Photo: Courtesy of John Nagiecki
Photo: Courtesy of John Nagiecki

Saving the Planet, One T-Shirt at a Time

Imagine you’re a T-shirt – a comfy, cotton blend, perfect for lazing around the house or showing off your favorite sports team. One day, your owner will buy a new T-shirt to replace you, well before you are ready to say goodbye. And more often than not, you will end up rotting to death in a landfill with more than 25 billion pounds of other unwanted textiles that are tossed out in the U.S. each year, according to the Council for Textile Recycling (CTR). It’s really very sad.

Of the 82 pounds of textile waste each U.S. resident produces annually on average, CTR reports that only 15 percent find a new home through donations or recycling. The remaining 85 percent go to landfills, where textiles make up 5 percent of all municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. each year. And it’s only getting worse.

Between 1999 and 2009, the amount of post-consumer textile waste increased by 40 percent, while the amount of waste diversion only grew by 2 percent. CTR estimates that by 2019, the U.S. will generate 35.4 billion pounds of textile waste in a single year. Sometimes it’s easier to just read past these numbers without  taking the time to think about how much a billion really is, so let’s see if this helps.

One billion seconds is 30 years. One billion golf balls laid side-by-side would circle the earth. One billion raindrops would fill approximately 50 bath tubs. And one billion paperclips would weigh as much as 200 elephants.

Now multiply that by 35. That’s how many pounds of textile waste the U.S. is projected to produce in 2019. And this isn’t even including the rest of the world.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report stating that if production continues at this rate, the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. Half a million tons of microfibers are released into the ocean every year, which is equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles. These microfibers are nearly impossible to clean up and can enter food chains, destroying habitats and species of marine life.

After realizing all of the harm caused by textile waste, we’re left with one question: what can we do to make a difference?

The District’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) is trying to find the answer. On March 14, Sustainable DC – the DOEE’s plan to become the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the nation by 2032 – launched ReThread DC, an initiative to create a culture of recovery and reuse in the nation’s capital through outreach and education. Danielle Nkojo, a sustainability analyst for waste and materials management on the DOEE’s urban sustainability team, founded ReThread because of her personal passion for thrifting and extending the life of her clothing, as well as her experience as a waste policy expert.

“I look at the fact that about 90 percent of the textiles that are out in the waste stream are usually reusable,” Nkojo says. “I thought it would be great to bring my unique interest in that to the core development of eventual policy to divert textiles from the waste stream.”

Sustainable DC has helped waste management policy before. Have you ever noticed that DC restaurants don’t hand out Styrofoam take-out boxes anymore? That’s because in 2014, the DC Council banned all food-serving businesses and organizations in DC from using containers or other food service products made from Styrofoam beginning January 1, 2016. The ban also requires these businesses and organizations to use recyclable or compostable products, which is helping Sustainable DC’s goal of diverting 80 percent of waste in the next decade.

Because they launched only a few weeks ago, ReThread is a long way from working toward major policy changes. However, Nkojo says that will come in the future. Right now, ReThread’s main focus is to answer the question, “What can I do with my unwanted clothing and textiles?” But before we answer that, we need to turn our attention to what you can do to reduce your personal textile waste output in the first place:


Now, imagine you’re a T-shirt again. Maybe you’re a different one this time. You’re about to be thrown out and cast aside, but instead, you end up in the arms of a new owner – one who treats you like a diamond in the rough or buried treasure, who discovered your worth after hours of digging through bins full of other tees that are also waiting to find their next home. Feels good, right?

When you feel like cleaning out your closet this spring, you can do your ex-favorite T-shirt one last favor by donating it to a local organization that will help find its next owner. And that next owner could really be in need of a new shirt. That’s where Clothing Recycling Company (CRCO) comes in.

Since 1999, CRCO has served the DMV with its attention to detail, local touch and family-owned approach to redistributed second-hand textiles. The organization partners with Interfaith Works in Maryland, Christ House in DC and A-SPAN in Arlington to help low-income families and the homeless gain access to nice, affordable clothing and wares.

CRCO Assistant Director Vlad Brostky says that one of the special things about the organization is its connection to the community. Because CRCO only collects and distributes in the greater DC area, the operation is small – but the impact is great.

When asked about why keeping it local is so important to the organization, Brostky says that CRCO wants donators to know exactly where their clothing and wares are going – whether it’s to homeless people through A-SPAN or families in need through Interfaith Works.

“This is why we’re staying small and local, but there are bigger companies that recycle huge amounts of clothing, and they are focusing on just getting as much as possible,” he says. “Basically, it’s just a mass market of clothing recycling.”

He’s referring to the secondhand clothing trade – a goliath operation where certain secondhand clothing collectors export their surplus donations to developing countries in Africa. Since 2016, the governments of the East African Community laid out a plan to prohibit all secondhand clothing imports by 2019 to boost domestic manufacturing.

