CRAVE by CRV: Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle

CRAVE BY CRV (CARLI RAE VERGAMINI)

Smack dab in the middle of downtown Duluth on a recent Saturday night, a tragic scene unfolds. An otherwise reasonable and intelligent man has made a highly regrettable fashion decision: to step out into the world adorned in headto-toe purple leather. It’s all leather, people. Leather pants; leather vest; leather beanie. Ultimate Vikings fan? Still a poor choice. This is a hot mess of epic proportions. This is where Carli Vergamini, owner of Crave by CRV, enters the scene.

Carli, a “leather visionary,” finds new hope for such unfortunate creations by turning them into gorgeous leather accessories: purses, wallets, key chains and tassels. She refers to this process as “upcycling.” Carli’s handmade products and designs now adorn the internet, everywhere from Pinterest and Etsy to her very own website. She makes a decent living selling her wares, and she’s also keeping tons of material from entering the landfill. Perhaps your own closet’s level of leather tragedy rivals our purple people eater on Superior Street, but no matter. Carli can make it cute and hip again. Because even the ugliest chartreuse pimp coat with stories for days can be transformed into a super-cute handbag.

 

IT ALL STARTED IN HOME EC

Carli says she has always been creative, sharing, “I’ve always been an artsy kid. In high school, my best friend Angela and I took a home ec class, and that’s where I learned to sew. We eventually wanted to learn about fashion, and started making our own clothes and accessories.” Some of Carli’s favorite designers are Alexander McQueen and Iris Van Herpen, who “Do a lot of really crazy, cool stuff.” But high school was just the beginning. “Angela and I had a crazy dream of starting our own clothing company,” Carli says. “For our senior project, we did a fashion line and had a fashion show. My mom saved everything we made, and I look at them now and they’re horrible! But that’s how we got our start.”

THERE’S A DEGREE FOR THAT!

Carli attended UW Stout, where she majored in apparel design and development. After graduation, she continued making her creations. She landed a job at a women’s boutique, hey, daisy!, in Green Bay, after she moved there to be near her sister, Lindi. Carli was able to sell her handmade purses, wallets and totes right out of the boutique, and was thoroughly loving her life and career.

Eventually, however, she wanted to move closer to her hometown of Superior to be near her family and her boyfriend, Ross Dudzik. She and Ross now rent an apartment in Hermantown, and hope to purchase a home soon.

Carli has so many crafting materials that she and Ross have acquired a second bedroom, which functions solely as her workshop. She would love to have a separate, detached workshop studio someday. Thankfully, Ross, who works at Minnesota Power, is totally onboard.

“We both have different interests, but enjoy working with our hands and seeing an idea come together to form something functional,” Ross says. “I love seeing her develop that passion into a business.”

CARLI’S OFFICE

Carli’s craft room is filled with buttons, pins, material, hardware, and the multiple implements she uses on a daily basis: scissors, tape, thread and several sewing machines. But the most interesting part of the tour is her closet.

Filled with leather jackets, every color of the rainbow is represented in Carli’s closet. Yellow, blue, and orange. Green, purple, and red. She finds them everywhere.

Carli scours eBay, as well as local thrift shops, for leather goods to repurpose. She’s also recruited her mom, Dawn, a keen shopper, to keep her eyes peeled for treasures.

Sometimes, Carli even receives donations. “If someone gives me a jacket, I make them a tassel out of the jacket as a thank you,” she says. One leather jacket can make between 30 and 40 tassels.

FROM TRASH TO TREASURE

Carli deconstructs these leather goods, repurposing them into something fun and modern, and utilizing every possible scrap. Items that would end up sitting in the landfill have been reimagined into something beautiful.

“It’s fun to see what can be made out of leather,” Carli says. “I’ve seen some really ugly things. I feel like I’m helping to take eyesores out of the world. Like, this lime green pantsuit I saw recently. How did it ever get made into a garment in the first place?”

The tassels she makes have truly become a fan favorite. “The tassels kind of happened as an accident,” Carli says. “I added one tassel to a handbag, and it was a hit. Now they’re what I sell the most of.”

VALUES-DRIVEN BUSINESS

When it comes to the hardware used in her accessories, Carli buys American-made whenever possible. She also patronizes the artisans who sell their wares on the crafting site Etsy.

Carli is keenly aware of how much goes to waste in our modern era. “I pay close attention to how much stuff I use and how much I throw away,” she says. “I hope to inspire others to make a small change in their lives.” At just 29 years old, Carli’s values dictate just about every aspect of her work.

A ONE-WOMAN OPERATION

Carli works four or five days a week at blue arrow boutique in Superior, where she is also allowed to sell her items. But most of her business is handled through her website, cravebycrv.com. Prices for handmade Crave by CRV items vary, ranging from $8 for a tiny tassel up to a $300 handbag.

She also participates in a number of local pop-up locations including Duluth Made, the Junk Hunt, and Saffron & Grey’s annual block party. She also sells her products in boutique stores across the country as well.

Carli does her own web design and management, and handles all social media outreach and branding. Right now, Crave by CRV is a one-woman show, but who knows what the future holds. “The goal is for me to one day be able to do this full-time,” Carli says, “But I’m in no rush.”

WORK = FUN

When she isn’t working, Carli can usually be found puttering around in her workshop, or focused on her side project, a blog called Biz Crush, where she interviews business owners, asking them how they got started.

“I feel like my work is my fun,” she says. “Whenever I have a spare moment, I wander into my crafting room and find something to work on. I’m kind of obsessed.”

And, like most artists, Carli’s creativity isn’t limited to her professional endeavors. “If I’m cooking or baking and don’t have an ingredient I need, I’ll figure out a way to ‘MacGyver’ it so the recipe still works,” she says with a laugh. “I’m pretty creative across the board.”

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