original, functional piece of art, it was a portion of a billboard selling a product she doesn’t even recall. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it has new life. It’s stylish, trendy and utilitarian.
She got the material the way she gets a lot of stuff. A friend who knew of Artalejo’s penchant for recycling showed up with it one day. He didn’t know if she could use it, only that if anyone could use it, it would be she.
Today, the material has become a line of pocket totes and backpacks. Guitar straps and belts are coming. If anything’s left, you can be sure it will make its way into the next thing that strikes her fancy. If anything remains, it’ll be tossed only as a last resort.
The billboard-inspired totes and bags are just a tiny slice of her unique method of spinning straw into gold. Artalejo just happens to be the person that her friends think of when something is destined for the trash heap.
Not long ago, it was another friend told her about the buckets that regularly come into his restaurant. Their contents are emptied and the buckets are tossed. But, the idea of discarding perfectly recyclable buckets made her cringe. There had to be something that could be saved and reused.
“I said ‘if you’re just going to throw the buckets out, save the gaskets!’” Her idea was magical. A whole new fashion accessory was born. “I cleaned them and turned them into these,” she said pulling out one of the ‘gasket’ necklaces she created and now sells on her website.
The one she held up had a tiny, smiling jack-o-lantern. But she has created seasonal, fitted pieces for the necklaces for every holiday or special occasion. Just one more example of function meeting funky.
Her love of art, in all forms, comes from a family still deeply rooted in west Texas. Both parents were artistic and nurturing. Her father, Emilio, instilled music as one of her first loves. “He used to play jazz records,” said Artalejo. “I loved listening to them.”
Once, on a visit home she learned about another of his passions. Her mother, Oliva, shared a secret. “She showed me his sketches,” said Artalejo. “He drew beautiful pictures of my mother.”
Her mother created at the sewing machine. As she sewed, Artalejo was at her side mesmerized with the intricate stitching used in the creation of everything from clothing to curtains. Nothing was wasted. That made a lasting impression on Artalejo.
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