How Nafisa Ismail Turned a Student Project into Inspiration for Sustainable Living

Wearwell's Co-Founder, Emily Kenneychats with Nafisa Ismail of Simply Sustainable about her journey in sustainable fashion and her tips for sustainable living.

Emily Kenney: Hi, Nafisa, I’m so excited to chat with you today! Can you share a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in sustainable fashion?

Nafisa Ismail: I am a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania and I have always been super passionate about social impact, particularly in areas of sustainability and gender equity. Growing up, I loved fashion and being able to express myself through my clothes and my own personal style. However, as I got older and watched a documentary called The True Cost, I learned that the production of garments often comes with huge social and environmental costs to the global community. I became torn between my passion for fashion and my morals. 

Nafisa Ismail, Simply Sustainable | Wearwell Sustainable, Ethical Clothing and Accessories

Nafisa Ismail, Simply Sustainable

On one hand, fashion and style became part of my identity and, on the other, they posed a conflict with my ethics. I am a passionate feminist and environmental activist, yet fashion is my creative outlet. I realized I could not compromise my ethics or my interests. I spent hours researching sustainable brands, learning new ways to upcycle my clothes, and finding the best thrift stores. From this came Simply Sustainable, an organization I started at my high school through which I held workshops every month to teach my peers how they can upcycle their clothes and raise awareness about fast fashion. Eventually, I turned Simply Sustainable into the blog it is today in order to reach a bigger audience. As a student myself, Simply Sustainable is meant to be a resource for learning how to live an affordable sustainable lifestyle. 

Emily: I love that you took action to share what you’ve learned about sustainability and fashion with others! If you could describe your sustainable fashion philosophy in one sentence, what would it be?

Nafisa: The most sustainable option is to wear what you already have. I always reference the "buyerarchy of needs" (coined by Sarah Lazarovic) and try to follow it when I'm looking for a change in my closet: the most sustainable and affordable thing to do is use clothes you already own. 

 

You can upcycle your own clothes or find new ways to style the clothes you already have. From there, you can consider borrowing from a friend, doing a clothing swap, thrifting, making the new garment yourself, and then, as a very last option, buying something new. 

Emily: Totally agree. The “buyerarchy of needs" is such a great resource and is so helpful as a roadmap to more sustainable habits. In 3 words, how do you describe your personal style aesthetic?

Nafisa: I'm definitely still discovering my own personal style, but what I'm working towards is one that is effortless, timeless, and classy. 

Emily: If you could give fashion brands a piece of your mind about sustainability, what would you say?

Nafisa: Nowadays, lots of big fashion companies are recognizing the importance of sustainability and sustainable fashion to their consumers, but instead of making a real difference in their production, they are greenwashing. I would tell these brands that we, as consumers, can see right through that! We want genuine change and transparency and there is a real opportunity for these brands to become leaders in the sustainable fashion cause if they really leaned into it. 

Emily: Yes! The greenwashing is rampant and is a major reason why we started wearwell to provide a place to find vetted brands, free of greenwashing. What’s your favorite sustainable fashion tip?

Nafisa: If you don't already know how, learn to sew! This may seem very obvious but it has saved me from letting go of so many pieces just because there is a small hole in it or it doesn't quite fit right. It really helps to improve the longevity of your clothes! Other than that, I also recommend exploring online thrift stores. Thrifting in person can definitely be overwhelming and a long process but shopping online for secondhand really changed the game for me.

Nafisa Ismail, Simply Sustainable | Wearwell Sustainable, Ethical Clothing and Accessories 

Nafisa Ismail, Simply Sustainable

Emily: And what do you think is the biggest misconception about sustainable fashion?

Nafisa: That it is too expensive to maintain. My entire blog focuses on affordable sustainable fashion – thrifting, clothing swaps, DIY, and upcycling – these are all ways to participate in the sustainable fashion movement without having to spend a fortune.  

Emily: Absolutely love that! What’s next for Simply Sustainable - any exciting sustainability projects or new things that you’re looking forward to?

Nafisa: Balancing Simply Sustainable while also being a full-time student and intern is definitely challenging, but I'm just looking forward to continuing to create sustainable looks and work with brands whose mission and values I align with

Inspired and ready to shop with brands that align with your personal mission? Shop by your values at wearwell.

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