Trina Howlett: the founder of Mbukii.
When I was a teen living in Southern California frequenting local thrift stores with my friends, we stuffed bags full of clothes to maximize the pay-per-bag deal the stores offered. My love for thrifting stayed with me through my life. About six years ago, my daughter Willow and I found stores where we could pay by the pound. Willow bought things she could take home and modify, while I loved being able to piece together one-of-a-kind outfits from my finds. The memories I have from thrifting are some of my favorite, but they’re not just memories anymore: they are the inspiration for my business, Mbukii.
Our times in thrift stores led my daughter and I to think “how awesome would it be to use old t-shirts and sweatshirts to make modern layering pieces for yoga and workouts?” However, on one of our trips I found a section of old leather and suede jackets. And then I found some beautiful vintage fabric. And then I envisioned cutting up the pieces, using the leather or suede as exteriors and the fabric as lining so I purchased the most beautiful pieces I could find and brought them home to start creating.
The only problem? I didn’t actually know how to sew.
I also didn’t own a sewing machine. I ordered one—after extensive research—and used YouTube tutorials to teach myself how to use it. There was a lot to learn, but once my sewing machine arrived I slowly stitched all the pieces together to create my first bags. Soon I had created my first pouches, clutches, and make-up bags. The process of making them was so fulfilling and exciting that I found more thrift stores to scavenge through in the Bay Area.
Once I had an assortment, I began giving them friends and family. Their responses encouraged me to pursue up-scaling my production. A couple of stores in San Francisco and abroad even said they would sell my products.
With the help of my family and friends I’ve been able to produce eco-friendly, premium bags made with upcycled leather and vintage fabrics. I am so excited to be able to share them with more people, because each bag is special and deserves to see life outside my sewing closet.
The business started from within my closet-turned-sewing-room, has developed into something more. We have hired a company to help with the sewing in LA, California. Although we have grown—yay!–all of the preparation work of hand selecting, cutting, some sewing, and pairing still derives from home.
Mbukii, the name of the business, comes from the phrase mbuki-mvuki which means “to shed one’s clothing spontaneously and dance naked in joy.” Mbukii then collects the discarded clothing and makes one-of-a-kind combinations into eco-friendly, premium bags.