Platinum Dirt Extra
Learn more about Oakland designer Dustin Page and his product line made from up-cycled car leather.
It's often the case writing for a magazine that you come across a topic that's a little larger or more interesting than you necessarily have the room to accomodate. After all, there's only so much space for text and photos given the natural space constraints of the magazine. And if anyone would understand that it would be Platinum Dirt founder and designer Dustin Page (pictured left), himself a former graphic designer for the East Bay Express.
Luckily, we have the web. In the print story, we touched upon Page's Oakland-based company, which makes leather jackets out of recycled car upholstery salvaged from junkyards. But Platinum Dirt also makes some cool accesories in addition to the jackets, and Page, an Oakland-native, has a failry unorthodox design background and had some interesting things to say about the local "slow fashion" movement. Read on if you're interested, and go to platinumdirt.com for more info.
On the origins of the jackets:
Dustin Page: So I was driving to the coffee shop and I used to drive an old ’91 Volvo. It had beat up leather seats, like it was completely distressed. So I was just looking at them and thinking man these seats are all messed up and I made the connection between how everything distressed now is in as far as fashion, and I was like: what if I made a jacket out of old car seats. And I thought, I should go out to the junk yard and rip out some seats, and as I was driving I thought, hey, I’ll take the VIN plates and put it in the jacket, and put on the hood ornament. In about a ten-minute drive the concept for the jacket was born.
And then the following weekend I went out to the junkyard, the Pic-N-Pull in Richmond, and ripped out the seats for this first jacket (which he still has). I was out there for five hours doing one car and I absolutely split all the seams in the junkyard and rolled it up and paid for it, and I think I paid $7 for everything. Then I brought it home, got a jacket design going, went to a pattern maker. Then me and my mom sat down and she actually helped me sew together the first panels on her home machine which barely could do it: it was like “ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk,” it was so slow.
On car salvaging logistics:
What I’ve found when I go into the junkyard is its Cadillac, Lincoln, Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo is the best stuff out there. Cadillac has the most because for whatever reason with Cadillac being a luxury brand, most of their cars came with leather. So there’s just predominantly more leather out there. Lincoln has a lot of really cool stuff, but just not as much leather in their cars on average. Same with Mercedes leather—it’s pretty rare, most of it was vinyl. And Volvo actually has a lot of leather and a lot of really cool colors too.
Plus, it’s pretty unlimited. It’s there. And a lot of the cars we’re pulling from in the junkyard are still on the road. I see them now and I’m like ‘I give that car two years before it’s in the lot.’ So they’re still on the road. And the junkyards: I mean how many junkyards are in this country? How many are in the Bay Area? It’s huge.
On Platinum Dirt's other products:
There’s the VIN jackets, the shark bags, the visor clutch, the pocket cuffs, and the wallets. The orca bag, it’s our newest bag, which is still being refined. And the leg warmers are the next big thing for the ladies. It’s essentially like a cuff, but they come in a pair and they accent your high heels, make it look like a boot. I’m hoping to have messenger bag and iPad cases as well.
On the car connection:
I was really surprised when I first started wearing the jackets out how people were just falling out: it was jaw dropping; they were the conversation of the party for the next hour. Because I think it’s the stories that people have of cars. They’re like ‘oh, that’s a ’75 Lincoln, my grandpa had a ’78’ The stories just come out of people: their first car, their grandma’s car, their dad’s car, their experience with a vehicle. One woman bought one of my clutches because it was the same color as her grandma’s Cadillac as a child. So, it’s pretty cool.
There’s this one guy, I designed a vest for his dad who’s restoring a ’64 Corvette, and we’re calling it the “Corvest.” His dad is restoring this car and he pulled out all the seats. It’s going to be a surprise. And we want to do more of that. I mean, how many people are out there restoring these classics, and they get the seats redone, 90 percent of it goes in the trash because they don’t know what to do with it. We’d love for people to send us their materials and we could make a family memento.
On recycled or "upcycled" fashion:
I mean, all this product would be in the land fill right now. Because all these cars are smashed and on their way to China and what’s left when they shred the car, all the ASR residue which is “auto shredder residue,” all the plastics and the foams and everything that isn’t metal, basically goes out to a toxic waste dump out in Sacramento. So we’re trying to be sustainable and lower our waste. Like this whole sustainability thing, I feel like a lot of it is about waste management. Being able to look at that old skateboard: it’s lived its life and what else now? Like how do you take an old car seat and make this jacket? I’ve bridged that gap but how many things out there, resources we just throw away, can we do that with?
