Handmade handouts

Ashlee Bushee

Ashlee Bushee gives a scarf to a woman named Darleen, who is homeless, in downtown Reno.

Ashlee Bushee gives a scarf to a woman named Darleen, who is homeless, in downtown Reno.


Ashlee Bushee’s web site is scarveswithpurpose.com.

Ashlee Bushee may look like your average fashion-forward 25-year-old, in her stylish, blue satin jacket and funky fabric tote bag slung over her shoulder. That is, until she reveals that every single item she’s wearing was purchased at a thrift store or handmade by Bushee herself, upcycled from discarded clothing.

Bushee is a woman on a mission to change the world, one accessory at a time.

It started in college. She had to write a paper about something she cared about. She decided on the fashion industry. “I learned about the textile-dyeing process, and how much waste comes out of these plants and goes into rivers,” she said.

In fact, according to Forbes, the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters and the second-biggest polluter of freshwater resources on the planet. Polyester production is oil-intensive, and synthetic fibers emit gases such as nitrous oxide, far more damaging than CO2.

The research was life-changing for Bushee, who instantly decided to consume far less. She stopped buying new clothing, taught herself to sew and started upcycling.

She tried selling her work, setting up a booth at Junkee aimed toward Burners. But her devout religious faith led her to pair fashion with the spirit of spreading kindness. She stopped selling her creations and started giving them away.

“I thought to myself, ’What’s a universally sized thing that women enjoy and is versatile?’ So I thought the scarf was the perfect thing to make for people.”

Thus began Scarves with Purpose, Bushee’s one-woman initiative to sustainably spread kindness. In May 2015, she made 60 yellow (“for joy”) chiffon scarves and took them downtown to distribute to the homeless.

“I just wanted to give them a gift that was handmade with care,” she said. “I took the time to sew them, to pray and meditate over them to give the recipients what they needed.”

Then in January, Bushee made 40 fleece scarves and fabric tote bags for the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project to distribute during its annual homeless count.

Though the initial efforts were intended for the homeless, they certainly aren’t the only ones deserving. “Even if I see a woman who’s well off but looks like she needs a pick-me-up, I think it’s nice to have a stranger come to you and say, ’Hey, it was on my heart that you just needed this today,’” she said. “That’s the mission, really, to give joy to anyone.”

Bushee keeps care packages in her car to hand out and often receives requests to send packages to the needy. On a recent day her tote held one that would go out to a young woman with breast cancer—a scarf, a handmade cotton bow, a packet of wildflower seeds labeled, “Save the bees” and a card expressing her best wishes.

Her goal for winter is to give 100 scarves, and she hopes people message her via her website to suggest ways to give.

Her commitment isn’t easy—she’s a full-time chemistry student with a full-time job, not to mention her latest effort to gain support for a plastic bag ban in Reno. But for her, giving is the most important thing.

“It’s just about practicing, really,” she explained. “I used to not give anything, and I was like, ’I need to be filled up by everybody. I need all this.’ But if I don’t ever practice giving something, then if I am financially well off someday, I won’t know how to do it.”