Episode 37 - Refashioning 50B Tons of Waste Into Runway Worthy Clothes with Melissa Feezor
On today’s episode, we learn about the 50 billion tons of waste the fashion industry generates per year goes into our landfills and how Melissa Feezor of Raw Materials by Melissa is determined to change that fact. Melissa Feezor shares her journey of operating a boutique one-off fashion business to struggling to pay her bills and take of her two children and back again. Melissa is creating cool stylish looks out of unlikely sources specifically “old man pants”.
Melissa Feezor worked in the creative field most of her adult life. She founded a graphic design company, enjoyed a fine art career and launched raw materials, an upcycled fashion line. Then she lost everything. During the economic downturn of 2008, she went thru a divorce and lost her home. With two small children to care for, she gave up on her creative career and worked as many odd jobs as she could to keep them afloat. It was a dark and humbling time. The loneliness, isolation, and shame of living below the poverty level nearly broke Melissa. But, it never got to her sweet and incredibly brave kids, age 6 and 9 at the time. Mia and her brother Michael sat vigil outside mom’s bedroom door during Melissa’s “time outs” to cry, and would say under the door; “breathe mommy, just breathe”.
As she got back on her feet the strength of her children stuck with her. She felt a desire to help other children who came home after school to a parent in a desperate situation and through no fault of their own had to be a kid and an adult all at the same time. She knew the only way to help these courageous kids was to help their parents get back on their feet and help make the family whole again. Melissa learned, through her own challenging experiences, that kids just want their parents back to being parents.
Melissa eventually went back to the corporate world. There she tried to rally coworkers to see the needs of the poor and show them how thoughtfully designed products and programs could “solve the world’s problems, with the world’s problems”. This crusade leads to several humanitarian programs, including a virtual food drive and a volunteer engagement program. These ideas caught the eye of top-level executives of her billion-dollar employer. Although she had CEO level support, corporate red tape and layers of management caused the eventual demise of her big, world-changing ideas.
What can only be described as divine inspiration thru a Christian faith-based journey, Melissa was led to her earlier love of upcycling clothing. Her son, Michael, once told her after a particularly upsetting episode early in the divorce, “mom, you take everything bad and make it good”. Focused on that principle, equipped with the skills of being able to design wearable fashion out of old clothes and a special vision to see textile waste as a valuable commodity, Melissa relaunched raw materials. This time to benefit humanitarian causes in addition to environmental benefits.
With the blessing of a second chance at love and the support of her new husband she left the safety of her corporate job and is devoting herself full time to raw materials and its basic principle: making high fashion from old clothes for good causes. Through product line development, pops ups, fashion fundraisers and workshops she is hoping to fill a great need as a social enterprise element for those needing way back to society. She currently is focused on several non-profits who serve sex trafficking survivors and is teaching what she knows to others. Melissa hopes this will provide not only trade for these survivors but also a dignified, sustainable way back to society.
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