Repurposing with a purpose: Turning old jeans into accessories


FROM PROVOST TO SEAMSTRESS — San Francisco State University Provost Amy Sueyoshi repurposes used denim into accessories.
photo courtesy of @nikkei_jeans

Amy Sueyoshi began sewing again in November 2021. The San Francisco State University provost and vice president of Academic Affairs first started hand sewing at 7-years-old, but she stopped because her mother was too “critical” of her at one time.

Between starting to sew again during the coronavirus pandemic and watching Justin Mensinger, a designer and “The Hype” reality show winner, Sueyoshi was inspired to start “collecting … jeans that people don’t want and turning them into accessories.” Inspired by Mensinger, who took “old blankets, old clothes from the thrift store and turn(ed) them into hoodies,” she created the @nikkei_jeans Instagram account. “On the one hand, it’s about environmental justice … It’s also about community building,” Sueyoshi said in a phone interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Penny Nakatsu and Betty Matsuoka, two former San Francisco State College students who participated in the 1968 College of Ethnic Studies strike, helped Sueyoshi. Nakatsu gave Sueyoshi her old sewing machine and Matsuoka taught her on Nakatsu’s old sewing machine.

Sueyoshi said the project helps her engage with her Nikkei community because she doesn’t have any relatives on her Shin-Issei mother’s side in the United States and most of her father’s family is in Hawai‘i and Okinawa.

“Having this way to also be in community with other Nikkei folks has been of tremendous inspiration and empowerment for me as well,” Sueyoshi remarked.

Matsuoka has a Nikkei and Asian American crafting group, which Sueyoshi hopes to join. Sueyoshi believes there’s a new “JA craft community, that is accepting of queers, that is about environmental justice, it’s not just about making cute things, but about making the world better.”

Sueyoshi’s co-worker’s grandmother, who was a seamstress in the city’s Chinatown, left “garbage bags full of fabric and thread” after she passed away. Sueyoshi’s co-worker asked her if she wanted it. Sueyoshi has about two stacks of jeans from people who donate them on NextDoor. She has not bought any materials for the products she’s making.

Matsuoka, who Sueyoshi calls her “sewing sensei,” told her she should keep the first item she made. Sueyoshi followed Matsuoka’s advice, and kept a tote bag because it was “the first thing that I ever made.”

At her first craft fair at Midori Kai this September, Sueyoshi said she felt a little “out of place” because her products are handmade and not retailed professionally. Nevertheless, she sold $300 worth of accessories.

Sueyoshi is selling her products online at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco design store, as well as her Instagram page. Some of her products for the holiday season are on the online CCC design store.

“I’m not doing this for money. I’m just doing this on the side for fun,” Sueyoshi said.

To buy Nikkei Jeans’ products online at the CCC design store, visit: http://ow.ly/qssl50LKmAA.
To purchase products from her Instagram, visit: https://www.instagram.com/nikkei_jeans/.

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