Upcycled Painted Denim Jackets : Frugal Fashion Co

Upcycle Artist Savannah Turner-Wood, Perth

Tahlia, September 2022

Savannah’s upcycled, painted garments have been making their debut across Perth markets and studios for the past 12 months. Her custom, hand painted denim jackets are proving particularly popular.

The wearable art is painted in her home studio in the Swan Valley on sustainably sourced garments from op shops.

We came across Savannah and her painted denim jackets at the Swan Open Studios event.

Tell us the story behind how the Frugal Fashion Co came about.

I’ve always been an avid thrifter, with most of my clothing and furniture being secondhand. I’ve also painted recreationally since I was young, mostly water colours and silly cartoon recreations for gifts. In early 2021 I started selling high quality secondhand clothing out of markets as a small side endeavor.

A few months later, my mum asked me to get her a denim jacket for her 50th birthday, but I wanted it to be something special, so I did some research and ended up painting a recreation of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers on the back for her. It gained so much traction that I ended up painting a few different pieces to sell within my store, and they were so popular that eventually I just dumped the plain clothing entirely and dedicated the business wholly to hand painted fashion!

Your pieces are hand painted rather than screen printed so they are all one-off, tell us about why you prefer hand painting each jacket.

I love the texture and tactile nature of hand painting fabric that you just can’t get from a print. It really feels like a piece of wearable art! I also love the idea of giving each piece a second life with something truly distinct and unique; I like to think certain pieces could become like family heirlooms and get passed down through generations.

You do a lot of custom painted denim jackets. What are you most often asked to paint?

I do a fair amount of commissioned work; the requests are wild and varied and I love it! I’ve been asked to paint things I would never have even considered putting on a jacket but I love the challenge that comes from it. My most common pieces are definitely pet portraits; most often dogs, but I’ve also done plenty of cats and birds too! 

I find the most interesting commission requests often come from kids; their minds are so interesting! I had one kid once request a platypus floating inside a meteor, another wanted a realistic bass fish with absolutely no background or explanation. I’ve had Dungeons and Dragons monsters, anime characters, memes, business logos, you name it!

Painted Denim Jacket
Painted Denim Jacket
Recycled Timber, Timbersearch Woo

How do commissioned pieces usually work? Can you start with just a description of what the client would like painted?

If the commission is for a specific character, pet or person I’ll usually work off a provided reference picture or two. For more artistically loose concepts I might get some inspiration images, or sometimes a full Pinterest board!

I’ll often try to narrow my design by requesting things like colour schemes or favorite flowers, but many of my clients really love me to take the artistic lead and just go for it which is awesome.

I won’t usually directly replicate another artist’s work unless it’s something hugely famous and recognizable like Van Gogh, or if it’s a piece for the artist themselves- like a piece I once did for a digital artist where I took her favorite artwork of her own and replicated it in my style. It’s now like wearable advertising for her business at every event she attends!

We love your painted kids clothes! Can parents send in a piece for you to customize? 

Of course! I have bucket loads of blank secondhand denim at home that I’ve collected in every size, cut and colour that you can imagine, but I’m also more than happy to take a client’s piece of clothing and paint that for them.

I always recommend with children to use a piece that’s 1-2 sizes too big for them, so that they don’t immediately grow out of it. Denim jackets can really get away with a more ‘oversized’ look too, especially by doing things like rolling up the sleeves, so they get way more wear out of them!

Painted Denim Jacket
Painted Denim Jacket
Painted Denim Jacket

Is there any special care needed to make sure the paint doesn’t wash off the jackets?

I use a heat-activated textile medium that stops the paint from going anywhere, so there’s no risk of it washing or peeling off. The pieces can also be ironed inside-out for a bit of a refresh!

Generally I don’t recommend machine-washing because you’re actually not meant to machine wash denim in the first place; it can damage and shrink the fabric long-term. Also, while my pieces are completely fine to be washed, sometimes they can get very crinkly after a high spin, so if you absolutely need to machine wash, make sure it’s on a delicate or low-spin setting.

Tell us about thrifting, when did you get interested in shopping at thrift stores?

Growing up I always loved fashion but was generally pretty terrible at finding what worked for me at an affordable price point. As an adult I started researching into the environmental impact of fast fashion brands and honestly, I was absolutely horrified! 80% of the textiles we wear end up in landfill, with the average Aussie being responsible for about 23kg every year, including things we donate that don’t sell or aren’t of a wearable quality. That’s huge!

So for me, thrifting is a win-win situation; I’m getting amazing high-quality fashion at a fraction of the price, I’m putting my money towards non-profits and charities, and I’m doing my part, however small, to help out our planet.

What is the best way for people to get in touch or request a custom painted denim jacket?

I’m on Facebook and Instagram at @thefrugalfashionco, or you can check out my website http://thefrugalfashionco.com or send me an email at info@thefrugalfashionco.com!

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