Seat Belt Artist | Tennessee Crossroads


(light music) It’s always a shame to buy a new part for an old car you’re still trying to squeeze some miles out of. Instead, you can go to a salvage yard, buy a used part, save some money and take part in recycling. Well, Nashville Fabric Artist, Clay Bush, makes frequent trips to the salvage yard. For him, it’s the beginning of a process of making fashionable,
functional accessories. (upbeat music) Clay Bush is a Fabric Artist who never expected a
trip to the salvage yard would change his life. (car door creaking) Like most customers, he was just looking for used parts for his car, when he discovered something better, a secret to his artistic future. (saw whirring) – I saw the seat belts. I was actually interested
in the weave structure. Every make and model has a different weave of the seat belt, and the
colors were really unique. So, I grabbed a few, and
since I knew how to sew, on an industrial sewing machine, I started playing around with them. And then, I just realized,
it’s an unlimited resource. – Clay studied Fabric Arts at the Appalachian Center
for Craft at Smithville. And then apprenticed in upholstery shops before launching his own business, turning discarded belts and harnesses into smart, sturdy
messenger bags and purses. (light music) – It took some messing around, you know, some playing around with it, because I really didn’t
know what I was doing. But once I finally got
the first bag together, it just hit me, like,
wow, this is really cool. This is really unique and I think people would really like this. It’s a utilitarian item, you know. It’s something that is useful. It’s a craft, it’s not
just cutting them up and making an art piece out of ’em. So I just wanted to make something that was, you know, had a purpose but also was creative. – [Joe] After each junkyard harvest, there’s an intensive cleaning process, then storing and organizing raw material from vehicles dating
back to the late ’70s, all the way to the present. – [Clay] So then I have
to roll all those up and have them organized, and that’s when I begin to design, and actually lay out the color palette of what the bag is going to be like. Because there’s so many
different colored seat belts, I have to get it organized
into a palette selection before I can just randomly
pull seat belts out. It’s really fun because I do
a lot of color combinations that I myself might not like, or might not want to carry around, but I know that it’s a
pleasing combination. – [Joe] The creative process
begins at this work table, cutting and arranging strips to make a pleasant, symmetrical design. – [Clay] As you can
tell, the material cost is not that great. But the labor put into it is definitely what adds up. I’m pretty picky about
making sure it matches. These are for the buckles. – [Joe] Speaking of seat belt buckles, remember when they were all metal? Well, who knew that someday it’d be used to open and close designer bags? – [Clay] In the ’80s, you didn’t have to wear your seat belt in the backseat, and most people didn’t where
’em in the front either. So, they’re in great shape, because they would just be stuck in the crack of the seat, or the seat belts would
stay in the door panels, because people didn’t wear ’em. – [Joe] He uses heavy-grade nylon thread on his industrial-grade sewing machine. It makes three separate
stitches on each pass. (sewing machine whirring)
– [Clay] This machine is a pretty awesome sewing machine. I’ve got it set up so I can just– got a little edge guide here and it just keeps going straight for me. (sewing machine whirring) – [Joe] New technology, old principles, but as always, skilled hands are required to pull it all together. – [Clay] There’s a lot of time in it. And, it’s really nice when
people recognize that. They see the bag and
they recognize the time and labor that was put into it. – [Joe] Okay, I have to
point out one design omission some first customers noticed, no inside pocket. No problem, Clay’s comeback was to deploy another natural resource, the airbag material nobody wants to see except here. – [Clay] And it’s a neat
fabric, because it’s nylon. Very durable and it has a lining on the other side of it, of silicone, so it’s waterproof. That’s so it holds the air when it’s deployed. My disclaimer on all the pockets I use are that they’ve never been deployed. I now cut them out of
the steering columns. I don’t use ones that have been deployed. – [Joe] Well, that’s nice. Clay calls his brand and company Salvage Design and Upholstery. As the name implies, he not only does bags and (unclear), he’s venturing into some upholstered furniture items, too. Clay mainly markets his wares at festivals around the Southeast, steadily gaining some notoriety. In fact, Corey Cox, from the
salvage yard corporate office is even a fan. – [Corey] It’s an honor to have a chance to associate with him. We’re very glad to have him as a customer, and the bags and things that he’s making are just terrific, out of
seat belts and whatnot, that–as he grows his business. – [Joe] Well, from bags to bar stools, the ideas for seat belt
salvage work are endless. I guess only limited to Clay’s imagination and his time,. – [Clay] I’m having to
decide where I want to go, if I want to stay in
more the creative realm or if–mass-produced, marketed. Buy 50 sewing machines and get 50 workers and start outsourcing it, so. – [Joe] Well, meanwhile, for now, I hope you’re having a good time with it. – I am, yeah, I’m definitely
enjoying it, yeah. – [Joe] For sure, Clay’s is a
be careful what you wish for kind of story, a success story, all thanks to the artistic potential
of automotive salvage. – [Clay] I think there’s a lot to be said for the energy and the time and what it takes to put some effort in to making something new again and–instead of just throwing it away. (light music)

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