Not everybody thinks about where their clothes come from — how the fabric was created, how much water was wasted or how the person who sewed it was treated and paid. That's why Leah Rich is on a mission to help people rethink their shopping by creating an alternative with her company Round Trip Goods
Rich redesigns clothing with an artistic edge, using upcycled thrift store pieces and plant dyes. Colorful shirts, scarves and sweatshirts fill her racks; each includes splatters and color washes in muted tones that make every item one of a kind.
Her idea for the company was sparked when she wanted to dye miniature flags she made for a friend’s party. “I looked up natural dyes, and something clicked,” she says.
Rich was already interested in sewing and textiles, and her new venture combines that with her passion for sustainability. She took the plunge after years of feeling unfulfilled with pursuing a career in product design.
“Every job I had didn’t feel like the right environment for me," she says. "I was so stressed; I had to take a break and figure something else out.”
Round Trip Goods
Rich studies plant dyes and sources her fabric from thrift stores rather than buying new fabric. “Creating new fabrics uses so much water and chemicals,” she explains.
She scouts for fabric from natural fibers, which works better with plant dyes. “I go thrifting a couple of times a week. I look for 100 percent cotton or linen,” she says. “I check for wear. If it’s too worn or stained, I don’t get those items. ... I look for gently used items that have a good weave and are well made.”
The clothes go through what she calls a “scouring process” before they are dyed. “Most of our clothes have been treated with a petroleum softener — almost like a coating on the fabric — so they feel soft when we buy them,” she says. “I strip that out so the dye takes better, then I soften them again with natural softeners. If it stills feels too rough, I’ll use the material for something else, such as a textile wall hanging.”
The dying process is where her artistic side comes in. She experiments with various plants to observe the colors they yield and keeps a record of the methods behind certain colors and designs. “If I come up with a look that I’ve never produced before, I want to be able to reproduce it," she says. "So I try my best to record every dye session."
Round Trip Goods
Rich sources her plants from a variety of places. She has her own dye garden around her house, and even forages wildflowers on the side of the road. “I learn where it’s okay to do that," she says. "I don’t take from any wilderness areas; I want to be respectful of the space and the ecosystem.” She also asks her neighbors to save blooms from their gardens and raves over Botanical Colors
, an online shop that acquires its products from sustainable farms.
Rich has also created DIY kits for those who want to try their hand at plant dyes. “I want to encourage people to make their own clothes," she says. "So I put together these kits with a scoured bandanna, a test piece of fabric and instructions. I list some common items you can use for dye, such as onion skins, avocado pits, turmeric or paprika.”
She recently added plant-based inks, which she uses to paint designs on shirts such as fish-like scales or
eyeballs inspired by aspen trees. She’s also using the ink for screen printing.
Rich used the pandemic shutdown to learn about dyes and processing to start her clothing line and founded Round Trips Goods LLC in 2020
. She says she’s thankful to her partner, Jasper Segal, for being supportive while she spent time figuring out her business. This year she began selling at markets, where she could chat with people about the benefits of slow fashion, up-cycling thrifted clothing and plant-based dyes.
“People are so used to buying a shirt for $15 at a fast-fashion store," she says. "I want to help them understand that if something is that cheap, someone else is paying for it down the line. I really want them to see the value of something handmade.”
Round Trip Goods
As she prepares to sell from her booth at the Globeville Horseshoe Market
, at 4751 Broadway on November 27 and 28, Rich describes Round Trip Goods as casual wear with an artsy edge. “I like letting the colors be the main focus — they’re unique and expressive," she says. "I love that idea of the all-American T-shirt. I have a soft spot for old rock-and-roll T-shirts and how you can pair them with almost anything. ... They can be casual, but also layered and dressed up more.”
Rich isn’t totally comfortable with the label of fashion designer. “I think that can be a really intimidating term, and it’s really exclusive," she says. "I think ‘fashion designer’ needs to evolve as we get away from fast fashion.” She considers herself an artist who advocates for slow fashion.
“Designers are trained problem-solvers. I think the responsibility of designers today isn’t to make sleek new things, but to solve the problem of waste. We have so much material already produced that should be reused and repurposed,” she says.
Rich hopes people see Round Trip Goods as a way to break the cycle of buying and disposing of trendy garments and dress more sustainably. “I love connecting plants and people in a way they might not be familiar with. Not a lot of people think about what’s behind their clothes. I’m excited to be able to connect the dots.”
Round Trip Goods will be at Horseshoe Market Globeville, 4751 Broadway, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday, November 27, and Sunday, November 28. horseshoemarket.com.