Date October 25, 2022
Media Contact

Brown-RISD student launches upcycled fashion collaboration with University Bookstore

Missing Button, created by dual-degree student Glory Lee, transforms overstocked and damaged Brown University apparel into one-of-a-kind handmade garments.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new collection of collegiate apparel lines the shelves in the Brown University Bookstore, and while the garments may seem familiar, no two are exactly the same. That’s because designer Glory (SeungHee) Lee crafted each piece, using unsold or otherwise unwanted Brown-branded apparel as her foundation.

Lee, a Class of 2024 Brown-RISD dual-degree student studying apparel design at Rhode Island School of Design and economics at Brown, is the founder of Missing Button, a creative studio focused on upcycling — the practice of transforming unwanted materials into valuable, high-quality products. In other words, Lee is turning trash into treasure. 

Photo of the display sign for Missing Button's bookstore launch
The collaboration made its public launch at the bookstore over Family Weekend.

“Upcycle is always interesting, because you have to be creative with such a limited set of resources,” Lee said. “You’re given a starting point, then however you can stretch that is really up to your creative capacity. It’s almost like a problem-solving challenge.” 

Lee founded Missing Button last year and officially launched the new collaboration with the bookstore, where the items are now available for sale, over Brown's Family Weekend on Oct. 22. Missing Button’s Brown collection comprises more than 70 unique pieces, from ruffled crop-tops to patchwork tote bags, strappy sweaters and embellished hoodies with added pockets. While delivering high-quality, well-designed garments is certainly part of her goal, it’s Lee’s passion for sustainability that drove both the creation of the studio and the collaboration with the bookstore. 

“I wanted to do something where the solution that I’m bringing also helps them to handle this overstock problem that is very common in retail,” Lee said. 

Overstock traditionally includes items that didn’t sell for one reason or another, but can also include damaged items, like shirts with improperly sewn seams or mistakes in the graphics. In addition, prospective vendors send the bookstore free sample products every year. All of this surplus material “collects over time and kind of turns into a mountain,” said TJ Cochran, director of the Brown University Bookstore. 

“We’ve done all kinds of things — we’ve donated things, put them in special sales or clearance, but if it gets down to the point where it’s just not selling, it would go to a thrift store,” Cochran said. “It could also end up in the landfill, and that’s not where we want it to go.” 

Through the collaboration, however, that potential waste is avoided entirely. Since 2020, Cochran said the bookstore has been able to donate 100% of its leftover or damaged apparel to Refried Apparel, another company that sells upcycled products at the bookstore, and now to Missing Button as well.

“What I like a lot about these programs is that they’re utilizing every scrap of fabric,” he said. “They really try to make sure nothing goes to waste. It’s sustainable, but people are also getting fashionable, one-of-a-kind products. It drives sales, because people see it and know that if they don’t buy it then, they’re never going to get the opportunity to get that piece again. It’s a brilliant move.” 

Missing Button was conceived last winter and came together quickly throughout the year, launching its first project in May 2022 in partnership with the RISD Store to turn their overstock into an upcycled fashion collection. Inspired by the success of the sold-out RISD collection, Lee approached the Brown Bookstore to see if it would be interested in a similar partnership. 

“ I always knew I wanted to do fashion design, but my passion on the entrepreneurial side of things was something I really discovered at Brown ... to this day, I think [the dual-degree program] is probably the best thing that happened to me in my educational journey. ”

Glory (SeungHee) Lee Founder of Missing Button

Cochran said that after an initial meeting, he gave Lee roughly 20 product samples to redesign and manufacture. 

“She came back a few weeks later and showed us what she came up with, which was really well done,” he said. “We were very impressed with what she did, especially in the time she had to do it.” 

Fellow RISD classmate Eleanor Ryan assists with graphic design, and Lee’s sister Victory, who attends Yale, and a local seamstress help with production as needed. But it’s mainly a one-woman operation, and one that Lee hopes to refine and expand, eventually highlighting work by other undergraduate student designers and building a community platform beyond the bookstore dedicated to upcycling as a lifestyle. 

Lee and a shopper browse the racks
Lee browses the racks of clothing she designed and created for her company's partnership with the bookstore.

She said she’s not quite sure what shape that platform will take, but she’s excited to develop the idea.

“I always knew I wanted to do fashion design, but my passion on the entrepreneurial side of things was something I really discovered at Brown,” Lee said.  “… The dual-degree program was my top choice from the moment I learned about it, and to this day, I think it’s probably the best thing that happened to me in my educational journey.” 

Lee said that through every step of the process, she received valuable business guidance, whether it was from her instructors, classmates, managers at the several fashion companies for which she’s interned and worked — including Gucci, Kate Spade, Coach and Stuart Weitzman — and especially the bookstore team.

“We’ll continue to work with students,” Cochran said. “If they have some sort of entrepreneurial idea, we will always sit down and look at what they’re trying to do. And if we can’t actually sell the product, we can at least try to advise them and give them some tips and counsel.” 

Lee has been encouraging her classmates to take advantage of the resources and opportunities available to Brown students. Even if they take a different path in the future, the life lessons and self-discovery are priceless.  

“This is the right time to experiment with whatever ideas you have,” she said. “My motto has always been ‘just do it.’ I know if I don’t do it now, I’m going to regret it.”