In March, the Office of the United States Trade Representative responded with a threat to impose trade sanctions on African nations and announced an out-of-cycle review of the eligibility of Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to receive benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which enhances U.S. market access for qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries.

The reality is that although the exporters themselves benefit the most from this secondhand clothing trade, there are still many people and communities that receive help from foreign organizations dedicated to empowerment and positive change in developing nations.


One such organization is Planet Aid, a nonprofit based in DC that collects and recycles used textiles to protect the environment and support sustainable development around the world. Planet Aid uses its proceeds from selling used clothing overseas to implement programs that support teacher training, help subsistence farmers find a path out of poverty, educate people on HIV/AIDS prevention and more.

Planet Aid Communications Director John Nagiecki says that while there is little demand for secondhand clothing in the U.S., the secondhand economy in the developing world is very robust and provides a good source of employment and an affordable source of clothing. He also says that Planet Aid sells its clothing instead of giving it away because “such an attempt would undermine the secondhand economy on which so many people rely for their livelihood and countries thus refuse to accept such handouts.” Although there are conflicting opinions about the secondhand clothing trade in developing countries, both sides can agree that something greater must be done to fix our massive textile waste problem.

“The real issue that must be addressed is the rise of fast fashion in the U.S. and other developed nations,” Nagiecki says. “We simply consume too much clothing.”

Brostky concurs.

“[CRCO] recycles thousands of pounds of clothing a month, which is nothing compared to what America really consumes, but we still are helpful,” he says. “People should be more educated about it.”

Ultimately, Nkojo, Brostky and Nagiecki all agree that one of the best ways to fight textile waste is to educate and inform the public so that they can make their own decisions on buying less and recycling more.

“The function of how we get people to care is just letting them know how much is being wasted, and how they could change simple habits that could really have a huge impact,” Nagiecki says. “To the extent that they can, we encourage people to adopt these practices so that their clothing consumption can go much further.”

Picture this. You’re a T-shirt on its way to the clothing recycling bin at the end of the block. You’re sad to say goodbye to your beloved owner, but there’s some reassurance in the new opportunities waiting for you on the other side. You could become a ball of yarn, then woven into a new scarf or blanket. You could become a quilt or a handbag or fancy needlework on someone’s hand-designed jeans. Your future is bright, and you’re happy knowing that you did your part in keeping the earth clean. Let’s keep it that way.

Learn more about these DC-based organizations and initiatives at their websites.

Clothing Recycling Company:

Planet Aid:

Sustainable DC:


Beat the Heat: Independence Day Fashion Tips from Sarah Phillips

With so many sizzling summer events coming up, dressing for both style and comfort can be a challenge. Whether you’re celebrating American independence on the 4th or French independence on the 14th (who doesn’t love a good Bastille Day party?), we’ve got advice from an expert. Sarah Phillips, co-founder of the lifestyle blog 52 Thursdays, recommends floral, denim and off-the-shoulder looks for your next barbecue or pool-side party.

The popular lifestyle blog features Phillips, 32, and her co-founder Michelle Martin, 31, wearing the styles they love. Right now, it’s all about summer – from fashionable fitness apparel to casual nautical looks for a day on the water. In the photo to the left, Phillips sports an inexpensive floral dress from Forever 21 paired with a beautifully crafted Gucci leather handbag for an easy elegance with a touch of luxury.

Phillips and Martin met at Radford University, where they both majored in fashion and pledged Sigma Kappa sorority. After graduating and moving to Northern Virginia, the pair worked together at BCBG Max Azria and French Connection. On Thursday nights, they’d meet up for wine and dream about starting a business. In 2015, the best friends launched 52 Thursdays, where they write about style, beauty, fitness and travel. Since Martin moved to Los Angeles last year, the business has become bi-coastal.

“Starting your own business isn’t easy,” Phillips says, “especially one where you have to put yourself out there in the way that we do. But it is so rewarding to be able to do something that we both love – and we are able to share our experiences in [the] hopes that we might help others, too.”

The blog is full of summer tips, like helping you pick a great bathing suit while also teaching you how to make a delightfully cool watermelon Moscow mule. And for Phillips, summer nights are always better with a cold beer – especially a hoppy IPA.

“We usually head to K-1 to pick up our favorite beers and then enjoy them with friends on our back patio when we aren’t heading to the local breweries,” she says. “We love 3 Stars, Old Bust Head, Port City [and] Atlas.”

So, for your Fourth of July barbecue, pack up your cooler and dress in something that is “cute, comfy and won’t make you sweat to death,” Phillips says.

“You can even go with cut-off shorts and a great tee,” she recommends. “Wear these looks with espadrilles or a pair of high-top Chucks for a true all-American look.”

