The Art of Upcycling: Unveiling The Beauty of Transforming Clothing with By Ten

Wednesday, May 17, 2023




In the world of fashion, there exists a captivating process known as upcycling—an art form that breathes new life into discarded garments. The allure of upcycling lies not only in the creative brainstorming required to repurpose one item into another, but also in the design process that follows. As the old adage states, "One man's trash is another man's treasure," and this sentiment resonates strongly within the realms of thrift stores and city sidewalks, where overlooked items often find new purpose. Recently, Cappuccino had the privilege of sitting down with Tenetia, a sustainable fashion designer based in Chicago, whom we reached out to to discuss her creative process and ability to upcycle clothes and transform them into unique, handmade-to-order designs.


Hello Tenetia, it's great to meet you! Could you please introduce yourself and what you do?

Hi, my name is Tenetia. I am the owner of By Ten, a sustainable clothing brand offering upcycled, vintage and made-to-order designs. I am also a seamstress and mother. 

Tell us about your experience with launching your own fashion brand, some of the challenges you've faced and how you've overcome them.

 I have been sewing for 10+ years, so I have been in and out of the fashion industry throughout that time. I have dabbled in a little bit of everything; children's clothing, alterations, creating samples for small brands, and even working in sewing factories. Looking back, it's been a lot of challenges leading me to where I am now, especially with launching By Ten. More specifically, as an entrepreneur, I would say my biggest challenge is really my mindset. When you're working for yourself a lot of the time, you're working alone day to day. 


Doubt and negative thoughts can make you want to give up. Learning to always keep the thoughts in my head positive and not become sidetracked with what everyone else is doing. Launch day was a great example, I was so in my head, and on top of that, the pictures did not come back how I wanted them to, so I had to pivot on launch day! I let out how I was feeling in the moment, then moved to what I can do to fix it, or at least what I had and no one noticed. Long story short, don't let them see you sweating!

How would you describe your personal style? 

I'm 100% comfy chic. I need to be comfortable at all times, and love to add something to elevate the look. A personal fave of mine is adding a satin/silk piece to something comfy, so joggers or cargo pants and then, of course, accessories from there. I have always had a minimalistic style and I really do think it was all due to me wanting to stay comfy at all times, hahah!

What's your favourite piece that you've ever designed?

I do believe that I have yet to create it, but if I had to choose, I would say my birthday dress last year. It was a chocolate maxi dress with a slit, a corset back and draped lower back made with the softest silk fabric. I can't wait to wear it again!

How do you approach the design process, from conceptualization to final product, including research, sketching, pattern making and fabrication?

When it comes to upcycling, it starts with the texture or the print of the fabric. For example, I have an old TikTok of me thrifting and then saying what I wanted to make from each piece. Sometimes it's just looking at the fabric and I will know what needs to be made from each piece. Other times, I will sit and sketch out ideas until I'm smiling at my sketch pad. I most of all want anything I make to flatter my body. I love oversized clothing, but it must still complement my body. In pattern-making, I cheat a little. I did not have the opportunity to finish fashion school, so a lot of my pattern-making skills are self taught and not perfect. I will clone clothing, or even purchase patterns and alter them into the design I'm looking for. I feel if you know the basic science of patterns and how clothing is made, you can alter any pattern. I take all these things into account from there and create. 

Do you incorporate sustainability and ethical practices into your design process, such as the use of eco-friendly materials, upcycling, or reducing waste?

Yes! By Ten's goal is to become more - and stay - ethical and sustainable as possible. This brand is still small, so it's mainly just me (and friends and family when they can), running the business. Shipping, sewing, sourcing; it's all me. When it comes to sustainability, we try to make sure everything is either reused and/or recycled. All of our packaging is eco-friendly, and is able to be recycled in your curbside recycling bins. That includes our hangtags and the paper our clothing comes wrapped in. 


River Street T Skirt


As for the clothing, By Ten is made up of three parts; upcycled, vintage, and made-to-order. Our upcycled section is clothing and fabrics handpicked from our local thrift stores and repurposed into something new, making the clothing that may have ended up in landfill now someone's favourite dress. Our vintage section is vintage items found while thrifting, which is then cleaned and fixed for our customers. 


Lastly, our made-to-order section is designs made by me, Tenetia Tarver, that will only be made per customer order. I don't want to add to the overproduction of clothing ending up unused, I only want to create what will be used and loved.

Who is your favourite designer and why?

When I was younger my favourite was Coco Chanel. I still love her story, and how innovative she was. Currently, my favourite is Virgil Abloh, rest in peace, I always fell in love with the person behind the product. Virgil had a lot to offer, not just to his peers but to generations after him and whoever else comes across his speeches in the future. A lot of designers stay low key and just put out the clothing; personally I want to hear the mind of the makers.

Chocolate Rib Knit Bolero

How do you stay inspired and motivated in your design work, and how do you approach overcoming creative blocks or challenges?

Lately, I've had a lot of creative blocks, To activate my creativity, I pray, scroll Pinterest, journal and eat better (fruits and vegetables). Some things that inspired me unexpectedly are conversations with friends, nature, and dreams. I always try to stay open to new ideas. My only issue is that I do not act on these fast enough, and sometimes they leave me. We're working on that. 


Do you keep up with trends, or enjoy following them? Which trends have caught your eye?

My favourite thing to do when I have nothing to do is watch trend predictions on YouTube. I love seeing what other people think will be in style and to see if I have the same ideas. One person I watch every year is Amy Serrano, she's usually on point. Honestly, all the early 2000s trends, like the maxi denim and the shrugs. It's so funny, because I said to a friend if my mom put me in a denim maxi when I was a kid, I would have been heated but now, it's like, 'yes, hand it over!'. I guess some things are just better with age.

What's a fashion trend, or aesthetic, that you'd like to see return?

I think I would say overalls. I used to work at American Apparel, and they had these all black overalls that I loved. I would have worn them every day if I didn't care what people thought of me back then. I think I gave them away now - so sad! I need those back ASAP; I love a good, easy outfut and that's what overalls give.

If you enjoy interview like the one we had with By Ten, follow us on Instagram. If you'd like to be featured, email us at and pitch your brand and what you do! We love connecting with like-minded talent about all things fashion-related. Curious about starting your sustainable fashion journey? Make sure to grab our exclusive freebie here!