News, Off Campus

Faculty-Student Collaboration Turns Discarded Denim Into Clean Fashion

The nonprofit Make Fashion Clean (MFC), born out of a Boston College faculty-student research collaboration, is launching a Kickstarter on Jan. 28 for its “Blue Circle Bags.” The bags are made by Ghanaian artisans out of discarded American jeans and then sold back to consumers in the United States.

MFC was founded by DL Lundberg, now a student in the Boston University School of Public Health and BC ’16; Julia DeVoy, now the associate dean for undergraduate student services in the Lynch School of Education; and Sarah Bibbey, a graduate of Colorado State University.

As an undergraduate, Lundberg took a child development course taught by DeVoy, in which DeVoy introduced Lundberg to ideas about behavior, society, and disability that influenced Lundberg’s worldview, according to the MFC website. When DeVoy later acted as Lundberg’s research mentor, the two worked together to try to better understand the systems that prevent people with disabilities from having equal access to employment in Ghana.

While many assume that when they donate an old pair of jeans that it will get reused by someone in their community, the reality is that as many as 70 to 80 percent of all secondhand clothes donated to collection bins or thrift stores in the United States are resold to trading companies that ship them overseas, according to an MFC press release. This phenomenon occurs because there is insufficient demand for gently used clothing among American consumers.

“Using African countries as a means of disposing unwanted American textiles is an iniquitous system,” the release said. “Not only do these textiles and their associated environmental impacts eventually go into landfills and open-air dumps in Africa, they also put many women who are employed as artisans and seamstresses out-of-work. This affects livelihoods, and the health and wellbeing of families and children.”

The process by which the used denim from collection bins and thrift stores in the United States is shipped to Africa, where it ends up in landfills and open-air dumps across the continent, is referred to as “denim dumping.” The country that receives the largest amounts of dumped denim per capita is Ghana.

Upon receiving a grant to meet with and learn from the people affected by the Ghanaian disability rights movement, Lundberg, who uses the pronouns they and them, traveled to Accra, Ghana as an undergraduate student in 2013. After spending two of the next five years doing research in southern Ghana and supporting small pilot projects with local advocates, Lundberg concluded that a sustainable social enterprise model had the potential to address the lack of employment and living wages in the population, the MFC website says.

When Lundberg graduated from BC in 2016, they returned to Ghana to co-found the Matilda Flow Inclusion (MFI) Foundation with Matilda Lartey, a Ghanaian artisan Lundberg had formed a close relationship with during their travels. The MFI Foundation employs community members in the Greater Accra region, particularly women with disabilities and mothers of children with disabilities, to create fashion products out of recycled materials.

Upon returning to the United States in 2017, Lundberg co-founded MFC with DeVoy and Bibbey. The nonprofit helps marginalized artisans in Ghana make “upcycled” fashion products out of secondhand materials that have been shipped to their country and sell them to consumers in the United States. It also works to raise awareness about alternatives to waste and the problems associated with fashion consumption, according to its website.

MFC’s mission moving forward is to demonstrate that its nonprofit social enterprise model can be truly sustainable, according to the release. The real impact of MFC and the MFI Foundation, DeVoy explained, goes far beyond textiles.

“MFC promotes attention to the needs of the others, respect for global and local contexts, environmental and business sustainability, and an appreciation and inclusion of all individual’s gifts and insights,” she said.

Featured Image Courtesy of Julia DeVoy

January 21, 2019

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