Another cool thing is the whole distressed quality. In fashion right now everyone wants their jeans to look like they’ve been around the world, but it’s actually a new product. This already has 100,000 miles on it and we’re making a new product out of something old. So the distress: I didn’t have to do this [points to creases and wrinkles in a jacket], it was there. So I like that angle, this is real, it’s really old, it’s really distressed. I didn’t have to put that fake look on it and make it look like its something it’s not. Everything about it is authentic.
On "green" fashion and his approach to design:
The whole green movement when it started happening four years ago. All the fashion that was associated with it was kind of Frodo-esque. It was very whimsical, and a lot of people just weren’t grabbing onto it because of the fashion. And my approach was not to be green and sustainable, it was to make something that looked good, was comfortable, and was fun. And it still has a great story and it supports the movement.
I don’t have a traditional design background. My approach to design is probably backwards from most people. I think I approach my design around the materials I’m using. So whether it’s some fine silk or a pile of leather for a jacket, I usually let that one piece dictate the jacket I’m designing. Or when I’m designing a new bag, I don’t design from a traditional, standard perspective—like oh a bag has four corners and seams—I’m not rigid in that sense. I’m more like hey, here’s a piece of material that I want to make into a bag: what that bag is going to be, and what my design is, I usually just figure out by folding the piece of material and letting it organically come together. That’s how the orca bag happened. When I started it was going to be like a square messenger bag, but then I was like why square those corners? Let’s do the whole triangular thing. I’m also really into pockets and liners. I love contrasting materials. Like with the jackets, it is what it is on the outside, but then you open it up and you’ve got that liner that kind of pours out at you.
On how he got into design:
I was actually went to school for engineering, I was really into technical drawing. So I did that for five years, I worked for a mechanical company and was detailing HVAC systems in buildings and drawing in 3D. But towards the end of my school, I was doing some soul searching and I wanted to go into art. I told my parents, and my mom was like ‘you’ll never make any money,’ as parents do. But instead of continuing, I didn’t finish and I got a job and started working for the mechanical company, and started teaching myself Photoshop on the side. I really liked it, and I ended up getting pretty proficient at it, started working for an advertising agency, and that’s how I got into the creative world. And form there I started doing graphic design, came to the East Bay Express, which is where I learned all my pre-press production skills and refined my graphic design sense.
I was also doing a lot of photography and layout for bands, doing some CD covers and posters and whatnot. And I’ve always kind of wanted a clothing line. In ’95, I actually wanted to start something but I didn’t have the resources to actually bring things along so I put it on the back burner to focus on photography and graphic design.
Then I started designing the t-shirts, just doing them for $20 for friends here and there. But people liked them and one day someone said, ‘I would pay for that,’ and I was like, ‘really?’ And that’s when I went and bought a four-color press and started silk-screening t-shirts with the idea of starting a clothing line. Because it seems like that’s how a lot of people got into this business, they design t-shirts, they sell t-shirts, and then they spin it. And through the course of doing my t-shirts the first couple of years I came up with the idea to do this and I’ve just kind of been running with it.
On the slow fashion movement:
Working [at the 25th Strreet Collective, a new small business incubator and work space in Uptown Oakland] has been really great, being able to have this big workspace back here: we make everything on-site. This is sort of the forefront of the slow fashion movement, where we’re not going to carry a super large overhead of inventory. It’s more made to order, so sure I’ll have inventory but that’s just our showroom inventory. We want to get our products out there in a more sustainable way. It’s not mass production, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be produced enough to supply the demand.
And it’s made here, it’s made in the U.S. And we’re essentially trying to bring the manufacturing back to the United States. We’re trying to take it back from China, or Pakistan, or wherever. I think people are realizing that we need to buy American, we need to start producing in American again, because we’ve lost all that. And big corporations have kind of sucked all the mom and pop shops out of the country and are producing things overseas and selling it at Target.
You know we’re not trying to be someone we’re not, we’re not trying to act like we’re this big company: we are who we are and we’re going to continue to be that and grow naturally. And we have a better story. Do you want a $2,000 Louis Vitton bag that was made in China by someone working 80 hours a week on a sewing machine? Our employees will have a fair wage, we’re bringing jobs back here; we’re investing in this country. So I think that’s exciting and I think people are really open to getting behind it.
We just like to have fun with it. I think if people see that you’re having fun with what you’re doing, they have fun watching you do what you do. And eveyone’s been so supportive. And that keeps me going.