Since the 1960s, the Bohemian style has phased in and out of fashion trends. However, for Laurel Thomas, the artist behind Sapphire Gypsy Chic, the look has always been her signature style. “When people stop me on the street to ask where I get my embellished coats from, I tell them I made and designed them myself,” she said. After years of being cajoled by her friends, Thomas began making and selling her unique and artistic coats for other people.
Thomas’ coats are unique, one-of-a-kind statement pieces that are easy to wear. “I wear mine with jeans or leggings,” she said. “I throw on one of my gypsy coats and I’m instantly dressed up!”
For the last four years, Thomas has upcycled and refashioned coats for her Sapphire Gypsy Chic line. Thomas’ upbringing in a creative and ecologically mindful family fomented her love for upcycled goods. Growing up, her grandfather would find random decor at garage sales and make them into lamps, giving utility to decorative pieces. “Years ago, skateboarding had just become popular and we couldn’t afford one,” she recalled. “My grandfather found an old metal skate, took it apart, found a board and put wheels on both ends. That thing was faster than anybody else’s skateboard. All the kids wanted to ride it instead of their fancy boards!”
From her mother, Thomas learned to refurbish and recycle clothing. “My mother would reupholster furniture and take buttons and zippers off discarded clothing for future sewing projects,” she said. “I always thought that it was fascinating to be able to breathe new life into something old and tired and make it wonderful and usable again.”
The idea of repurposing, refashioning and recycling has always permeated Thomas’ life. When she danced Flamenco, one of her dance teachers showed her to take used dresses, cut them up and add fringe and ruffles. When she was the artistic director of a drum and dance troupe, Sirens of the Sapphire Moon, she learned to take recycled materials apart, add beads and baubles and create new costumes. When she made jewelry, she liked to find vintage jewelry parts and rework them into new necklaces and earrings.
Thomas also has an inculcated love for vintage, well-made and well-loved clothing and fabrics. “I love picking up items that some would see as junk,” she said. “The word ‘upcycling’ is relatively new, but people have been doing it before it became a thing. It is something that I have always done and grew up with, the concept of fixing what you have and revising it.
For Thomas, upcycling materials just makes sense. “It doesn’t make sense to go to a mall where I see racks and racks of the same cheap quality clothes that fall apart and then end up in a landfill,” she noted. “What do you do with cheap polyester that doesn’t last and falls apart easily? I like good quality fabrics that have lived before and are worth making a second comeback. At thrift stores, I can find well-made items that were meant to last. Slow fashion for me, all the way!”
Slow fashion is a term that definitely applies to Thomas’ meticulously and organically crafted pieces. To make a coat, she has to take things apart before piecing them together into a new design. “It’s like an artistic puzzle,” she said. “People think that I own a fancy sewing machine, but I actually use an old Brother that I bought for $25 on a swap site. I also do a lot of the sewing by hand. A lot of work goes into each one of these refashioned coats.”
Thomas starts the creation process by figuring out the back design. From there, she works her way around. “The pieces just seem to design themselves,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it, it just happens that way. I don’t follow any rules. I’m compulsive and self-taught. I don’t really consider myself a seamstress, I just know how to put things together creatively and cohesively. When you are an artist, you can envision what something can become rather than what it actually is and then create something special, fun and unique.”
To purchase one of Thomas’s custom coats, visit sapphiregypsychic.etsy.com or follow her on Instagram at @sapphire_gypsy_chic.