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Salvage + Rivet Gives Unwanted Denim a Second Chance

Salvage + Rivet designers and co-owners Deborah Schoch and LeeAnn Stover find beauty in discarded denim.

The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based design duo has been turning unwanted denim and samples from Thailand-based Atlantic Mills into handcrafted accessories and artisan home goods. The result is a Made in USA collection of one-of-a-kind sustainable denim pieces, spanning handbags and totes, to table runners and aprons.

Salvage + Rivet was born on the trade show floor. Schoch and Stover were mulling over the idea of launching a denim line when they met Dorothy McNee, Atlantic Mills U.S. sales manager and executive director of ITS Group, at Texworld in New York City. McNee mentioned that sometimes garment samples and leg tubes used to promote denim fabrics and special wash techniques end up in the trash. The two started brainstorming how to reuse and upcycle the denim instead.

Six months later, with the support of a $10,000 grant from the Merchants Fund of Philadelphia, Salvage + Rivet was up and running. Schoch and Stover secured 400 to 500 pairs of jeans made by Atlantic Mills from Mc Nee’s NJ warehouse where she pre-sorted past season samples into various washes and weights. They converted the jeans into $20,000 worth of merchandise.

“These denim jeans couldn’t be sold and we’re taking them and giving them new life,” Schoch said.

Locally made

Salvage + Rivet’s tag line reads, “From our many hands to yours, we hope you feel the love that made it again.” It’s a personal and organic approach that Schoch and Stover came to embrace as the owners and operators of Cozy Toes Inc., a Made in USA children’s apparel line, which they worked on for 17 years. After manufacturing moved overseas, the pair closed-up production and decided to focus instead on design consulting under the Cozy Toes moniker, while continuing to look for fresh concepts for their own label.

With around four artisans, the Salvage + Rivet team designs and manufactures most of the product range out of the Cozy Toes Design Studio. To maintain its Made in USA story, the brand sources leather for handles and trims from Massachusetts-based tannery Todder USA and hides from Pennsylvania-based Wickett & Craig. The company uses a factory in Philadelphia’s Chinatown that produces items for Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters to deconstruct jeans and turn the pieces into aprons.

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“Everybody who’s involved in the making of this has some kind of creative input in it,” Schoch said.

Salvage + Rivet toteNo two items in its collection are exactly the same—as each bag, tote and runner is made with many pairs of jeans, with a variety of fades and washes.

“Some are more of an indigo blue, some are more of a dark denim, some have more distressing,” Schoch said. “Each one has its own particular look to it.”

The brand’s most popular items are its hand-sewn bags, which retail for $175 to $220 and require roughly two days for workers to complete. Among the most popular is the roomy patchwork Weekender Bag accented with an embroidered rose on the inside panel. Another piece in the collection, the Bella Vista tote, is distinguished by its unique chenille fabrication.

“The chenille process is extremely labor intensive,” Schoch said, adding that sewers have to sew three layers of denim together to create the soft yet sturdy effect. “Then it has to be processed, washed and turned into a finished product. So, it’s a labor of love.”

Bigger picture

Opportunities to speak directly with the consumer at events like New York Denim Days in October have helped Schoch and Stover share their company’s sustainable and local story. The brand presented its complete range of bags, chenille table runners ($255) and aprons ($125).

Salvage + Rivet’s website went live in the fall and the company plans to continue pursuing the direct-to-consumer channel.

“Retail is really changing and it seems like the customer these days wants an experience with a product that is more direct to the manufacturer as opposed to direct to the store,” Schoch said. “We’re trying to capitalize that especially because these are one-of-a-kind items.”

Salvage + Rivet plans to expand with new products—possibly scarves made with repurposed lightweight chambray denim. The company is also considering collaborations with larger denim companies to help scale up.

Schoch understands the need for brands like hers to think bigger. “The industry is changing so much, fashion is changing so much,” she said. “You have to think outside of the box.”