Recycled Handmade Accessories
Conjuring up unique, handmade pieces of resilient recycled art is a labor of love for Ballokai boutique in Sisters. From their downtown studio location at The Belfry, owner Tracy Curtis crafts an eclectic array of one-of-a-kind folk art scarves, jewelry and fashion accessories.
“I started out doing the recycled handbags using old coffee bean sacks from Sisters Coffee Company,” she said. “My daughter, Laura Curtis, is a musician and would throw her guitar strings in the trash can. So I started pulling them out and began playing around with them, twisting them into shapes to see if I could make something useful out of them.”
What emerged from those playful brainstorming sessions is her new line of bangle bracelets, necklaces and earrings fabricated from discarded guitar strings. The bold and vibrant gold, silver and copper tones of the strings lend themselves perfectly to cool collections of designer jewelry. Ballokai’s scarves, cuffs, headbands and fingerless gloves are handcrafted from the faded ranks of retired wool sweaters.
“I really believe in trying to keep business local and that’s how I made the Abilitree connection. They train mentally and physically disabled individuals to re-enter or enter the workplace for the first time. I get a lot of strings from area musicians and guitar-makers that need to be cleaned and sorted and that’s where Abilitree comes in. Their services are amazing and they’ve been able to help me increase production and efficiency.”
Curtis is also exploring some opportunities for additional product as she settles into her new home at The Belfry.
“Working next to Thompson Guitars will be great. And I feel like being in The Belfry is consistent with my business model, as it was previously used as a church and is now being run as a fantastic music venue and artist studios, similar to what I’m doing with my recycled artwork. It’s sort of a repurposing of unusual materials. I hate to see old buildings torn down and love to see things preserved.”
Curtis has always been artistically inclined and began her coffee sack bag business back in 2006, spurred on by her daughters’ constant need for purses.
“I first came into the Sisters Coffee house and asked them for some spare sacks to work with,” she explained. “I made a bag and they loved it and asked to carry them in the store. There are so many things that are thrown away and we’re such a disposable society. I really wanted to promote items that were still useable, perhaps in a different form, but they don’t need to end up in a huge landfill.”
In her quest to keep things local Curtis also outsources to Sue Yocom at Black Crater Clothing in Sisters.
“I’m trying to increase my wholesale marketing while still promoting environmental sustainability. It’s very satisfying and fun and I have a lot of repeat customers. I just love coming up with new designs. Making beautiful things out of trash never gets old for me.”