Check out 52 Thursdays at

Photos: Emma Weiss Photography and  Taylor Cole Photography

Derby Fashion Washington D.C.

Derby Fashion

Whether you’re glamming it up on the lawns at Gold Cup on May 7 or Preakness on May 21, or attending a derby-themed party, local boutiques have everything you need to be the most stylish woman – or man – under the sun.

“This is an opportunity to refine your style,” says Julie Egermayer of Violet Boutique, moving to Georgetown on May 2. Recommending lace dresses, off-the-shoulder blouses and full skirts in longer lengths, she adds, “the stacked heel is back, so you don’t have to worry about your stilettos sinking into the grass.”

Men have to dress up too, and the Lucky Knot has it all – from head-to-toe seersucker to a pretty pink bowtie your man can pair with a casual suit. Shop at their Annapolis location or adjoining his and hers stores in Alexandria.

“We also have a young, contemporary boutique one block away called 3 Sisters in Old Town,” says Athina Kohilas, who runs the stores with her family.

“There you will find the brightest and trendiest styles of the season that won’t break the bank. Our flowy racerback dress would look great with a pair of our TOMS espadrilles and a cute straw hat.”

Of course, you can’t really do derby fashion justice with a bare head.

“We have a wide range of styles for both men and women,” says Anna Fuhrman, who has been running DC’s Proper Topper for 25 years.

Wide-brimmed, face-framing hats, panamas, straw boaters, fedoras and adorable fascinators are all available and beautifully crafted, starting at $25.

“A really bold statement hat generally tells the story on its own, so I suggest simple accessories, like small sparkly studs in a hue that accents the hat,” she adds.

Have the hat but need everything else? Try Reddz Trading, located in both Georgetown and Bethesda. Wendy Ezrailson founded the shop in 2010, and it offers secondhand clothing, shoes and bags, plus a ton of jewelry – all in pristine condition.

“Everything is one-of-a-kind,” she says.

From lace dresses for $30 to high-end designer pieces, there’s a perfect race day outfit for everyone, so check out these area locations for options.

Where to get these looks:
3 Sisters: 213 King St. Alexandria ,VA;
The Lucky Knot: 101 and 103 King St. Alexandria, VA or 176 Main St. Annapolis, MD;
Proper Topper: 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC;
Reddz Trading: 1413 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC or 7801 Woodmont Ave. Bethesda, MD;
Violet Boutique: 3289 M St. NW, DC;

Violet Boutique photo: Morgan Hungerford West
Reddz Trading photo: Vanessa Mallory Kotz
Other photos courtesy of stores

DC’s Fashion Scene

The Inside Scoop on DC’s Fashion Scene

Stow that winter coat and refresh your wardrobe with new styles from chic to street this month when the work of nine local designers makes its way to the runway at Hecht Warehouse at Ivy City on April 14. Expect to see leather and silk, lace and velvet – from edgy to sweet and flirty to androgynous. Big trends this spring include flared silhouettes, slightly cropped tops, stripes and denim. This eclectic group of designers has a range of experience – from fresh off their first fashion week to vintage scouters who search far and wide for just the right mix of old and new. On Tap chatted with some of the talent behind the show to see what they’re up to this season.

Mila & Fire

Mila & Fire are long-time best friends who combined their educations, skills and passion to create a clothing and lifestyle brand that is playful, sexy and vibrant. Two-piece printed outfits, shorts and bold patterns prevail. For inspiration, they look to street fashion.

“Many of our closest friends are incredibly stylish and fashion-savvy without trying too hard,” Kelcie Glass, a.k.a Fire, says. “They have such a strong understanding of who they are as people, often mixing feminine looks with androgynous pieces.”

Fans will see something a bit more “grown-up” on the runway this spring.

“Our aesthetic has changed dramatically since our start four years ago, and so has the style of our long-time clients, customers [and] supporters, so we want our new look to be reflective of that,” Fire says. They’re especially into shoulder-baring pieces, denim, metallic accents, lingerie for daywear and timeless dresses.

Learn more:

Michelle C. Gibson

Michelle C. Gibson’s four-season collection, “The Bold & Beautiful,” is inspired by Lana Del Ray’s haunting track “Young & Beautiful,” as well as the “lush perfection” of the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, Md. Flowy fabrics in neutral creams and bright pops of color are draped in sheer capes and full skirts. Silk in crepe, velvet and cotton sateen gives garments a luxurious look and feel, while crop tops add a flirtatious touch. The Serenity Print Faille Top & Skirt in black and cream would flatter any body type. Gibson combined her love of art, computer graphics and Vogue to pursue a degree in fashion merchandising at Howard University, and she first showed her work during her senior year at New York Fashion Week. The results are sophisticated and fun with the aim to “open opportunity to become the best version of you,” Gibson says.

