While working on a cool little project with Causeartist, an inspiring Kansas City-based social enterprise lifestyle magazine, I stumbled upon a story of two Canadian girls making ethical and fashionable clothing from a material made from recyclable items, such as plastic water bottles! If you know me personally, you can only imagine how insanely in "awe" I was as I am the biggest anti-water bottle girl in the world (but maybe second to these girls). How is there a material that is made from obnoxiously items such as plastic water bottles and I've never heard of it before?! After reading more about this fantastic clothing brand, Ungalli, and the two 20-something sisters behind it, Hailey and Breanne, I needed to learn more and decided to reach out to the two Thunder bay-based girls and find out! Passion, a self-starter attitude and a love for the environment and their surroundings is what I found, and an inspiration among young social entrepreneurs.
Where did your passion for fashion and sustainability come from and what made you merge these two together?
We were raised on a horse farm along the Kaministiquia river in Northern Ontario. It's incredibly beautiful, and respecting the planet and all of its creatures has always been a part of who we are; it's in our blood. Our mother is not only an environmentalist and lover of all things with four legs, but she was also an interior designer. Style and ascetics was also a huge part of our childhood, but in a natural kind of relaxed way. It wasn’t that fashion and style was forced upon us as children, but we were given the inspiration and chance to be creative and unique with it. We both started working at a uniform manufacturing company when we were 18 and 20. The amount of waste and pollution we saw during the year we worked there astounded us. It was such an eye opener. So that's where the two really came together. Because our parents are both entrepreneurs we really had the right support and guidance to try and do something about it! So in the end, thanks Mom and Dad ;).
Tell me more about this fantastic material you sourced made from recycled materials such as water bottles!
Our material is made from 50% recycled polyester and 50% recycled cotton. The recycled polyester is made from a number of things such as water bottles, x-ray film, black food trays, and plastic beer bottles. Its produced by melting the plastic down and putting it through a shower head-like nozzle that turns the plastic into yarn fibre. The recycled cotton Is mostly made from scraps from factory floors that are usually otherwise disposed of. Recently we’ve been incorporating organic cotton as well. Organic cotton is an incredibly important industry in developing countries so it's vital to involve those fabrics as well. One t-shirt made from our 100% recycled fabrics saves more water than a person drinks over a three year period and reduces approximately 12 kg of carbon dioxide from being released into the air. WHY is this fabric not used by everyone!!?
What have you found to be the biggest challenge as young, social entrepreneurs, especially in a smaller Canadian city?
At first being from a small city definitely had its benefits. It was easier to get the word out and support from our hometown was overwhelming! Moving forward though its been difficult to spread the word to the rest of Canada. We are so far from everything! Going to trade shows and networking events is expensive and time consuming. The challenge of being a social entrepreneur in the fashion industry is first of all the lack of awareness! Its so hard for people to connect the dots when they’re in a store like Forever 21 looking at a $12 tee shirt. It makes so much sense for them economically. They don't stop to think about the social and environmental impacts that $12 tee shirt has as well. The people and places affected are so far from home that it's not even on their radar. It's not that people don’t care about the 14 year old girl being paid $10 a month to make their clothes, it's that they aren’t aware. Awareness is a major barrier and breaking that barrier is why we started Ungalli.
How do you find Ungalli has challenged the way your community views the fashion industry?
Ungalli is making people aware of the fast fashion industry and its major flaws every single day in our community and elsewhere. If we can make even 1 person a day question where their clothes come from, who made them, and how they effect the world around them, then Ungalli is a success.
What’s the future of Ungalli look like from now until the end of 2017?
We just moved all of our manufacturing from the US to Canada, Scarborough to be exact! We’re super excited about this! Bringing our manufacturing to Canada will increase our margins enough so that we can sell wholesale to stores instead of just directly to customers. In fact our very first wholesale order was placed today! It's going to be a crazy summer!
Stay tuned for more Ungalli, possibly in a store near you and be sure to shop their collection available on their e-store at Ungalli.com!