Twenty years of upscale design
By Tamie Meck
Published Thursday, March 2, 2017 8:57 am
Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia modiste Elisabeth Delehaunty still has the dress she made for her senior prom. For 20 years Delehaunty has designed and made 'upcycled' clothing for her Paonia-based company, Elisabethan. Last year she opened a flagship store,
For 20 years Elisabeth Delehaunty has designed upscaled clothing for her company, Elisabethan. Each piece of Elisabethan apparel is made of post-consumer materials. She turns pre-worn T-shirts, cashmere and lambs wool sweaters and other previously-used textiles into fashionable, comfortable, high-quality garments for women and children. Each piece is a one-of-a-kind, eco-friendly garment. The only items she buys new are the threads, zippers, and the elastic.
Since the DCI last caught up with her more than a decade ago she's expanded to markets across the country, and last spring, to mark 20 years of success, she opened a flagship store, Refinery, on Paonia's Grand Avenue.
Delehaunty credits her mom for her love of sewing. She was from "that generation" when everyone owned a sewing machine, said Delehaunty. She had an art table and lots of fabrics and was always working on a project. She also made Elisabeth's clothing when she was little.
In high school Delehaunty said she got picky about what she wore and started shopping for clothes at thrift stores and garage sales, altering her purchases for fashion or fit. When prom rolled around, she made her own dress. "This was the 80s. Prom dresses were ugly," she said. She decorated the black taffeta dress with black buttons from the Windsor Button Store. "I wanted to cover the whole bodice in buttons," she said. She was still sewing on buttons when her date arrived.
Delehaunty earned a bachelor of arts degree at Dartmouth where she worked in the drama department making costumes for Shakespearean and Lillian Hellman plays. "The school had an amazing costume library," she said. She worked summers at an arts camp and got her first paying job sewing costumes for a high school production of "Guys and Dolls."
The summer of 1995 she sewed opera costumes for the Aspen Music Festival. She then went to Crested Butte and found work making Warm Window shades and doing alterations for a local seamstress.
In 1996 Delehaunty leased a small studio space and started Elisabethan, a name she'd come up with in high school. She took her designs, all made of recycled fabrics, to arts and crafts fairs and started looking for other markets. Working on her own, she said, she couldn't afford Crested Butte. So she came to Paonia, where she opened Elisabethan Studio in the warehouse at the south end of Grand Avenue.
Early on she sewed each piece herself, but couldn't keep up with growth. She began making kits and hiring local seamstresses to assemble them. She would comb through second-hand stores looking for unique materials, but needed more material than she could find. She started purchasing used clothing by the bale. She would pick up boxes of brand new T-shirts for practically nothing. "There's just so much clothing out there," she said.
Delehaunty is passionate about reducing waste. Even her clothing racks are made from recycled materials. But the deeper she got into seeking out materials, she more she realized that the clothing industry and the mountains of discarded clothing it creates is an environmental issue.
Last April she and Allison McGuigan, former owner of Echo Consignments and manager of The Eccentric Artist, opened "Refinery," Elisabethan's flagship store, in the former Glennie Coomb Gallery space next to Ollie's Ice Cream on Grand Avenue. Delehaunty said they are amazed by the diversity of people who walk in the door.
McGuigan sells high-end used clothing, shoes and accessories for men and women at affordable prices. The store also carries Life of Riley and BedDazzled jewelry, reclaimed journals by Jane McGarry, Lynn Mattingly fiber arts, and Ruby and Fin stuffed animals made from repurposed materials.
The two businesses come together nicely, said Delehaunty. The Paonia Chamber of Commerce named Refinery and Elisabethan a co-recipient of the 2016 Small Business of the Year award for its co-business model.
Business is good, and her products have found some interesting markets. After hearing about Elisabethan's business model the Hillary Clinton campaign ordered skirts for female staffers to wear at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Delehaunty sees more growth in the future for her company. This winter she took time away from production to focus on new ideas and designs that will allow her customers to create entire ensembles. She also plans to offer more kids stuff. Production will ramp up soon.
In meeting future market demands, the challenge, she said, is that people have gotten so used to getting everything so cheap. "I think we all have a skewed sense of what stuff should cost." The market, she said can't offer high-quality products and have people expect to pay practically nothing for them.
Like the slow food movement that calls for high-quality, healthy ingredients lovingly prepared, "There's a whole slow-fashion movement to encourage people to re-think that," said Delahaunty. She sees Elisabethan and Refinery as continuing to play a part in that market.