Reuse Restyle Revolve: Meet Jamie Allen of Revolver Fashion

revolver fashion illustration of a woman framed by a snake
Art by Elizabeth Allen (Instagram @mirrored.serpent)

Jamie Allen and Dismantle cofounder, Elise Chatelain, met as bartenders in New Orleans, where they once worked together in one of the city’s busy tourist districts. Years later Jamie has moved from being a bartender and yoga teacher to now owning Revolver, a virtual vintage clothing store. Revolver reflects Jamie’s unique style, combining modern and vintage aesthetics and relying heavily on the use of upcycled materials to develop creative, one-of-a-kind items. We caught up with Jamie to learn more about her business, her values, and how she’s adapting Revolver’s business model because of the pandemic.

Dismantle Magazine: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved in upcycling.

Jamie Allen: I remember one Christmas when I was nine years old, receiving a gift I didn’t want and wondering why we did this gift thing…. Just…how unnecessary all this stuff was, especially if you didn’t want it. That’s my earliest memory of being bothered by the American hyper- consumerist culture. My second memory is of my father getting royally pissed off and despondent about the shift from metal-based goods to plastic-based goods. He’d lose it when the plastic parts of whatever he was trying to fix would break, rendering the thing garbage/useless and feeding the cycle of waste in our culture. He grew up in a time where my grandpa was a washing machine and vacuum mechanic, where things had component parts that could be swapped out and fixed, where people had jobs not only creating new products but fixing and giving life to old ones. 

All of this feeling was passed down to me. We were also of limited means growing up, so I spent tons of time at thrift stores and garage sales with my mom and then by myself from 12 onward. I’ve always loved playing dress-up and altering garments and items to suit my vision. I enjoy reimagining pieces as something else and I most love finding discarded items that have holes or tears or stains that others have decided are worthless ― and reviving them. There’s a whole skill set you can acquire in order to revive clothing and accessories, and I urge people to learn and thus to reduce their waste, because it’s not garbage just because the zipper is broken!!! But…I may be getting ahead of myself.

I studied clothing design in college because I love working with my hands and creating, but I mainly like to work with items that are already made, including fixing them. My vests and capelets I patterned from the ground up, but I ethically source most of the materials (either from resale stores, free bins, or other garments; also RicRACK, a local non-profit). 

DM: How and why did you develop Revolver?

JA: Revolver — including the name — was something I dreamed up as I teen, but took a long, winding road to come back to. I worked as a corporate designer at Wilsons Leather out of college, then retired from that to bartend; then I became a yoga teacher and through that, remembered my original passion and calling to be an entrepreneur and start Revolver.

Revolver is multifaceted, offering vintage and modern resale as well as handmade, upcycled designs. Use what we have! Give life to the discarded with love! Celebrate yourself via your adornments! Be fabulous! Be fearless! Those are some of my values. 

Also: be good to this earth! We treat it like garbage and are killing ourselves, and it, in the process. The fashion industry is a large polluter as well as a human rights violator. As the global economy developed, the production of raw materials, fabrics and garments moved to developing countries which led to the expansion of fast fashion as these countries had more lax environmental regulations as well as workers rights. This reality was removed from the public eye, unquestioned as profits soared and our western desires for the next best fast trend grew exponentially, as commerce sped up to an unsustainable speed.

People are being exploited for a less than livable wage in terrible and unsafe working conditions to meet the western world’s next fashion craze. It’s not okay. Although I’m a little dude in the grand scheme I want to give voice and awareness to these major problems and structure my life and passions to combat them. I want to remind people they have the power of the dollar and the innovation and ability within to stop this exploitation and destruction. Wonder where your clothes are coming from and why they are so inexpensive. Do some digging, and then consider the endless amounts of resale that is available. There’s not much you can’t find used and more importantly, what do you really need? I love the work @fash_rev is doing via Instagram as well as all the other resellers out there. Vogue even did an issue on upcycling and the future of fashion as a more sustainable, less exploitative industry. It feels we’ve reached a limit in this industry and the necessary shift and movement away from these destructive practices is finally taking root.

DM: How have things changed at Revolver since the pandemic?

JA: I feel like I’m working to align myself with my values through my business but I feel I have a long way to go. I’ve always wanted to donate part of my profits to environmental & social causes, and the coronavirus hit and I wondered what I’d been waiting for. I plan to continue that work. It’s been pretty unsettling, this coronavirus time, where the existence of all small businesses are in limbo. I don’t have a brick and mortar, and I don’t want one at this point. I like to poof!: create a store where the people are. However, we shall see how that pans out now. 

With much hesitation, I’ve started dabbling in online sales, but that’s not my heart. I like the social aspect of a pop-up in real life. I prefer my customers to have the opportunity to slow down, try on and really make an educated decision about what they want to wear instead of getting a dopamine rush by just buying something online, something that may not fit. But here we are. Like most new endeavors, there is a good amount of fear trying a new way of being. 

I’m not sure I’ve fully gotten over that fear of letting go of the way I loved Revolver being: personal, spontaneous and in real time. I like to cater to a variety of aesthetics and target markets. I like to see people’s real bodies and styles and recommend things for them. I love the social exchange, connection, and play of it, something I feel is lost virtually. I guess I’m old school, but the shared experience is as important to customer satisfaction as well as the movement to slow fashion down. I enjoy being surprised by who wants what. I always say I sell clothes (when people ask if I have men’s or women’s items) — you decide what you wear. Break down those gender norms, be free to do whatever you want with your body and how you express yourself through fashion. Luckily I live in New Orleans where creation and self expression is the name of the game. It’s pure magic here.

DM: Before we go, do you have a product you want to highlight for our readers?

JA: Oh yeah! Holster vests! I created this product as I had left too many handbags in bathrooms, thus losing everything. I needed my stuff strapped to me and wanted a fanny pack alternative. Voila! Holster vests. [To me] they are about women’s liberation. I’m sick of seeing women move through this world with so much baggage. Dudes do not do this. Why do we think we need to schlep all this shit??? Leave your baggage behind! You’ll dance so much more freely on the floor. Yeah guess I’m a minimalist too and want to fight the beauty norms and standards and how they limit, distract, and straight fuck up girls’ and ladies’ heads and body images and all that. Question what ya heard, empower yourself with education and creativity, free your mind and body and celebrate yourself as is. 

To see Jamie’s beautiful, fun creations, follow Revolver on Instagram Currently all sales take place online through direct messenger.

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