From STEM to Sustainable Fashion: Black Women in the Industry

Sustainable fashion is a growing field focusing on ensuring the health of our planet while still creating a space for individuality and self-expression to thrive through clothing. Who better to contribute to this field than people coming from science backgrounds? Many companies small and large are trying to make the switch to greener fashion processes, but Black women such as Valerie Madison, Aliya Wanek and Gina Stovall are at the forefront of founding these sustainable brands.

            Valerie Madison has been passionate about saving the planet for quite some time. Having received a degree in Environmental Science & Resource Management from the University of Washington, Madison has a core built around trying to make the world a safer and healthier place. Going from making and selling beaded jewelry on Etsy in 2009 to becoming a trained metalsmith in 2011, Madison now owns “Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry”. The three pillars of the company are community, craft, and conscience, so the fine jewelry brand is literally built on sustainability. Madison employs green methods to create her jewelry such as using recycled metals, conflict-free diamonds and Australian and Montana sapphires. Not only does Madison spread the necessary message of sustainability, but she also focuses on making the jewelry industry a more diverse community as a Black Latina. Whether it’s an engagement ring or just a little something for yourself, be sure to check out “Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry” the next time you’re shopping for those irreplaceable accessories!1

            Aliya Wanek is another green-minded Black fashion designer with a background in science. Before owning her own brand, Wanek received a graduate degree from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and became a speech therapist in Oakland, California. Having not sewn since she was a child making scrunchies, Wanek craved to be back into the industry and began taking classes with Apparel Arts to start her own line.2 Keeping with the message of self-exploration, Wanek encourages customers to seek “the connection between identity and style” through her ethical and sustainable womenswear brand, “Aliya Wanek”. Wanek not only sews many of the items herself, but she also decreases corporate factory use through utilizing local businesses to dye and produce her products.3 Women like Wanek are the reason that the fashion industry still has potential to halt its negative impacts on the environment.

            Gina Stovall may have founded her own clothing brand, but she comes from a devout background in science. Stovall received her B.S. in Geology from City University of New York and went on to receive an M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University. Stovall worked as a research technician to “examine characteristics of the Greenland Ice Sheet by developing a remote sensing application and algorithm”, a consultant for environmental policy, a research lead at the Columbia Climate Center and much more.4 After this long stream of research-intensive jobs, Stovall founded her sustainable, “carbon-neutral lifestyle brand” called “Two Days Off”. The vision of this company is to give their customers a sense of ease through the clothes that they provide both in physical feel and in knowing that their production cost no harm to people or the environment. Stovall works with unused all-natural fabrics including linen, cotton, wool, and hemp from local sources so that it does not go to waste. Because no synthetic fibers are used, the clothing will biodegrade or have recyclable potential, which resolves one of the biggest issues regarding negative environmental impacts faced by the fashion industry.5

            These Black women all have one thing in common: they push the fashion industry to adopt greener practices while still making high-quality products that customers enjoy. They have proved that the change to sustainable fashion can be done, and it is largely up to consumers now to support businesses like “Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry”, “Aliya Wanek”, and “Two Days Off” to keep the world and everyone who lives in it healthy and safe.

Works Cited

(1)Valerie Madison. Our story. (accessed Feb 6, 2022).

(2)     Proulx, E. Aliya Wanek moves from dreamer to designer. (accessed Feb 6, 2022).

(3)     About. (accessed Feb 6, 2022).

(4)     Resume. (accessed Feb 6, 2022).

(5)     About. (accessed Feb 6, 2022).

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