Jenn Vélez: Sustainable AcTEEvist
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Jenn Vélez has been involved in the Fashion Industry for the last 10 years. During her college years she went from San Juan, Puerto Rico to San Bernardino, California, and Salamanca, Spain, earning a degree in Business Administration and Marketing, in addition to Fashion Design and Pattern Making certification studies.
Her love for fashion sent her to Barcelona, where she graduated with a Master’s degree in Fashion Management. Traveling and living in different cities gave her a new outlook on life and the confidence to follow her dreams. A New Yorker by adoption since 2012, Jenn moved to this fashion capital, where after 5 years working in the apparel industry she sought the opportunity to use her knowledge and experience as a vehicle for change. Aligning her passions for travel, fashion, and design; AROUND was born.
Make Muse: Why did you decide to create AROUND? Did you have a commitment to Fair Trade and Sustainability first or did you first set out to enter the Fashion industry, with sustainability being second?
Jenn: I created Around Eco with the idea of starting a purposeful business. Our mission is to improve lives, protect the environment and empower people to make a difference. T-shirts are the second most used item of clothing after underwear, over 2 billions are sold worldwide every year. According to research; making just one regular cotton t-shirt requires over 700 gallons of water, 0.01 pounds of pesticides, 0.2 pounds of fertilizers, 1.2 pounds of fossil fuels, 6 pounds of CO2, 0.11 pounds of other gases.
The impact to the planet, people, and wildlife is incredible and by offering a better option we can change the world. Our goal was to create a cycle of positive impact, thoroughly thinking each step of the way. From the way the soil is nurtured for the cotton, to the labor conditions of everyone in the supply chain, to the hangtags, and packaging; and we were able to accomplish that goal. The commitment to Fair Trade and Sustainability comes first.
Make Muse: Describe the first steps you took to get your business off the ground. Were there any extra difficulties starting a sustainable business?
Jenn: The firsts steps involved lots and lots of research. It took me a while to find everything I wanted, the way I wanted it. Everything needed it to be consistent and aligned to the values of AROUND. I can say that a big challenge of starting a sustainable business is the monetary cost. It’s very expensive to build a sustainable business.
Make Muse: Is there a particular reason why you chose to create shirts with travel-themed slogans?
Jenn: I love to travel, I have lived in 6 different cities and visited over 300 in 23 countries.
As a traveler, I want future generations to continue to enjoy this beautiful world and everything it has to offer. Sadly, the Fast Fashion Industry has become one of the biggest sources of pollution in the world. By creating travel inspired t- shirts we aim to inspire other travelers to join us in caring and protecting what we love.
I have always thought of t-shirts as billboards that you can use to express yourself and they’re great icebreakers for conversations, with that in mind I make colorful and cool designs to grab attention, in order to share our message of social and environmental responsibility.
Make Muse: How do you ensure that your entire process- from the shirts to the labor to the packaging for Around Eco- is sustainable and fair-trade certified?
Jenn: All our blank t-shirts are made by a Fair Trade CertifiedTM USA facility in India. The Fair Trade CertifiedTM hangtag and care label printed in every t-shirt ensures that the products were made with respect to people and the planet. When you see a product with the Fair Trade CertifiedTM seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. Fair Trade CertifiedTM works closely on the ground with producers and certifies transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities. The design and screen-print process is covered by me and we source our packaging from a fantastic ecofriendly small business located in Colorado.
*For more information about AROUND’s process, check out https://aroundeco.com/pages/our-process
Make Muse: Which shirt is your favorite in your collection?
Jenn: I really love them all! But whenever I wear the WTF (World Traveler Freak), there’s always someone that says something about it and it gives me the opportunity to start conversations about my travels and the company.
Make Muse: How does sustainability empower the women who create your shirts as well as other women worldwide?
Jenn: Women's empowerment is a key component of the fair trade. Women participate in decision making in the fair trade project. This benefits entire communities as they often invest in new services, local business and community projects like childcare and schooling. Standards at the mill level mandate equal pay, standards for maternity leave, health care and freedom from harassment.
Make Muse: Do you have any personal beliefs about the need to champion females around the world? If so, why do you think the world needs to make the world equal for females worldwide?
Jenn: As women we have to stick together, join communities and cherish each other, social media is a great resource to stay in contact with women around the world were we can learn, grow and empower each other. It shouldn’t matter where in the world you were born and/or live, I believe that all of us are created equal and we should be treated equally.
Make Muse: What are some of your favorite sustainable brands to shop at?
Jenn: I love vintage and thrift shopping; when I travel I always look for secondhand and vintage shops and markets. Here in New York City I go to Buffalo Exchange, Crossroad Trading Co, Beacon’s Closet and I support local small business and sustainable brands when I go to markets.
Make Muse: What advice do you have for people who to live a waste-free life, but are just getting started?
Jenn: Start small, don’t get overwhelmed, and make changes in your daily routine.
Make Muse: Since AROUND is traveled theme, what is the most sustainable city or place that you have traveled to?
Jenn: London, it was ranked as the fifth most sustainable city in the world in the 2016 Sustainable Cities Index from Arcadis.
Make Muse: What sustainability advocates would be a dream of yours to be wearing your shirt one day?
Jenn: Emma Watson, she is amazing and I love how she stands up and fights for everything she believes in.
Make Muse: Do you look up to any particular women (whether they promote sustainability or not)?
Jenn: Of course, I look up to my mom; she raised my three brothers and I away from her country and her family, and she managed to start her own businesses. On my list I also have Oprah, Jane Goodall, Eileen Fisher, Joanne Rowling, just to name a few.
Make Muse: In your opinion, how do sustainability and feminism intersect?
Jenn: Sustainability and Feminism intersect in many different ways by sharing common goals in social, economic and political fields. Both movements focus on making the world a better place.