When COVID-19 first hit, Siera Gunnett lost her campus job at Western Michigan University (WMU) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. With her newfound time, she decided to start a business.

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SheMakings was the brainchild of time and the need for money. Gunnett started by selling earrings made from recycled materials on Etsy, but when that started to take off, she turned to clothes.

Related: The top 7 industries that produce the most pollution in 2022

Speaking with Gunnett

“I’ve always known I wanted to do something with sustainability, [and] I’m a fashion enthusiast,” Gunnett said about the natural shift.

Now a senior majoring in entrepreneurship, Gunnett joined Starting Gate, WMU’s student business accelerator program. There, she learned how to work with manufacturers and craft a business plan. With the aid of a $10,000 Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, Gunnett had the ability to commit to her company, and SheMakings expanded.

“I needed to do something where I could scale it [up] but something I could still do [myself], so that took me to clothes,” Gunnett said.

By focusing on sustainable fashion, Gunnett recognized the cost of materials was going to be the biggest challenge. To make a true difference, she still wanted her clothes to be accessible. While her $25 T-shirts are nowhere close to Target’s eight-dollar ones, they are much more affordable than a $55 T-shirt from Cotton On.

About providing new clothes to her consumers, Gunnett said the following: “There are things you can do better like thrifting and shopping second-hand, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”

Models posing in sustainable clothing brand SheMakings

While it is unclear exactly how much of the world’s pollution can be attributed to the fashion industry, we do know the industry is responsible for 2.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This is not an insignificant number. Trends and store turnover are also responsible for the desire for new items in our closets. These habits are hurting the planet by filling landfills and contributing to transportation and production pollution.

Alternatively, Gunnett’s apparel is made from clothes headed to landfills or made from recycled plastic water bottles. Designing the prints herself, Gunnett uses slogans such as “There’s No Planet B” and “Evolve or Repeat” to spread her message. The brand is contributing to an ever-growing collection of sustainable brands.

Competing brands of SheMakings are not ones that Gunnett sees and speaks to every day; they do not even know she exists. Instead, they are brands like Cotton On, Patagonia and Recover — brands Gunnett looks up to and hopes to model her business after.

Sustainable brands vs. fast fashion

Part of Gunnett’s journey in making affordable, sustainable clothes is educating others about her work and the harm the fast fashion industry causes.

“Even the most passionate people still want to wear whatever they want to wear to express themselves, and I think everyone should too,” Gunnett advised. “Doing the best, doing your best, being that imperfect environmentalist is kind of how we get there, [by] being realistic.”

With old and new brands attempting to convince consumers about their eco-friendly business models, it can be hard to decipher good work from greenwashing. Gunnett’s advice is to look at the history of the company to see if they are using this moment to capitalize on greenwashing terms or if they have cared about social causes before. She also suggested Emily Stochl’s Pre-Loved Podcast and the blog The Environmentalist as places to start looking for legitimate information.

“The best way to be sustainable is to develop your own style, so you can avoid trends. Because even if the garment is in fine condition if the trend has passed, you’re not going to wear it anymore. Investing in high-quality things that match your style is the best thing you can do,” said Gunnett.

T-shirts and sweatshirts in blue, green and beige

Fighting fast fashion

A mental shift is needed for many of us to get away from the type of over-shopping we have been trained to do. Gunnett said she too needed to reframe her idea of clothes when she really started digging into the issues with fast fashion, and she had an idea that worked well.

The idea of helping the planet, unfortunately, is not enough to convince many people to spend $55 on a T-shirt they can find elsewhere for a much lower price. However, Gunnett’s suggestion and SheMakings’ mission is to lower those prices just a little bit. This will help convince individuals that they deserve those larger expenses.

Gunnett said we all need to be gentle and realistic, and eventually, there will be hope. The fast fashion industry will not change of its own accord, but if each person attempts to spend more money at companies that are making a difference, small changes will add up.

“If we were all imperfect environmentalists, we would give the world a second chance,” said Gunnett.

SheMakings’ graphics are printed on T-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants. The sustainable fashion line can be found and purchased at shemakings.com.

Images via SheMakings