Step into spring with a sustainable quilt jacket from Pittsburgh's own Otto Finn | Arts + Entertainment | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Step into spring with a sustainable quilt jacket from Pittsburgh's own Otto Finn

click to enlarge Step into spring with a sustainable quilt jacket from Pittsburgh's own Otto Finn
Photos by Tara Bennett
Find Your Match jackets by Otto Finn
You have most likely been camping out under a blanket for the good part of a year, especially during this unforgiving pandemic winter. A new project from Lawrenceville-based sustainable fashion company Otto Finn lets you take the comfort of a blanket with you, especially now that warmer weather and the continued vaccine roll-out have more people leaving their homes.

Otto Finn CEO, founder, and chief textile enthusiast Rona Chang recently launched Find Your Match, a program turning wool blankets and quilts into custom kimono-style jackets. Each month, customers can choose from a batch of second-hand material, which is then turned into pieces of various lengths and sizes depending on the buyer’s body type, height, and other factors, like if they want sleeves or no sleeves.

“It’s a really generous cut,” says Chang, who started Otto Finn in 2014.

The program fits with Otto Finn’s mission of creating pieces from recycled and sustainably produced materials. Chang says even the new fabrics she uses are made from organic cotton or hemp, or a mix of both.

“Most jackets are one of a kind,” says Chang, adding that people should think of it as a jacket that will make them “stand out,” be more individualistic, and “show off their personality.”

Find Your Match was inspired by her realizing she had some old quilts laying around her home. She also used it as a way to satisfy her love of Indian Kantha quilts, which she orders from the country in bulk. Chang explains that Kantha quilts are made from old saris sewn together with layers of stitching. The indigo ones, she says, are over-dyed with patterns, making them especially distinct.

“It’s a way for them to recycle their fabrics,” says Chang. “They’ve already done a lot of the thinking about upcycling their old materials.”

Some of the Kantha quilts currently on the Otto Finn website are even named after notable Indian people, including musicians Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar.

Chang believes Find Your Match, from the style of the jackets to using Kantha quilts, draws on her background photographing Japanese woodblock prints and Indian paintings for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

“Those two collections were highlights for me, and I always wondered, looking at all of the colors and depictions of life in India and Japan, how that would affect me,” says Chang. “When you’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of images like that, I wondered back then how it would seep into my being. I feel like this is the way it’s coming out.”

The project comes at a time when the pandemic has forced people to think about the clothing they actually need, motivated mainly by remote working and the lack of social gatherings. Chang says she wonders how the overall approach to fashion will change after the pandemic, and if people will adopt what she calls “capsule wardrobes”— a small collection of well-made, stylish pieces you can wear over and over again —  in favor of fast fashion, which sells mass-produced, often unethically made items at low prices.

“I wear my jackets with a pair of jeans and a black top most days,” says Chang.

Counter to fast fashion, a term defined by retail chains like Forever 21 and Old Navy, the Find Your Match jackets come at a much higher price, around $358.

Through her clothing and accessories, Chang strives to make people more aware of the damaging nature of the fast fashion industry, and how it leads to textile waste and pollution. She says she uses the scrap from the Find Your Match jackets to make accessories or she donates them, or uses them for other projects, such as stuffing handmade Easter bunnies for her two children.

click to enlarge Step into spring with a sustainable quilt jacket from Pittsburgh's own Otto Finn (2)
Photo: Rona Chang
Find Your Match quilt for Otto Finn
“I don’t want to proclaim to be zero waste but I’m always aiming to go in that direction and tread really lightly on the planet,” says Chang, adding that she’s more concerned about people buying “signature pieces” than accumulating more stuff, even in regards to the pieces she makes.

Those interested in buying a Find Your Match jacket can sign up for Otto Finn’s newsletter, through which Chang will release a new batch of material once a month. Once purchased and sized, she sends it to Why Sew Workshop, an independent industrial sewing and design shop located in Friendship.

From there, she says jackets can take anywhere from four to six weeks to complete.

Chang says that, once she completes a website re-do through the site Shopify, she plans to take more requests from customers wanting to transform blankets and quilts they already own into jackets. She also says she will be working on a special upcoming spring project with a Pittsburgh artist.

“Things are always happening,” she says.

Chang hopes people take a cue from sustainable fashion brands like hers and others by seeking ways to develop interests and skills that would enable them to make their own items, especially during the pandemic when many have more time to explore new hobbies.

“There are people picking up sewing and quilting and making more things, and I hope that trend continues,” says Chang.

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