MILWAUKEE – A Milwaukee woman is on a mission to reduce waste while creating fashionable upcycled clothing.
Vanessa Devaki Andrew owns Madam Chino. She started doing this in 2003. Andrew focuses on reusing clothes that would otherwise end up in landfills.
“Why not take something that looks like junk to people and turn it into something I can sell or add value to,” Andrew said.
She works with old t-shirts, boat sails and other fabrics to create unique outfits. It can be a labor-intensive process, but Andrew said it’s worth it. She said that we waste too much and have to reconsider what we buy and think it’s no longer usable.
“I’ve done a few backend tours of Goodwill and seen the massive amount of stuff that we throw away in our culture and just don’t think twice about it,” she said.
In 2018, 11.3 million tons of textiles ended up in landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That was 7.7 percent of all waste. Furthermore, according to a study published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NSIT) in May 2022, 50 billion pieces of clothing are thrown away within a year of their manufacture. Andrew said that number is far too high, which is why she is doing everything she can to make a difference.
Additionally, the NSIT, which is part of the US Department of Congress, said the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply, using 20 trillion liters of water annually. Also, 20 percent of water pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing.
Fast fashion contributes greatly to these environmental problems. Think about how your clothes can last longer and don’t just throw away something that not only harms the environment but also your wallet.
“I just think it’s important to put power back in the hands of the people. You don’t rely on styles, trends, you know, and put your money in some guy’s big pockets.”
There is little to no waste throughout their design process. Almost everything is used. When she can’t find a way to use them, she donates these clothes to local church organizations.
However, Madam Chino is not just a clothing store. Andrew also hosts sewing classes and makes alterations. The courses empower other people to make clothes they feel comfortable in and it’s more environmentally friendly. The changes allow the clothing to live longer and not end up in a landfill.
“Creating a piece of independence with people – like you do it yourself,” she said.
Andrew accepts clothing donations. Call or text her to discuss donations – (414) 303-1981. See their website for a full list of sewing class offerings.
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