Qurat ul Aain is out to prove that being well-dressed and being environmentally conscious are not mutually exclusive.
A design-savvy international exchange student from Islamabad, Pakistan, Aain identified her interest in sustainable fashion in short order after arriving at Beloit last fall.
Citing research on the topic, including that the average American produces 70 pounds of textile waste annually, Aain dove in to learn more about how the fashion industry works and how it might improve. She found that not only is clothing filling landfills, but the fashion industry is also resource-intensive all the way through the supply chain. What’s more, this global problem doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserves.
Through a creative combination of classes and special projects at Beloit, Aain started taking steps to change that.
She supplemented her research in economics by starting a sustainable fashion business on a small scale through her entrepreneurship class. Brian Morello’86, who teaches that class and directs Beloit’s entrepreneurship center, says he’s pleased that Aain’s fashion project is anchored in the center’s new Maker Lab, where she uses the collaborative space and tools, like the center’s sewing machines.
Instead of purchasing new fabric, she made her stylish line of clothing and bags from repurposed materials, frequenting the “Give and Take” boxes, where students exchange clothing, and scouring the local Salvation Army store for items with upcycling potential. Using the sewing skills her mother taught her, and applying her talent for design and color, she began cutting and stitching.
In the first few weeks of the fall semester, Aain estimates she had more than quadrupled the $20 seed money she received in her entrepreneurship class to start the enterprise, though making money was not her only goal.
Aain also made a fortuitous connection with the costume shop in Beloit’s theatre department. That’s where she met Shelbi Wilkin, the college’s costume shop manager.
Wilkin helped Aain improve some of her designs and introduced her to the shop, where she discovered the ultimate model for fashion sustainability. In the theatre, fabric and clothing are constantly reused or repurposed, and costumes are designed for a range of sizes. “A theatre department is a great model that many fashion companies could use,” Aain says.
Despite her obvious talents for couture, Aain is not interested in becoming a professional fashion designer. The political science and international relations major wants to do work in public policy where she can study data about existing problems—like fashion industry waste—and bring about change.
Beloit came to Aain’s attention through the university she was attending in Turkey. She wanted to study in the United States because of the country’s “fast moving entrepreneurial spirit,” and she was impressed by Beloit’s sustainability program. Once she arrived on campus, she wasted no time tapping all sorts of people for advice. “Whenever I’m confused I just talk to people here. That’s how I found my way,” she says.