Featured Maker: Jill Maldonado

Featured Maker interview with Jill Maldonado Today we are excited to talk to Jill Maldonado of Material Rebellion! Jill specializes in using reclaimed textiles to make bags, pouches, journals, blanket fort kits and more all with the goal of encouraging kids to discover the power of their own creativity. She is also passionate about fighting the problem of textile waste in the fashion industry and has built a sustainable product line and business using all reclaimed textiles. We are so excited to learn more about her creative path and how she has grown her own creative business.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What is your background?

I grew up on an island in the lakes region of Maine. After going to, then dropping out of college, I moved all over the country studying dance and choreography. Inspired by the moments contained within the dance, I picked up photography. That led to an interest in film, so I went back to school and got my BFA from NYU (and also met my husband). After graduating, I jumped into web development because there were practical matters to attend to and it was the beginning of the dot.com boom, so it was easy to enter the tech world and build a career there.

Most of my creative impulses were set aside until many years later when my children attended a Waldorf school. With an emphasis on educating children through their “head, heart and hands” the school had a wonderful handwork program. In each grade, the children mastered a new way of creating with their hands – from finger knitting in kindergarten to stained glass in their senior year. It was my great joy to help teach first graders how to knit (I learned right along side the kids since it was new to me.) Teaching and learning with the kids reawakened my creativity. That’s putting it mildly…it’s more like my creativity woke up like a hungry bear that had been in hibernation. It needed to be fed! Around the same time, someone gifted me with a used sewing machine. After spending three days (and many hours on YouTube) learning how to thread the machine, I taught myself how to sew. It didn’t take long before my creative drive outstripped my budget for fabric and I turned to my children’s outgrown clothes as a source of material for my projects. From there, I spent several years refining my techniques for repurposing materials from clothing.

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What do you make and sell?

I make thoughtful playthings that encourage kids to discover the power of their own creativity. My favorites are rainbow pencil rolls, blanket forts and covered journals.

What made you decide to take the leap and start your own creative business?

I was unhappy with my job and giving a great deal of thought to making a change when I met an amazing artist (she later became a good friend) who inspired me to get serious about my creative work. I really wanted to be a living example to my children of how we can forge our own destinies if we have the courage to step away from the path of least resistance.

How did you get started and when did you launch your business?

When the stars aligned in such a way that I was able to leave my job in January of 2013, I got serious about creating a product line. As I got deeper into that process and began developing production techniques, it became obvious that my old hand-me-down sewing machine wasn’t going to be able to keep up. I was hesitant to spend money on a new machine since I wasn’t entirely sure this was going to be a viable business. My dear, sweet, supportive husband secretly organized dozens of friends and family members to chip in and purchase me a new sewing machine for my birthday. It was an incredibly poignant moment for me…the show of support, the care and effort involved…it encouraged me even more so to make a go of it.

My first workspace was my dining room table. It wasn’t long before I moved downstairs and took over our basement. Three years later, with a name change and rebranding along the way, I have just moved into my own studio space. It’s a big step, but the business needs room to grow. Once again, my family is right there with me in making this important move. The support of my family has been a consistent theme in the growth of my business. They are always cheering me on from the sidelines and step in to provide important feedback every time I come to a cross roads about what I should do next.

Do you have any philosophies or ideals you try to represent with your work?

Yes! There are two philosophies that form the WHY of what I do. One relates to the materials I use and the other to the products I design.

I initially started using reclaimed textiles to serve my own need for inexpensive materials, but the more I learned about the textile waste crisis, the more committed I became to being part of the solution. The environmental impact of the fashion industry is immense. For example, it requires 2,900 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. That same pair of jeans, at the other end of its lifecycle, will produce as many as 3 pounds of CO2 as it breaks down in a landfill.

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I am very fortunate to work in partnership with Goodwill Industries. They sort, bag and deliver t-shirts and jeans for me to use as my raw materials. The price that I pay per pound supports the Goodwill job training program and I use almost a thousand pounds of materials a year that aren’t fit for Goodwill retail outlets.

The philosophy that drives my designs is the value of open-ended play for children. I love creating things that inspire the imagination and encourage creativity. When I create new designs, I’m thinking about making something beautiful, durable and flexible in its use. I want everything I make to open a world of possibility for the child (or adult!) receiving it.

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Where do you look for inspiration?

My inspiration is drawn from the two philosophical elements that drive my business. First, I find inspiration in the materials I use. Denim is a wonderful fabric to work with. I’m always awed by the variety of washes, the different textures and the way each pair of jeans wears differently. I also love playing with all the bright colors and soft knits of the t-shirts.

I am also inspired by my experience with Waldorf education. Sometimes we forget that the most powerful element in a child’s play is their own creative force. I want everything I make to be an instrument of the child’s creativity rather than supplant their creativity.

Waterfront view from Jill's studio.

Waterfront view from Jill’s studio.

What does your workspace/studio look like?

After three years of working in my 120 year old, unfinished, windowless basement, I’m so excited to finally be in my own space! My new studio occupies a very unique place on Main Street in Great Barrington, MA and opens out onto a nature trail alongside the Housatonic River. It was important to be close to home, since I make it a priority to be available for my kids, and my view of the river refreshes my senses every day. I can’t wait to grow into this new space and do things I never could have done before, like teach workshops!

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What are some of your favorite tools or techniques?

I absolutely LOVE my Accuquilt Studio Fabric Cutter. It’s essentially a die cut machine. I have some of their “off the rack” dies and have had some custom made for my designs. The cutter allows me to cut pattern pieces quickly, accurately and efficiently, plus it saves my wrist from the repetitive strain of cutting everything by hand. My OTHER favorite tool is a power rotary cutter that my husband gave me. It’s not something I would have thought I needed, or spent the money on myself, but it truth, it makes quick business of breaking down a pair of jeans into usable pieces.

Is your business your full time job? Or do you have a day job?

Yes and yes. My business is my full time job AND I have a day job. In order to grow my business, most of my profits get rolled right back into things like equipment, show fees and marketing, so I have a part time job at the Berkshire Market Co-Op. I chose to work there because in many ways, it’s a center of the community and aligns with my values of supporting local producers. I truly enjoy my co-workers and find that it balances the long hours of quiet that go into my creative work.

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What does a day in the life of Jill Maldonado look like?

I get up super early in the morning. It’s a great time to get a couple hours of “computer work” done – checking orders, emails, web traffic and social media stats or planning out what I’m working on in the studio that day. After my husband and kids head out, I take the dogs over to my studio (we have three rescued Pomeranians) and get busy making. At 2:30, it’s time to walk the dogs and meet the kids when they get home from school. If no one needs homework help, I have another couple of hours to get administrative tasks done (more computer work) and make a plan for the next day before I start dinner.

Visit Jill’s website, Material Rebellion, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Thank you so much Jill for sharing your story with us! Do you want to be our next Featured Maker? Visit our Contribute Page for more info!

Comments

    • says

      Thanks so much Britt! It’s amazing how life unfolds along this crooked path and somewhere along the way, you end up with a story to tell about where you’ve been. 🙂