Your favorite umbrella kept you dry until it went inside out. But wait! There’s still life in it! Just send it to Philadelphia artist Taryn Zychal and it will come back to you in the form of a dog raincoat.
“Most dogs don’t really like being wet!” says Zychal, 26. “You put a raincoat on them and they really appreciate it.”
While studying product design at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Zychal found herself collecting umbrellas that piled up in Philadelphia trash cans during rain storms. She wasn’t sure why she was drawn to them. “I guess I was interested in the utility of the nylon–it’s a material that has a lot of potential, but it gets tossed,” she says.
Then in 2008 ReadyMade’s MacGyver challenge asked readers to upcycle an old umbrella. Zychal looked at her pile of discarded umbrellas and she had a vision: She would make them into dog coats. She didn’t know how to sew. The one she submitted to the contest was entirely held together by glue. When she came in second place, the orders started piling up.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I need to learn how to sew,’” she says.
Now, Zychal sells her coats (like the one at left) on Etsy and at Just Dogs Gourmet in Philadelphia. Many of the umbrellas she uses are mailed to her by people whose fandom crosses over into her business and the environment—she offers a tutorial on stripping an umbrella from its frame so that it can be mailed for less than $2. She gets about 20 mailed to her from strangers each month. Others come from umbrella-recycling bins that Temple University’s Environmental Student Association has set up for her around their campus.
People in Philadelphia can also contribute to the cause by tweeting locations of tossed umbrellas along with the hashtag #umbrelladelphia. “One of my friends or I will go rescue it!” she says. Among her favorite recent finds are a neon-and-black Jonas Brothers umbrella and a mint condition blue-and-white Coach one.
The coats, which she sells for about $35, are each made to order—clients send in their dogs’ measurements. She gives a 15 percent discount if you provide your own umbrella fabric. Recently she started branching out into rain bonnets and cat toys, also made with recycled umbrellas. Depending on your dog’s size and the umbrella’s size, one umbrella generally nets her enough fabric to make a matching bonnet and dog coat.
Her most loyal clients? Her three pugs, Hurley, Betty, and Jake. “They’re my inspiration,” she says. “They love putting them on because it means they’re going to go out.
Inspired by Zychal’s upcycled coats–each of which is lined with recycled fabric or eco-spun felt—I decided to try my hand at fashioning a simplified version using a tossed umbrella I found on the street.
Start by folding the umbrella into quarters and ironing it on a low heat.
(A version of this piece originally appeared at ReadyMade.com)