The Rainbow Rack in Wendell brings Western twang to upcycled clothing

  • Kelly Surprenant of Wendell can design her own embroidery. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Kelly Surprenant of Wendell with her clothing designs at The Rainbow Rack. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Kelly Surprenant of Wendell at her programmable embroidery machine. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Kelly Surprenant of Wendell works on a jacket. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 4:24:15 PM

WENDELL — Inspired by a love of embroidery and a family background in square dancing, The Rainbow Rack is offering sustainable clothing with a Western twang.

Created by Wendell resident Kelly Surprenant and launched last September, The Rainbow Rack takes vintage clothing and upcycles (creative reuse of an item) it for the present with elaborate embroideries and hand-woven designs. The idea for the business came from her desire to employ her creative nature, while also reducing waste by pushing back against the fast fashion industry.

“I wanted to come up with a business where I could use my skills and I’ve always loved fashion, but the idea of participating in the traditional fashion industry doesn’t really appeal to me,” Surprenant said. “There’s so much waste and exploitation, and the idea of having things produced overseas, exploited labor and all that kind of stuff is not what I believe in at all.”

A Franklin County native, Surprenant said she learned embroidery from her grandmother. Her grandparents’ passion for square dancing inspired her to create clothing with an “influence of Western style.”

Her process is simple: Surprenant heads to a thrift shop on the lookout for vintage shirts, purchases them and then returns home with her haul. Once home, she creates her designs on her computer and inputs it into the embroidery machine, bringing a new splash of life to old clothing. While most of her clothing is embroidered, Surprenant added that she hand weaves her denim jacket designs.

“There’s a lot of well-made things in the thrift store and knowing that if they don’t sell in a certain amount of time, they go in a landfill or go to another country,” she said. “It’s keeping these things in circulation, in fashion, and without adding more things that exist for only a little while just to get thrown away.”

Surprenant said upcycling clothing is about more than just reducing waste; it’s also a chance for someone to have a piece of clothing that is uniquely theirs, while not feeding into an exploitative system.

“You know you’re the only person who has this shirt with that design on it,” Surprenant explained. “I really think it appeals to people in a way that a lot of people are getting sick of supporting this pretty soulless behemoth of the fashion industry.”

As she continues to grow her business, Surprenant received a boost in July when The Rainbow Rack was named one of three winners of Greenfield Community College’s Take the Floor pitch competition, which earned her a share of $10,000. She said she’s sat on most of her winnings for now, but did upgrade her design software so she can work more efficiently.

The Rainbow Rack is run from Surprenant’s house and clothing can be purchased at TheRainbowRack.com. She also hosts pop-up booths at events around the region. Upcoming events include Brattleboro’s Gallery Walk event tonight and the Milltown Hot Rod festival in Sturbridge on Sunday. She will also be at Wendell’s Old Home Day celebration on Aug. 13.

Additionally, Surprenant is continuing to work with GCC and Max Fripp, the school’s director of innovation and entrepreneurship, to open a storefront in late September through a grant program that will host several different pop-up shops on Main Street.

“I’m so excited, things are totally going crazy right now,” Surprenant said. “I’m hitting the thrift stores and I’m making as much as I can, that’s the plan.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or
413-930-4081.


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