The Concrete Jungle, A Little Bit Greener

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One Madison native changing the most wasteful industry on earth

by Mia Hanekamp, Editor in Chief

Jesse Ayala, Jr.
Jesse Ayala, Jr.

Jesse Ayala was a recent Madison transplant trying to make it in the big city when he realized there must be something more.

In spring 2011, after spending time in Cairo in the midst of the Arab Spring, Ayala was inspired by the radically changing culture. “Invigorated by the feeling of revolution,” he says, “people began organizing efforts to address the underlying issues facing the country,” including clean water, the eradication of poverty and development. He saw a subculture emerging that implemented eco-conscious activities among sustainability and environmentalist groups.

Following his time in Egypt, Ayala moved to Israel to research energy independence as a means to conflict resolution in the context of Israel’s “thirst for independence,” he says. In both Egypt and Israel, he saw movements toward sustainability, but little to no action at the federal level. Ayala felt it was his responsibility to utilize his resources to contribute to the cause.

Ayala began to realize that the culture of consumerism in the Middle East is not as strong as it is in the United States, which led him to imagine ways to integrate sustainability into American lifestyle. Many consumer markets have been exploring sustainability for a number of years, including cars, energy and cosmetics. But recently, due in part to scrutiny from industry influencers and tastemakers, both big- and small-name fashion brands have begun exploring this space as well by trying to reduce waste in any way.

He  began reflecting on his own impact on the environment due to his lifelong interest in fashion. He felt that he should “take part in shaping how our generation, the generation after us and the generation before us rethink how we consume clothing. [Fashion] is one of the most wasteful industries on earth.”

Enter: Modavanti.

“Luxury fashion and sustainability are frequently viewed as opposites; that they cannot be put together,” Ayala says. “We’re trying to prove that they are not mutually exclusive and can complement each other.”

Modavanti, “fashion forward” in Italian, is an online source for sustainable and socially conscious high-end women’s fashion that aims to bridge the consumer and the designer. Ayala, Creative Director of the company, has implemented a series of classifications for the items, including organic, eco-friendly produced, eliminating waste and more.

Gretchen Jones of Project Runway has been bringing sustainable fashion into mainstream conversation through the widely recognized television program and, subsequently, her rising prestige within the fashion industry. Additionally, H&M is the largest sourcer of organic cotton worldwide.

A number of brands utilize vegan leather, which comes from byproducts of the cattle industry or simply doesn’t harm the animal in the process. Others make sweaters by ethically shaving fur, or some, such as Tara St. James of StudyNY, use multiple pre-owned pieces to make one new piece. Additionally, these designers use a variety of packaging methods to decrease the environmental impact, such as biodegradable tape and hangers made of recycled cardboard, and each item is made to order, ensuring there is no surplus contributing to waste.

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However, most folks may not understand how these fabrics wear and wash, requiring “a leap of faith that these products can stand the test of time.”

“There is not one form that is all sustainable,” Ayala says. “It’s like spaghetti sauce. There isn’t a perfect spaghetti sauce. There are all these different ways to come to something. But regardless, [they all] help buyers and consumers to be more conscious of what they’re purchasing.”

Modavanti aggregates designers that fall under these categories, courts them based on a certain aesthetic and the designers work in tandem with Modavanti.

The company works to create a community of designers who are interested in seeing each other’s means of creation, production and more through dialogue and sharing of information. Many of these designers are attempting to cater to the mainstream, in hopes of eliminating the stereotypical connection between “sustainable” and “hippie.”

Ayala draws a great deal of his inspiration for his career in fashion from his home city of Madison. He compares its residents to those of New York City, specifically their progressive attitude and strong work ethic.

“When you live elsewhere,” Ayala says, “people are like, ‘Where? Wisconsin?’ There’s this tone always. But I think when people go [to Madison], they realize that the people are very motivated. There’s a community that has the components of activism and very forward-thinking. I genuinely miss the ability to have such high intellectual conversations with people at such a young age.”

One of Modavanti’s next steps is to work with nonprofit groups that are trying to mitigate the existing damage done by the fashion industry. Additionally, the company is working with a design incubator that will enable young sustainable designers to achieve their goals by providing them with a place to sell their goods. Modavanti hopes to “mentor and foster their ability to develop as designers,” Ayala says.

In a time where designers, manufacturers and retailers feel the need to share concerns and develop new solutions to these industry problems, they end up exchanging ideas among one another, sharing knowledge and mastering various methods. Modavanti hopes to act as a catalyst for this activity. Ayala says, “It is an intriguing time to be in this space of great change.”

For more information on Modavanti, visit modavanti.com, or follow Modavanti on Twitter @modavanti.

Check out this story in the Winter/Spring issue of MODA, now on newsstands around the UW-Madison campus! 

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