Tugging the Right Thread Could Unravel the Whole Garment Industry

Leanna Echeverri diverts the idea that you have to buy new clothes.
Model (top right): Rain Lupia. Photos by Audrey Goforth.

Leanna Echeverri, owner of the handmade hemp clothing and upcycled-garment business Grateful Threads, studied interior design before going to work for an architect. But it wasn’t a good fit.

“I wanted to problem solve and be creative,” she recalls. “But all I was doing was fixing other people’s mistakes. It didn’t feel right. So I stepped away.” Echeverri gradually launched her women’s clothing enterprise, making comfortably elegant garments from scratch with organic hemp fibers and low-impact dyes. She also creates stylishly upcycled clothing with castoffs salvaged from thrift stores. Earlier this year, using such remnants, she won both the Audience Choice Award and the Top Designer Award in Asheville’s “Color Me Goodwill” benefit fashion show.

Despite such accolades, Echeverri has no formal training as a clothing designer. But she does have decades of experience reviving yesterday’s throwaways and transforming them into fashion-forward wardrobe winners.

“I came from a single-mom household, and we weren’t rich,” she says. “But I wanted to go to school without looking like I was wearing thrift-store clothes.” Using basic sewing skills, she adapted her clothes and learned resourcefulness.

The search long ago ceased to be random. “When I go into a thrift store, I know what I’m looking for. You learn the potential of each piece of clothing and what it represents as a component for a garment. A short skirt makes a pair of sleeves. A sheet can be a bustle for a dress. A long, flowing skirt, when you open it up, might be three yards of fabric,” she explains. “That’s a good deal, when you only paid three bucks. And elements and components are interchangeable from garment to garment.”

She learns, she says, by getting her hands in the cloth and just doing it. “I make mistakes, but I learn from my mistakes and become more adept.” A self-described “fiber person,” she likes the feel of cotton and linen and hemp — and also the feeling of doing good. “We need to slow the roll of the clothing industry. A lot of it ends up in landfills, and toxic chemical dyes wind up in our soil and water.”

Echeverri acknowledges that it’s taken her longer to master her craft than it would have with a teacher. But she sees value in taking the DIY approach — and what she learned in her first career comes in handy, too. “Interior design lends itself to clothing design,” Echeverri says, “because they both deal with human proportion and measurement. No pun intended, but it’s like pulling a thread, where one thing leads to another.

“The width of a door or the height of a countertop is about how the body corresponds to those things. Or the length of your arm, and how far you can reach.”

Thrift-store remnants evolve into romantic new-Bohemian statements.
Model (top): Sadie Munroe. Model (bottom): Rain Lupia.
Photos by Audrey Goforth

Grateful Threads Asheville Bespoke Clothing and Salvage Apparel, open by appointment at Riverview Station (191 Lyman St., Studio 232, in the River Arts District). For more information, visit gratefulthreadsasheville.com and thenewbohemianasheville.com, or the Facebook pages of Leanna Echeverri, Grateful Threads Asheville, and The New Bohemian. On Instagram: gratefulthreadsasheville, thenewbohemianasheville, lechephotography.

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