Editor’s note: Today, we debut a new series, Made in Cascadia, highlighting makers and artisans in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
SUMAS — Where others might see trash, Suzanne Lundberg finds opportunities for creation. Her Sumas studio contains a dizzying variety of secondhand materials and clothing — but Lundberg transforms these discarded goods into one-of-a-kind apparel for her textile business, The Goat’s Coat.
Lundberg considers herself an artist in “sustainopreneurship,” and her specialty is upcycled goods including clothing, jewelry, bags and cashmere hats. Each piece strikes a delicate balance between understated and maximalist or, as she puts it, “burlap and sequins.”
“Design-wise, I would say [my aesthetic is] a fusion of modern futuristic and old — like, Paleo, pilgrimage old,” Lundberg said. “I just try to keep it balanced. If it’s too rough, I’ve got to add some flair to it, or some glitter to it.”
Lundberg made her first earrings at age 6 and has a lifelong interest in textiles and design work. Her experimental, sometimes impulsive approach helps her to “see value in everything”; thus, she began upcycling as a way to narrow down material options. Over time, however, this decision evolved into a deeply held principle.
“Upcycling has become the core practice in my art,” Lundberg said. “Originally it was a means to be creative and resourceful with the fabric that already existed, but as the information came to light about textile waste in multiple industries, but mainly fashion, it quickly became a value of mine.”
Environmentalism is also fundamental to Lundberg’s personal life. Lundberg and her husband steward 88 acres of land beneath Sumas Mountain. The property contains “pasture, forest, a pond and a salmon-bearing creek” and is vital to Lundberg’s mental health and creative process. In the future, she and Gamble hope to use the homestead to host artistic workshops and nature retreats.
The Goat’s Coat was named in reference to the materials Lundberg works with, including cashmere and fur, but it’s also an homage to her first business. Lundberg opened The Wailing Goat Espresso in 2011. Shortly thereafter, her friend suggested she use the surrounding Alley District space to host an upcycled runway show.
“I literally took my [sewing] machine out of the box, just fumbled through it and came up with a bunch of scrappy, rough dresses for that show,” Lundberg said.
The event was a hit, and so Lundberg kept the tradition going. Her most recent upcycled runway show took place on Aug. 20, 2022 — 10 years after the initial Alley District show — and she plans to host more in the future.
Lundberg is also a frequent face at maker’s markets and pop-ups at businesses like Brazen Shop + Studio in downtown Bellingham. But despite the Goat’s Coat’s evolution from a passion project to a bona fide business, Lundberg’s experimental nature remains.
“I still am very scrappy, but yeah, I’ve developed more skills over the years,” she said.
Now, Lundberg is an expert in pairing raw materials like leather, silk and wool with reclaimed materials from the waste stream. She aims to only source sustainable fibers that won’t break down into microplastics, and has even been known to re-upcycle her own work.
“If I pull something from a shop that’s been sitting there for a while, I’ll re-upcycle it until I like it,” she said. “So it’s just this process of layering, putting them together, taking them apart until they’re just right.”
Lundberg has especially honed her workflow for best-selling products such as earrings. Most pairs begin with leather; she inherited “leather for life” from her old studio-mate, Nicki Lang of Found Leather Goods. From there, Lundberg hammers metal into shapes and suspends them from the leather. For upcycled fur earrings, she tightly wraps them with wire, then hides the wire with thread. Finally, she adds beads for extra flair.
When coming up with new designs, Lundberg takes inspiration from everything from beadwork to sci-fi movies and — perhaps most significantly — her own father’s artwork from the ‘70s. Despite this artistic spirit, she’s not immune to the odd creative rut.
“I can become extremely blocked, where I might have a show coming up or an event, and I got nothing,” Lundberg said. “I can’t see things together, everything looks like clutter. And I think that’s what most people see … when they walk into a thrift store. You know, they just see colors and textures, and it’s just this chaotic swirl.”
In these moments, Lundberg becomes “[her] own factory” and focuses on the fundamentals: hammering metals, cutting leathers, et cetera. She knows it’s only a matter of time until inspiration strikes again — often in unexpected places.
“My inspiration can come from staring at a crowded scene to colors that go together that I wouldn’t have thought of,” she said. “And I write it down or try to take a picture, screenshot it if I’m on my phone … When I can’t sleep, it’s because I can have flashes of design ideas running through my brain.”
Lundberg hopes her creations will inspire customers to examine their own consumption habits, especially in regard to fast fashion and textile waste. Her work is proof that discarded materials have the potential to be used in new ways — not only as apparel, but wearable art.
“When I’m my highest self,” Lundberg continued, “I can see designs just by looking at a pile of what looks like junk.”
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A previous version of this story misidentified Lundberg’s pets and previous business name. The story was updated to reflect this change on Feb. 6, 2024 at 8:30 a.m. Cascadia Daily News regrets the error.
Cocoa Laney is CDN’s lifestyle editor; reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-922-3090 ext. 128.