STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ESS3.C

CCSS: Reading Informational Text: 7

TEKS: 6.2E, 7.2E, 8.2E, E.5F, E.9A

Eco-Fashion Designer

Maya Penn created an environmentally friendly clothing brand—and hopes to inspire teens to start their own businesses

PHIL SKINNER/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION VIA AP

AS YOU READ, THINK ABOUT how the clothing industry could become more environmentally friendly.

Maya Penn has always loved to create. “I have been extremely passionate about art and design since I could hold a pencil,” she says. As a kid, one of the ways she channeled her creativity was by repurposing old items into something totally new. “When I was 8, I started taking old clothes and fabric and turning them into new designs,” says Penn, whose mother had taught her how to sew. “People wanted to know where to buy them, and I got the idea to make my own business.”

Two years later, Penn launched her own online store to sell her eco-friendly fashion brand, Maya’s Ideas. Not only does Penn’s business use recycled materials, it also hires local workers and donates 10 percent of its profit to environmental and social causes. Traditional clothing manufacturing, on the other hand, requires massive amounts of raw materials and generates a startling amount of pollution. Most mass-produced clothing is also made in poorer countries where workers face grueling conditions for little pay. Penn, who is now 20 and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, hopes her company can serve as an example for the rest of the fashion industry.

Maya Penn has always loved to create. “I have been extremely passionate about art and design since I could hold a pencil,” she says. As a kid, she found ways to be creative. One way was to turn old items into something totally new. Her mother had taught her how to sew. “When I was 8, I started taking old clothes and fabric and turning them into new designs,” says Penn. “People wanted to know where to buy them, and I got the idea to make my own business.”

Two years later, Penn started her own online store. It sells her eco-friendly fashion brand, Maya’s Ideas. Penn’s business uses recycled materials. It also hires local workers and gives 10 percent of its profit to environmental and social causes. That’s very different from traditional clothing manufacturers. They use huge amounts of raw materials and produce a lot of pollution. Most mass-produced clothing is also made in poorer countries. The workers there face difficult conditions for little pay. Penn is now 20 and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She hopes her company can be an example for the rest of the fashion industry. 

OUT OF STYLE

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ranks the fashion industry as the world’s second-largest polluter (after the oil industry). It’s responsible for up to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to climate change. These gases are produced by the clothing factories themselves and by the vehicles that ship raw materials and finished items around the world.

The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter, says the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Only the oil industry pollutes more. Fashion production creates up to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. These gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere and help drive climate change. Clothing factories produce these gases. So do the vehicles that ship raw materials and finished items around the world.

Making brand-new clothes also requires a lot of resources—one of the biggest being water. It takes about 2,700 liters (713 gallons) of water to produce the cotton needed to make just one new T-shirt. That’s enough drinking water to last a person two-and-a-half years. One pair of jeans requires, on average, 7,000 liters (1,850 gal) of water for dyeing, bleaching, and washing. If wastewater from these processes isn’t treated to remove chemicals on-site, it pollutes the environment. In fact, about 20 percent of all wastewater originates from clothing manufacturing.

The business model for many retailers is to rapidly produce inexpensive and trendy fast fashion. Customers fill their closets with these cheap garments that rarely get worn—and toss them when they’re no longer fashionable. People worldwide waste an estimated $500 billion each year by throwing away perfectly good clothing.

Making brand-new clothes also uses a lot of resources. Water is one of the biggest. The cotton in just one new T-shirt takes about 2,700 liters (713 gallons) of water to produce. A person uses that amount of drinking water in two-and-a-half years. On average, one pair of jeans needs 7,000 l (1,850 gal) of water for dyeing, bleaching, and washing. These processes create wastewater. If it isn’t treated to remove chemicals right away, it pollutes the environment. About 20 percent of all wastewater comes from clothing manufacturing.

Many businesses make their money by quickly producing cheap and trendy fashion. People fill their closets with this cheap clothing. They rarely wear the items, and they toss them when they’re no longer in fashion. People around the world throw away perfectly good clothing. This causes a waste of about $500 billion each year.

A FRESH LOOK

To combat traditional clothing manufacturing’s negative effects on the environment, Penn had a simple idea: Reduce the need to make new clothes by giving old ones a second life. As her online business took off, her success drew national attention. Forbes magazine featured her as one of 16 grade school entrepreneurs. President Barack Obama awarded Penn a commendation for her environmental stewardship.

Penn hopes her accomplishments raise awareness for other businesswomen like herself: “Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs,” says Penn, “but they’re not getting the support or the funding they need, so they can’t grow their businesses.”

Penn knew about the bad environmental effects of traditional clothing manufacturing. She had a simple idea to fight the problem. Give old clothes a second life, so fewer new clothes need to be made. Her online business took off, and her success drew national attention. Forbes magazine featured her and 15 other grade-school business owners. President Barack Obama gave Penn an award for helping to protect the environment.

Penn hopes her success brings attention to other businesswomen like herself. “Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs,” says Penn, “but they’re not getting the support or the funding they need, so they can’t grow their businesses.”

COURTESY OF MAYA PENN

COOL THREADS: One of the eco-friendly items designed by Maya Penn

Today, along with running her online shop, Penn works as a consultant to help manufacturers find greener ways to make clothes. “The whole fashion industry is shifting to become more environmentally friendly because more consumers find it important,” she says. Penn has also written a book, called You Got This!, to support other young entrepreneurs. It’s now used as part of several school programs in the U.S. and abroad. Penn’s advice to business-minded kids: If you have a good idea, don’t give up because it seems scary. “Just give it a try and take that leap, especially if it’s something you’re passionate about,” she says.

Today, Penn runs her online shop and works as a consultant. She helps manufacturers find greener ways to make clothes. “The whole fashion industry is shifting to become more environmentally friendly, because more consumers find it important,” she says. Penn has also written a book to support other young entrepreneurs. It’s called You Got This! The book is used in several school programs in the U.S. and other countries. Penn has advice for business-minded kids: If you have a good idea, don’t give up because it seems scary. “Just give it a try and take that leap, especially if it’s something you’re passionate about,” she says.

ARGUMENT FROM EVIDENCE: What are some environmental benefits of recycling clothing into new garments? Use evidence from the text to support your argument.

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