MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee woman has made it her mission to reduce waste while creating fashionable upcycled clothes.
Vanessa Devaki Andrew owns Madam Chino. She started it in 2003. Andrew focuses on re-purposing clothes that would otherwise end up in landfills.
“Why not take something that looks like garbage to people and make it into something that I can sell or add value to,” Andrew said.
She works with old T-shirts, boat sails, and any other kind of fabric to create one-of-a-kind outfits. It can be a labor-intensive process, but Andrew said it’s all worth it. She said that we are wasting too much and need to reconsider what we buy and think is no longer usable.
“I’ve taken a few backend tours of Goodwill and seen the massive amount of things that we throw away in our culture and just don’t even think twice about,” she said.
In 2018, 11.3 million tons of textiles went into landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That accounted for 7.7 percent of all waste. What’s more, according to a study published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NSIT) in May 2022, 50 billion garments are discarded within a year of being made. Andrew said this number is way too high, which is why she is doing everything she can to make a difference.
Furthermore, the NSIT which is part of the U.S. Department of Congress, said that the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply, using 20 trillion liters of water a year. Plus, 20 percent of water pollution comes from textile treatment and dying.
Fast fashion is a big contributor to these environmental woes. Thinking about how your clothes can last longer and not throwing something away right away can not only make an impact on the environment, but also on your wallet.
“I just think that it’s important to put the power back into people’s hands. You’re not relying on styles, trends, you know, funneling your money up into some guy’s big pockets.”
Throughout her entire design process, there is little to no waste. Almost everything is used. If she can’t find a way to use them, she donates those clothes to local church organizations.
Madam Chino isn’t just a clothing store, though. Andrew also hosts sewing classes and does alterations. The classes empower other people to make clothes that they feel good in, and it’s more environmentally responsible. The alterations allow clothes to live longer and not end up in a landfill.
“Create some self-sufficiency with people – how to do it themselves,” she said.
Andrew accepts clothing donations. Call or text her to talk about donations – (414) 303-1981. You can go to her website for a full list of sewing class offerings.