Learn more:

Beyond The Velvet Rope

The women behind Beyond the Velvet Rope, March Bell-Daniels and Katina Robinson-Wright, founded their company on the premise that “fashion is not exclusive.” Their pieces are approachable and affordable for all shapes, sizes and incomes.

Bells-Daniels says, “We have a quest to open the world of boutique shopping. All of the pieces are carefully selected from a wide array of distributors, manufacturers and independent designers, and in true boutique style, limited quantities of each item are stocked and once an item is gone, it’s gone.”

This spring, they’re focusing on soft denim, bright coral, bold stripes and Victorian inspiration, which take the form of draped tops with details like fringe, studs and full-printed skirts.

Learn more:

Brown & Williams

H. Brevard Brown III and Christopher Williams are Sartorial Anglicans: “That is, we like all things British fashion,” says Brown. Together, they created Brown & Williams, a collection of vintage menswear sourced from across the pond.

“We grew weary of the same old offerings,” he says.

They wanted to give men more unique options, but also “allow them to mix truly unique and amazing vintage pieces with their already existing wardrobes and trends.” Inspired by the likes of Guy Ritchie, Michael Caine and Mick Jagger, Brown describes their aesthetic as London street meets country chic, combining classic finds with edgy, modern pieces. On the runway, you’ll see plenty of summer scarves, ascots, safari jackets and vests.

Learn more:

Carrie Rockwell

Carrie Rockwell’s designs are soft and feminine. Using luxurious fabrics with lace details, floral prints and flared silhouettes, she creates an air of sophistication and elegance that would make a splash at any wedding or garden party. Rockwell looks to nature for ideas.

“Nature has so many beautiful details, whether it is in the spring flowers, the fall leaves turning different shades or the beautiful sunsets each day,” she says. “I try to capture those to represent some of the feminine and beautiful details I use within my designs.” Rockwell is a brand new addition to the fashion scene. After attending Marymount University, her collection was featured in Crystal Couture Show and Sale 2015, and she premiered her 2016 line this year at the same show.

Learn more:

Rosies and Rockers

Mateen Khan of Rosies and Rockers looks to pin-up and punk rock fashion for inspiration, but creates his own modern twist with today’s silhouettes. His line offers a wide range of choices for both men and women that are “flirty, aggressive, edgy and just different – so you can stand out in the best possible way in any room,” Khan says. Leather pants and tight jeans worthy of Patti Smith and Joey Ramone, sweet sweaters embroidered with kittens, and lots of leopard print are a few things you’ll see. Creative tees and leather moto jackets along with 50s dresses make for a date night role play as Danny and Sandy from Grease.

“I constantly evolved and drew inspiration from the music scene and concert costuming,” Khan says, “taking something over the edge, attention-drawing, and turning it into a wearable piece that makes you feel like a rock star!”

What’s his favorite trend this spring?

“English Rose – a romantic heroine that lends a hand for social justice.”

Learn more:

Deborah Mdurvwa

Deborah Mdurvwa’s line is not for the shy. Her designs show a lot of skin without crossing the line. Remember those mesh tops from the 80s? Mdurvwa refines that questionable look with structured cuts in neutral tones that empower rather than expose.

“I draw a lot of inspiration from women with attitude such as Rihanna, Tracee Ellis Ross and Demi Lovato because they exude confidence,” Mdurvwa says. “I design for the woman who knows her strength [and] her power, and is not afraid to confront the world with those characteristics.”

Her looks include unpredictable pairings like dark, textured pencil skirts with mesh jackets. She’s looking forward to the runway experience.

“This spring, I am expecting to see a lot of mesh, velvet and crops – also a lot of chokers.”

Learn more:

Ankara Streets

Ankara Streets specializes in bold, colorful African prints that are a refreshing addition to DC street fashion. These pieces are not for the red carpet, but for the busy woman who is “sexy and turns heads even when she’s going grocery shopping with a toddler on her hip,” says founder and designer Jessica Thomas. She makes dresses, separates, jackets and accessories that include jewelry, head wraps, belts and hats.

“I’m constantly on the go and need my wardrobe to flow with me, not constrict me,” she says. “My inspiration comes from real life. I’ve designed dresses based off of my favorite apron or hair accessories that were inspired by my husband’s bow ties. It comes from all over.”

Learn more:

These eight designers will be joined by Elite Fitz for the Hecht Warehouse Fashion Show from 7 to 10 p.m. There will be a runway show and pop-up shop, plus light fare, music from DJ Stacks, beer and wine, and tours of the loft-style apartments. The show is free, but requires an RSVP via 21+ event.  Hecht Warehouse at Ivy City: 1401 New York Ave. NE, DC; 571-748-3245;