Tuesday, April 1, 2008

phea jean

I had the chance to interview Amber Zaraza, the designer and creator of phea jean (pronounced fee-ah jean, jean as in blue jeans that you wear). Amber's sassy/funky style and light-hearted easy going vibe spills over into her designs and gives them a truly unique edge.

addy 1504Though she proclaims, "Fashion is so not serious," it is clear that her creative process and the materials she chooses to work with make her hats and bags more than just accessories. Most of her 22 designs were created as a result of a person close to her requesting a certain type of bag. She then names the style after them. The Addy, for example, was made for her brother Adam. This bag, like many others, is reversible, so you get two bags out of one. I love the handle, the pockets all over and the boxy shape.

One of the most interesting elements of her pieces is the wild combination of fabrics, colors and textures she mixes together. This is the show-stopping characteristic that makes people ask, "Where did you get that bag?" When asked where she buys her fabric, she replied that she hasn't really bought fabric in years as a result of the many donations she receives and the fact that she likes to work with deconstructed vintage garments. Bag patterns don't require a lot of fabric, so it's easy for Amber to turn just about anything--from an old frock with a hole to fabric shower curtains--into fabulous funky accessories. Phea jean bags take upcycling to a whole new out-of-control level; you might find grandma's vintage tablecloth with a leopard trim!
another fab bag
The reuse of materials is what draws in most of Amber's custom orders. Clients give Amber clothing they love but can't wear anymore for whatever reason and she creates something new for them. For me, someone who gets unnaturally attached to objects for the memory and history they hold, this was the most brilliant part about what Amber does. The energy, memories, and stories woven into the fabrics could be kept in tact, sewn together to create a new life that could be useful and go out and collect more adventures.

sugar and creamMemory, experiences, and their relationship with objects come up a lot in my own work, so Amber and I had a lot to discuss when we met up at a cafe this past week. She was willing to give me great sewing tips, and shared a lot about her crafty history with me. As she dumped her 5th pack of sugar, followed by yet another half & half, into her coffee, we talked about the great craft community of Philly. My attention trailed off for a moment as I thought about how fortunate we are to have a designer who is willing to share stories and teach tidbits of what she knows. I giggled about how she likes it light and really sweet. I had no concept of time but wanted to talk about everything and ask a million questions. Our conversation went on for hours, but ended too soon.

If you see her at a craft fair or trunk show definitely go chat her up and ask about her bags. Every one seems to have a fascinating story and she's pretty fabulous, too.

For more phea jean, check out www.pheajean.com, and a selection of Amber's designs at her etsy shop. If you're interested in having a custom bag or hat made, contact Amber at pheajean@gmail.com.

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