Downtown

A Brooklyn designer has a solution to fashion’s sustainability problem

February 28, 2020 Paul Frangipane
Lindsay Clinton serves as a judge in the Make It in Brooklyn Female Founders pitch contest. The contest featured six female founders from five different startups pitching their businesses. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

In an eighth floor office in Downtown Brooklyn, Amanda Grogan explained one of the perils of the fashion industry to a room full of people and a panel of judges: Burberry burned millions of dollars of clothes last year. Millions of excess garments from overproduction are sitting in warehouses around the globe. And, in closets around the world, old clothes are being snubbed for their newer neighbors.

These garments are referred to as “deadstock,” and companies have the option to discount, trash, burn or recycle them.

Grogan’s proposal: to dye all those clothes black. The idea, the basis of her startup Make it Black, won her a female founders pitch contest on Thursday night  organized by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

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“I was wearing different colors so they were staining. I was buying clothes that I wore once and they were ending up in the back of my closet and I was trying to figure out what I could do with these,” Grogan said. “So how do we keep the garment at its highest value in a circular economy? We make it black.”

The 33-year-old fashion designer’s ultimate goal is for virgin black clothes not to exist. Black is currently the most popular color in clothing, with 30 percent of all sales in the fashion industry being black, according to Grogan.

Amanda Grogan, founder of Make it Black, finds out she is the winner of the Make It in Brooklyn Female Founders pitch contest. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Amanda Grogan, founder of Make it Black, finds out she is the winner of the Make It in Brooklyn Female Founders pitch contest. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

A panel of five judges, each of them entrepreneurs themselves, listened intently to her pitch — and to the pitches of five other female startup founders from four companies – to decide who would receive a $5,000 prize courtesy of JP Morgan Chase and NYU Tandon, and a free consultation with EA Creative Consulting.

The contest was part of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s Make It in Brooklyn campaign and was held at the offices of Propel, a former winner of one of the partnership’s pitch contests.

“We need to continue to celebrate female founders,” said Rachel Fleischer, community manager of the Urban Future Lab. “While the shift towards changing the numbers within STEM and the entrepreneurial world is slow moving, we have embraced it here at Tandon.”

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Last year, the incoming first year class at the school was 46 percent female, over 20 percent higher than the national average for STEM schools, Fleischer said.

Grogan, a Dublin, Ireland native, got choked up when the judges announced she was the winner.

“It’s incredible for judges to be as esteemed as they are to give the feedback they did and to pick this as an innovation that they feel could change the landscape of the industry that I’m working in,” she said.

Judge Wendy Tsu gives feedback to contest participants. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Judge Wendy Tsu gives feedback to contest participants. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Liz Sisson, one of the judges, commented that she didn’t think anyone on the panel had seen a concept like Make it Black before, but she said a better explanation of the chemical side of the dying process could be important to ensure sustainability.

The company uses synthetic dyes now but Grogan hopes to use biological dyes as they develop further.

With the $5,000 prize, she plans to conduct tests to help the company receive grants to increase funding.

Alongside Make it Black, founders gave business pitches for a peer-to-peer authentication software for photographers, a platform that prepares children for school readiness, a network to help busy parents get clothes for their babies cheaper and greener and an Airbnb concept for medical offices.


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