NORFOLK — Sophia O’Neal, 19, is a self-proclaimed fashionista, but according to the college student, the fashion industry falls short in one crucial area: sustainability.
“Fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world, second to oil. There are oil rigs and then there are mini skirts,” she said. “Over 10 percent of landfill waste is disposable, cheap, unethically made clothing that is easily tossed.”
After O’Neal made this discovery, she decided to do something about it.
In May 2016, she established a handmade purse and accessory business called 2 Pink Peas. According to O’Neal, an international business major at Old Dominion University, the enterprise seeks to revolutionize the fashion industry by reconciling three core values.
“Our model is fashionable, affordable, and eco-friendly,” she said. “Most mass retail companies tend to only fit two of the three—they’re fashionable and affordable, but in no way sustainable.”
In order to meet this criteria, 2 Pink Peas had to pivot from the standard production model, she said.
Rather than purchasing large rolls of new materials to make her product, O’Neal said she’s made arrangements with six local fabric shops to obtain unused upholstery samples that would normally be thrown away.
“We have a constant supply of fabric,” she said. “Like the fashion industry, textile companies put out fabric books every two to three months that will never be used again.”
The recycled materials allow her to keep costs low, ensure durability, and create one-of-a-kind designs for customers, O’Neal said, explaining that with more than a decade of sewing experience, most purses take her around 30 minutes to make.
Currently, her purses, envelope clutches, and mini bags can be bought online or during pop-ups hosted by local retailers for around $15 or $30.
“We had our first pop-up at aLatte Cafe and plan to do more in the future to meet our customers right where they are,” she said.
She also says several new ethically-made styles are in the works, including backpacks and crossbody bags.
Soon, O’Neal said she expects to begin hiring interns to help keep up with the demand for sustainable fashion.
“We are on the cusp of a revolution in the fashion industry. Not only do people want things that are pretty – they want things that make the world a better place,” she said. “While the clothing industry is starting to catch on to the sustainably- and ethically-made concept, it’s the accessory industry that is far behind, and we are very much ahead of the curve.”
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