What’s old is new again

May 9, 2012 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-Editor
Abbotsford, B.C.

What do you get when you combine thrift store finds, estate sale gems, antique store trinkets, a few online purchases and craft store necessities? Beautiful “up-cycled” jewellery and accessories from Carmen West Creative.

Carmen West (nee Janzen), who grew up attending King Road Mennonite Brethren Church in Abbotsford, is a locally recognized designer and she’s even gaining some international recognition thanks to her online store at Etsy.com.

She formed Carmen West Creative in the early part of 2010, but she has been making crafts in the fashion-oriented vein for much longer.

Prior to her current business, she went to the University of the Fraser Valley to study fashion design. She started a clothing company using only eco-friendly fabrics, but she has learned that she doesn’t like to be so restricted.

“At heart, I’m more of a tinkerer, and I like to have lots of ‘micro-projects’ going on,” she says.

West has been called a workaholic before because of this. Along with making jewellery, accessories and custom bridal packages, and being a part of various artisan festivals in Vancouver and throughout the Fraser Valley, she also works full-time as a graphic designer for Signal Hill, a human rights advocacy organization that provides information on life issues, women’s health and family support.

With all of the work she does for Carmen West Creative, it would appear that she works two full-time jobs. But she sees her own business as a creative outlet and a way to worship God. “I realized more recently that the Lord provides raw materials and the work you do with it is an act of worship and praise,” she says. “I feel restored, excited, thrilled and happy that I can do it, and that’s a gift.”

The fact that most of West’s work is very eco-friendly is just a part of her. “It just makes sense. . . . It’s a way of life,” she says.

West shops for materials at Mennonite Central Committee thrift stores, Value Village and estate sales. She repurposes costume jewellery, and finds a lot of materials online. And she uses every single part of it. “Nothing goes to waste,” she says. “Everything gets archived into my materials. I even use post-consumer materials for my business cards. When there’s an opportunity [to be environmentally conscious], I just go for it!”

She recently made a bouquet entirely of vintage jewellery and put it up for sale on her online Etsy store, from where it was promptly purchased by a bride-to-be in the U.S. After West spoke to the woman to discern the colour scheme of the wedding, she discovered that the woman was appearing on a special episode of the TLC network’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta.

West has also had her hairpieces featured at Eco Fashion Week, an event for which she partnered with a wedding-dress designer. She has participated in all of the markets Birch and Bird has organized, Bloom Market and the Robson Artisan Market, among others.

West also prides herself on the interpersonal relationship aspect of the creative process that she shares with her clients. “One of the most special things about my work is meeting clients face-to-face,” she says. “How often can you say, ‘I met the designer at this fashion show?’ ”

Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.