Environmental Science and Policy Students Win Third Place in Sustainable Fashion


Environmental Science and Policy Students Win Third Place in Sustainable Fashion Competition

Alyssa Ramirez, Maya Navabi, Ariela Levy, Rashika Choudhary, and Allison Day
|April 7, 2021

amara brand logo and five students

Team AMARA invented a hypothetical denim brand that incorporates sustainability and reusability at every step of a garment’s life cycle.

Like many things during the last year, it started with a message on Slack: “Would anyone want to form a group for the Global Circular Challenge?” Thus began our three-month-long adventure in inventing and pitching an idea for a sustainable clothing brand.

We are five students from the Environmental Science and Policy master’s program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Our team, AMARA, was one of three teams from Columbia University competing to reimagine the future of fashion. We placed third among 27 teams from varying countries, backgrounds, and universities, including PhD students, MBAs, and professionals.

The London School of Economics Department of Geography and Environment’s Global Circular Challenge was pitched as a competition to design solutions for sustainable fashion, with a focus on circularity. Circularity in the fashion industry means extending the life of the clothes we wear, keeping them in use for as long as possible, and finding other uses for the materials after they can no longer be worn.

What is AMARA?

AMARA stands for the names of the students on our team: Alyssa Ramirez, Maya Navabi, Ariela Levy, Rashika Choudhary, and Allison Day. It also represents the business pitch we created for the finals of the Global Circular Challenge: a disruptive, unisex, sustainable denim brand with circularity at the heart of its mission. We designed this hypothetical business model from scratch and improved it using advice from our faculty advisor — Athanasios Bourtsalas, a Columbia University professor in energy and materials — and the various experts brought in to share their experience with the competition participants. Throughout the spring semester of 2021, many guest lecturers from organizations and recognizable companies — including Gap, Etsy, and Ralph Lauren — gave insight into how the fashion industry is adapting to the consequences of human-induced climate change, and provided valuable feedback and advice to participating teams.

To create our business model, the AMARA team studied every step of a denim garment’s life cycle and identified areas for improvement. AMARA’s business model aims to promote the longevity of denim garments, and our pitch was unique among the other finalists because it includes circularity at every step of the denim garment’s life cycle, including:

Creation: While most jeans are made out of cotton or a cotton-synthetic blend, AMARA uses a synthetic-free hemp blend. Hemp is less water-intensive, more durable and breathable, becomes softer over time, and holds color better than cotton. It’s estimated that hemp can be four times cheaper to produce than cotton, but production has not yet achieved economies of scale. However, as more companies like AMARA begin to use hemp, its price is predicted to decrease significantly.

Sourcing: At the sourcing stage, suppliers are vetted to ensure fair, equitable labor and safe environmental practices. This environmental assessment of supply and production allows AMARA to get to know our suppliers intimately and make sure they meet our high standards for sustainability.

Design: AMARA’s products are designed to last longer and reduce waste. The brand’s garments do not have unnecessary metal rivets that are hard to recycle, nor tiny pockets that are made of fabric pieces so small they can’t be reused. AMARA’s garments are designed to be deconstructed and reused, and the hems can be adjusted easily….

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