Local entrepreneurial women bring environmental conscience to fashion

A handmade skirt with a maple leaf pattern, made by a K-State student, stands on display in Connected Fair Trade on Oct. 15, 2018. (Nickole Nakonechny | Collegian Media Group)

Ten skirts produced by students using Guatemalan fabrics naturally dyed at Kansas State lined the store walls at Connected Fair Trade in downtown Manhattan as four entrepreneurial women sat down to visit with a small group of apparel and textile students, faculty and community members last night.

To start, Amy Kay Pavlovich, owner of Connected Fair Trade, explained what exactly fair trade is, saying it is a way for people in developing countries to work for fair wages in a safe environment.

Pavlovich said sustainability is an element of her fair-trade-based store. Over 75 percent of her products are globally sourced from fair-trade companies. She focuses on sustainability by ensuring her products are made from organic or recycled materials and by people who are getting treated fairly.

Pavlovich said running her company solely on fair trade products can be “a lot of pressure” due to the fact that she is helping support people who, without her, couldn’t send their children to school.

Livie Olsen, owner of Fenceline Fabrics, discussed how her business evolved from an Etsy shop to a brick-and-mortar store. She started her account in 2008 and began selling fabric online in 2013. By 2016, she was selling her fabrics from her own storefront.

Olsen said she discovered that she simply couldn’t stop making things, which is what inspired her to get into the business in the first place.

Now that she has her fabric store as well as the thrift shop A Thrifty Notion, she focuses on bringing in organic fabrics that are more eco-friendly than cotton fabrics because they can decompose. The thrift store, Olsen said, is also a beacon of sustainability because recycled clothes reduce the trash footprint of people emptying out their closets.

Linda Lee also started a business called The Sewing Workshop, which got its start in San Francisco before it moved with her to Topeka. Lee said she focuses on pattern-making and pre-made sewing kits complete with all the garment-making essentials.

“I am not very eco-friendly as of right now,” Lee said.

Sherry Haar, professor of textiles and interiors, disagreed, saying Lee utilizes old mills for her factories in Kansas in addition to creating digital patterns that cut down on the paper-based waste traditional patterns leave behind.

The Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design focuses a lot of their efforts on sustainability which is inspiring students to become more conscious of their fashion footprint as well, Taylor Ellis, senior in apparels and textiles, said.

“It made me want to research sustainability issues around the world and what companies are helping the cause,” Ellis said. “I want to see the fashion industry source fabric from different countries and stop fast fashion.”