Duluth woman gives dead floaties, old leather new life with fashion business

Her style: “Bright. colorful. Ugly floral. Anything neon. Obnoxious patterns," and it's magnetic.

artist in studio
Carli Vergamini Dudzik chats while creating tassels out of upcycled leather at her studio Wednesday in Rice Lake.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

RICE LAKE, Minn. — Carli Vergamini Dudzik's business is making something out of nothing.

From a punctured pool floatie, she creates bright, light tassel earrings. Discarded thick plastic banners are turned into indestructible tote bags, and a secondhand sleeping bag sees new life as a stylish bomber jacket.

creation of fabric handmade goods
Carli Vergamini Dudzik created these tassels with leather from vintage clothing at her studio.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Crave by Cari Rae Vergamini offers her handmade wearables and handpicked vintage items.

Her style: “Bright. colorful. Ugly floral. Anything neon. Obnoxious patterns,” she said.

Watching her create her works on her social media is almost as intriguing as scanning her catalog.


On Instagram and TikTok, she swaps knotted string lights with the earrings she made from the material. She spins in a dress she made from old bed sheets and dances and eats a cheese curd at her pop-up tent.

Always with upbeat music and grounded, humble commentary.

creation of fabric handmade goods
Carli Vergamini Dudzik sorts through sun dresses she created.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“She’s so good at presenting and selling her stuff digitally,” said Emily Ekstrom, adding she gives her made or curated items a narrative.

“She had skills in areas that were my weakness, and I knew I needed more of her in my life."
Ekstrom hired Vergamini Dudzik to work at her store, Hucklebeary , in 2019, and during the pandemic that followed, “She helped my business survive.”

Vergamini Dudzik managed Hucklebeary’s online store, and enabled on-site, by-appointment shopping. She and Ekstrom also collaborated on the launch of a monthly snail mail surprise package for customers, which surpassed their sale goals for it.

“People look at entrepreneurs and think, ‘They’re doing that for money.’ Carli is doing it for the environment. She truly does care about conserving energy and resources.

“She lives that way,” said Ekstrom.

creation of fabric handmade goods
Carli Vergamini Dudzik shows the material she used to create her earrings. The material is vinyl from an old pool floating toy.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Vergamini Dudzik grew up in Superior. During high school, she started a fashion line with a friend, designing and selling T-shirts, totes and backpacks.


She later majored in apparel design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie and studied at the London College of Fashion for a semester, which proved an influential experience.

creation of fabric handmade goods
Carli Vergamini Dudzik displays a tote bag created with the fuzz from yarn pompoms.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

There, more than focusing on the technical mechanics, they lean into the creative process and the conception of a collection. Both are important, Vergamini Dudzik said, but this was a revelation for her.

After college and in a pinch for material to make leather handbags, she went to the thrift store. She cut up and deconstructed her finds to use as a material base and the rest is history.

Figuring out how to make use out of something headed for the landfill is like solving a puzzle. “I have this one item that is maybe duplicated somewhere in the world, but how do I piece it together to turn it into something else,” she said of her process.

She often finds old sleeping bags, comforters, bed sheets, leather goods and more at estate sales.

Working with dead pool toys started when she saw a pile of plastic in a garage and put it to use. After she released what she made from it online, people started giving her their defunct inflatables.

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Now, Vergamini Dudzik has a plastic collection of different colors, textures and patterns, which will go a long way in her jewelry-making.

For her, the process of making is as important as the saved resources and the end result.


Her mother died last year, and during her health decline, Vergamini Dudzik started a project where she cut, arranged and sewed hundreds of 1-inch leather squares into tote bags and zipper pouches.

“To be able to come up to my studio and do something with my hands, do something monotonous, it’s almost a meditation.

“You have a moment to forget about what’s going on in the world around you,” she recalled.

In this year following the loss of her mother, Vergamini Dudzik said more than ever she’s focused on spending time making things that bring her joy.

creation of fabric handmade goods
Buttons and fabric fill shelves in the studio in Rice Lake.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

During the News Tribune’s visit, her studio boasted a warm ambiance.

Colorful pompoms peeked out of an old bubblegum machine, and a crocheted pincushion masqueraded as a potted cactus next to old Campbell’s soup cans filled with highlighters and markers.

Gold tinsel hugged a large mirror’s circumference, and the sunlight brushed her four sewing machines.

creation of fabric handmade goods
Carli Vergamini Dudzik displays colorful blankets and a gumball machine full of pompoms.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Leather in peach, lilac and tangerine hung, color coded, on racks, and floaties in green swirl, canary yellow and black rested, folded, on shelves.


Jars of eyelets, grommets and googly eyes, and neon yarn and paints, were all grouped in easy-to-identify arrangements, and bins large and small hold various sizes of scraps — under her worktable, in tiny nearby drawers and in an ’80s makeup case.

In one of Vergamini Dudzik’s latest pieces, she took the trimmings she saved from past pompom projects, arranged them between two layers of mesh and quilted over it.

She sewed leather straps on it, and designed an emblem for it out of air mattress lining. Its matte translucence requires a step closer to read, “Every little scrap adds up.”

Find Crave by Cari Rae Vergamini on social media

creation of fabric handmade goods
Racks of colorful leather coats provide inspiration and materials.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
creation of fabric handmade goods
Carli Vergamini Dudzik creates a leather tassel.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
The burger boasts two-thirds of a pound of quality, juicy beef. After a second to plan my route, I dug in.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346,
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