The hottest fashion designers are turning to the past to create the style of the future. Two Phoenix-based designers, YEK and Samantha Vo, will have their work featured in a new Facebook travel series. Inspired by tradition and fueled by upcycling, their creations bring the past and present together to create the looks of tomorrow.

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YEK drew from his Indigenous heritage to create his moccasin sneakers. Vo was inspired by her Mexican heritage and vintage military styles to transform military surplus bags into new, fashionable works. Inhabitat interviewed these two designers to explore how they’re using sustainable materials and practices for fashion.

All of your bags are sold out! When’s the best time for shoppers to look for your bags, and is it possible to pre-order bags?

Vo: At the moment, I’m still getting into the flow of producing bags as it is a timely process for me since I make them myself and from my home studio. The best way to find out about my drops is through my Instagram @dwn2mrz. For now, commissions are closed, so I can focus on the next set of designs.

What are your bags made from?

Vo: My bags are made from military surplus and thrifted materials. I source everywhere from thrift stores, garage sales and Facebook Marketplace.

What gave you the idea to create these designs?

Vo: I had so many military surplus liner jackets I had collected and stopped wearing. I loved the material and wanted to reimagine another use for it. I’ve made everything from bags, laptop cases and planters. The bags stuck the most for me, so I started making “mini totes” for my friends out of heavy-duty military surplus fabrics.

When did you get interested in fashion design? What was the first thing you ever designed?

Vo: I’ve always been interested in fashion design, but I thought of it as a very formal craft. It’s been nice exploring my own process within it. The first thing I ever designed was Selena’s Astrodome outfit with my mom.

A black and white image of a person wrapped in a quilt.

What are your sneakers made of?

YEK: Until we have the opportunity and resources to create our own silhouettes, we generally find slightly used sneakers, then use recycled lambskin leather to make the woven tassels. The nickel conchos and buckles we use are sourced from a local leather supply store.

What gave you the idea for this unique design?

YEK: Besides the pride for my Indigenous roots, Japanese-Americana has been highly influential for me in the past few years. Frankly, it’s provided a sense of confidence in my Native designs, knowing that they can be appreciated by a vast audience and are becoming more socially accepted.

What inspired you to get into fashion design?

YEK: Growing up, art was a constant motivator in my life. Studying my dad’s sketching style and my brother’s graffiti techniques helped set an artistic foundation for me. In my teens, I discovered a love for sneakers. Specifically, I collected Nike SBs, which fed my artistic mind even more. Their shoe designs and color palettes in the early 2000s were abstract and even had themes for each pair.

Sneakers then led to an appreciation for clothes, and eventually, I worked a handful of retail jobs/internships. Although it seems like much has played its role, my family tree takes things deeper. My Mexican grandmother would make dresses for my mom as a child, while my Lakota grandmother would make star quilts for all her grandchildren. Hard to say there’s a particular thing that inspired me to get into fashion, this kind of just seems like the right path for me. I’m excited for what the future holds.

Where can people buy your shoes?

Y: Our website ( solely showcases the work. For now, the best way to place an order is by messaging me directly via Instagram @yek0ne.

These two designers are certainly following the idea of “reuse, repurpose and recycle,” or in this case, upcycle. By upcycling, fashion designers can conserve resources and prevent pollution. This way, waste that would otherwise end up in landfills or the oceans is never created at all. Aesthetically, upcycling also allows yesterday’s waste to pave the way toward a more sustainable, energy-efficient future.

Young designers like Vo and YEK use upcycling to create brand-new, sustainable fashions that can inform the designs of tomorrow. Inspired by their cultural roots and with an eye on the future of style, Vo and YEK are part of a new generation of designers changing the fashion landscape for the better.

Both Vo and YEK are featured in the first episode of the Facebook series “On the Map.” The series showcases innovators around the United States. Check out episode one of “On the Map” here.

+ Samantha Vo


Images via Pexels, Samantha Vo and YEK