BCIT Alumni Kaya Dorey (class of ’15) had an idea so novel that the United Nations chose her to represent North America as just one of six people around the world to receive the Young Champion of the Earth prize. Kaya returned to campus recently to speak to us about her innovative approach to fashion before leaving for Nairobi where she’ll participate in entrepreneurship workshops to help her get big ideas off the ground.
photos by Dayna Weststeyn
Tell me how your company first started.
I did the [BCIT] Sustainable Business Leadership program where I did a project on textiles waste. I learned about synthetic fabrics and how none of them biodegrade. Basically, it’s all either going overseas to where it was made or other third world countries and eventually it becomes their waste to deal with. So that was super eye opening. During that project, I went around Vancouver and interviewed a lot of different organizations in Vancouver that were dealing with textiles waste in some way, either upcycling it (cutting it and sewing it to something new) or downcycling it (shredding the material in these machines and then making into stuffing for chairs and insulation). I went looking for a brand that kind of suited my style and my values. But I didn’t really find anything that had both, so that’s what made me start my own sustainable clothing line. I did a program online called Factory45 and it’s how to start your own sustainable clothing line. After that, I launched a Kickstarter. I learned how to source fabric and source pattern-makers and manufacturers and all of that. I make it sound so short, but it was very hard.
What’s behind the name Novel Supply Co.?
I first and foremost just like the word “novel.” It looks really good when it’s on a shirt. But also, I feel like I had a novel idea when I was starting it up. No one else was really doing this and that surprised me, because you know, there are people out there who want this type of thing. They want a sustainable product that’s made in Vancouver and made from sustainable fabrics, but there’s not a lot of options. So that’s kind of why I named it “Novel”, because it was a novel idea and it still is I guess.
How are you implementing sustainability in your label? Talk me through how you source your materials and how you make the items sustainable…
I use hemp and organic cotton. Hemp is the most sustainable fibre to me, because it uses way less water than cotton and you don’t need the herbicides and pesticides to grow it. It’s a really strong fibre, but on its own it’s really rough so you need to blend it with organic cotton. It’s important to me that it’s organic because then they don’t use herbicides and pesticides to grow it. And then it’s made in Vancouver; how that’s sustainable to me is that it ensures that people are getting paid fair wages, and they work in safe working conditions.
I also use eco inks for screen printing. They’re the most sustainable inks you can use for screen printing Screen printing isn’t sustainable inherently, but we use acrylic based ink so it’s still biodegradable. Eventually, I might move to DTG printing (direct to garment printing) which is water-based inks and it doesn’t have any wasted inks, and we don’t need to use any chemicals to clean it up. It just goes into the printer and prints the design on your shirt.
“There are so many things that are wrong with it and someone needs to tackle it.”
How did you find out about the UN prize, and how did you apply for it?
My boyfriend sent me the link on Facebook and said I should apply. I didn’t apply for two weeks, because I felt it was so out of reach for me. But then I decided to apply because it’ll be a good experience either way. It’ll help me to put it down on paper and refine my vision. So I did and they told me I was Top 30 and I was blown away because there were 600 applicants. Then they told me I was Top 12 and I was like, ‘what?’ Because they basically pick one person from each continent and then they chose me as the representative for North America. I don’t understand, but I also do understand why they chose me. The UN recognizes that fashion is a huge problem and it’s very wasteful; it’s one of the worst pollutants in the world. There are so many things that are wrong with it and someone needs to tackle it.
What other plans do you have for the label? Expansion, storefronts?
My idea was more than just my sustainable clothing line. My idea that I applied for the UN award with was to make it closed loop: to create a take-back program. So at the end of life of the garment, you can return it to me and I’ll either upcycle it, downcycle it, or build a composting facility to compost the fabric and find another solution other than the landfill. I’m kind of torn about storefronts because to me they’re not environmentally sustainable. If I do get my stuff in stores, which I’m hoping to, to get it into a select few on-brand stores, hopefully that’s the route I’ll go: more wholesale and selling to more boutique stores that align with my values and my brand aesthetic as well.
Do you have any tips for anyone who’d like to start up something and make an impact like you’re doing now?
I would say: try to find a program that’s super niche. When I went out and started thinking about doing this (starting Novel Supply Co.), I was like, ‘I can’t do this on my own; I need a structure.’ So I found Factory45 and it really enabled me to do what I’m doing today. Also, getting out there and asking. Interview people. Force yourself out of your comfort zone and email that person you just really want to have coffee with and see if they’re willing; most of the information I got and the things I learned were from those conversations and interviews I did. Ask for mentorships. Mentorships are amazing. And do projects on things you’re interested in, because then it might spark something and might lead you on the right path.
Congratulations Kaya and good luck in Nairobi!
Shop for sustainable fashion online at novelsupply.com and learn more about Kaya’s approach to sustainability in her UN Young Champion of the Earth video below: