This past month and a half I have been living in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a dusty lively valley
situated between the jungle and the Altiplano of Bolivia. As I gaze out at the twinkling lights of
the sprawling ciudad that I’ve begun to call home, or as I spot the sun rising over the Cristo de
la Concordia out of my east-facing window, I wonder how the heck I got here.
And no, not the obvious answer, which (if answered in a Jeopardy fashion) would be: “What is
30 hours of grueling cross-continental airline travel, Alex?” (We are a jeopardy family… thanks
Dad). I don’t seek the answer to the literal version of that question, because it’s the easy
answer. To be honest, at 20 years of age, I would not have thought I would be pursuing my
dreams of ecofashion design in a foreign country, learning so much about myself and how I can
impact the world. And I want to know why.
To answer this question, I would be honored to lead you through an examination of who I
believe I am. My name is Jo, which is short for Jyotsna, which means “beams of the full moon”
in Sanskrit (thank you parents, for giving me both a tough name and a cute nickname).
Speaking of my wonderful parents, they are Indian immigrants who met in grad school at
Michigan State (Go Green!!! Ironically enough, this is also the topic of this piece). I have a
younger sister, which has made me into a very selfless and caring person. My parents have
encouraged me to pursue my dreams for as long as I can remember. While most 7 year old girls
want to be princesses, I wanted to be an entemologist ( a “bug-ologist”, as I called it back then),
and would go outside with my sister and catch bugs with the equipment my parents bought me.
After that I wanted to be a paleontologist, and then an environmental scientist. Finally, at 20, I
am studying Bioengineering and Chemistry at Santa Clara University.
But my second passion is ecofashion design. Most people are taken aback when I tell them that
I’m a designer and an engineering student, and I’m not surprised. Most people find fashion and
science on two parallel roads, with no possibility of intersection. I used to be one of those
people, and thought that my fashion line, GreenWithEnvy fashion, was just a hobby that had no
connection to my passion for science. And then I arrived here in Cochabamba, where I am
working for AHA Bolivia, a fair trade manufacturer of recycled handicrafts and accessories. I
have learned how ecofashion works on a global scale, and that sustainably sourced fashion is
not a niche market, but a necessity for the fashion industry. In other words, science and reason
is EXACTLY what the fashion industry needs because the path it is headed down is a
Yes, let’s discuss the fast fashion industry, why don’t we. The reason it does so well is because
it’s, well, FAST. In our quickly developing, industrialized world, patience is obsolete (a virtue I
myself seem to lack). Fast feeds our need for instant gratification, fast is good. But the ways that
the fashion industry attains such speed is a price that is cleverly omitted in the price tags
attached to each article of clothing. In order to meet our impatient needs, the industry engages
in overconsumption of materials, builds large factories and turns a blind eye to the resulting
pollution and runoff from said factories, infinges on worker rights by condoning sweatshop and
child labor, and much more. No price tag could contain the real cost of that 90’s reminiscent
denim miniskirt on the rack (LOL that those are back in style); the true cost of fast fashion is
Now that I’ve made you feel sufficiently apalled (and if not, please re-read the previous
paragraph until the feeling sets in, thank you), I will give you some hope. We, the consumers,
truly hold all the power in the market, for without significant demand, the supply chain crumbles.
It is our ethical duty as consumers to hold the fast fashion industry accountable for all of its
discretions, from infringing on workers rights, to resource depletion, to media manipulation
(don’t get me up on my feminist soapbox too!!), to polluting waterways… the list goes on. But
we have the power to shorten this list, to stand up for the right and ethical thing, and support
brands that actively fight these erronious practices.
So now let me get back to answering the question I posed earlier: how did I get to be a
engineering student slash ecofashion designer that is passionate about making our world a
more conscious and sustainble place, one shirt at a time? I could point to my lifelong stint as a
Girl Scout, or the fact that my parents raised me to be a woman of conviction, or that I’ve always
been passionate about the environment from a young age. But I think there’s a simpler answer:
It’s because I care so very much.
I’m here, loudly shouting from my soapbox (well, one of my many soapboxes) because I care
too much. What has been a vice in the past has now become a virtue: I care about workers
rights, I care about curbing factory runoff, and I care about stopping resource depletion. I care
about the planet. I just really, really care.
So I invite you to come join the coalition of the caring. Let’s make a difference together.
We hope that you and your families are safe, happy and healthy during this time!
While many of us are doing our part and practicing social distancing in the face of COVID-19, it is a priority for us to be here to support you and your well-being during this difficult time.