Inspired by the past, Kerry Fitts, the creator of Bayou Salvage, makes clothing, accessories and art out of cast-out items, breathing new life into something with perhaps a mysterious history.

Much of her creativity is inspired by old movies and books, and much of her style can be described as “country-fried” or “Southern Gothic.” Working from a home studio, Fitts says: “I love to imagine a character wearing one of my items. Then I create from that vantage point.”

Her favorite materials to work include old lace and linen. “I like to take one or two spectacular items out, pin them to the mannequin and then build around that.”

Although her grandmother taught her to sew when she was in junior high, she experienced a setback when
a high school teacher failed her in home ec.

Fitts went on to study creative expression in writing in college; she also earned a master’s of fine arts degree in film production.

Ten years later, she got back into sewing. “Making clothes is not that different from making films or writing a
short story, and it’s much easier to sell,” she muses.

“I think of myself as telling stories now with clothes.”

 Like a classic book or a nostalgic movie, Fitts wants her pieces to last through the ages. She hopes that her customers have a “sense that the item will live well beyond their own lives and can be passed around. They have an heirloom.” With attention to detail and quality, her work is a labor of love.

The number of hours she spends creating something inevitably varies: “It depends on if the item comes from one of my drafted patterns or is something freewheeling, like a doily dress. When I am customizing a ready-made pattern, the bulk of the work goes into cutting it out, which can take two or three hours. The sewing can then become a production line,” she explains. “One-of-a-kind items take more time, as you might put it together and then see how it could be improved – take something away, then add something different back.”

Fitts conducts much of her business online (her Etsy store is etsy.com/shop/bayousalvage) and has carried her items in about 25 stores around the country. “My work appeals to those who understand the deep South, no matter who or where they are,” she says, adding that she recently filled an order for a boutique in Amsterdam. “I have three other international locations, which is really exciting,” she says.

But no matter how far-flung her clients are across the globe, New Orleans is the center of her world.

“I love the sense of community and support within our cultural economy of musicians, foodies and other creatives,” she says. “Many of my first sales were within the creative community, and it really encouraged me. Everyone I have ever worked with at an art market in the city has been a mentor in some way.”

She says she is driven by “thinking of something and making it come real” – it’s her favorite aspect of this career. And then, of course, “finding an audience who gets it.”

Southern Salvation