After graduating last May with a degree in fashion merchandising and design, Missouri State alumna Melanie Reyes started her own clothing company called Wasteless Apparel, selling a variety of colorful handmade clothing all created with a common goal: zero textile waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 16 million tons of used textile waste was generated in 2015 in the United States — 10.5 million tons of this textile waste ends up in landfills. Reyes said she refuses to contribute to the growing environmental problems arising from the fashion industry and wanted to start a company that creates handmade, sustainable clothing.

“I think people should spend their money on things that are good quality and not necessarily go for the things that are sold in high quantity,” Reyes said. “Major clothing companies like Forever 21 make products as quickly and as cheaply as possible. It’s fast fashion.”

According to Merriam-Webster, fast fashion is the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers

“Trends usually last a week or two, and then (the company) moves onto the next thing,” Reyes said.

But the problem with this fast-fashion system, Reyes said, is that consumers often dispose of clothing that is “no longer trendy” into landfills instead of recycling or donating the clothing. Clothes from big name companies are often made overseas in sweatshops by children for little pay, Reyes said.

According to the International Labor Organization, 152 million children are victims of child labour, and almost half of them work in hazardous child labour.

Reyes said her company is the future of fashion, and customers can wear her clothes in good consciousness.

“You know where it comes from, and you know someone is working hard in a good ethical environment to create what you’re wearing,” Reyes said.

She became inspired to start her own clothing company after an internship in New York with Lilly Fashion, a manufacturing company that creates clothes for Paris Fashion Week — a famous fashion show held in France.

“It was a really cool experience just seeing how professionals do their business and witnessing all these new designers come in and working for themselves,” Reyes said. “It really inspired me, and that’s when I decided, ‘I can do this. I can be my own boss.’”

Wasteless Apparel was started on April 1, 2018, with the help of her social media coordinator, Sav Snow. Snow is a student at Ozark Technical Community College majoring in graphic design technology.

Snow takes and edits pictures for the company Instagram and creates all of the social media captions and posts. Reyes and Snow met through social media after Reyes posted she was in need of a social media coordinator for the brand.

“I love what Mel is all about: She won’t use products that harm animals (and) she’s against using products from big clothing companies that use children to make clothes for hardly any money,” Snow said. “She wants to create local, quality products that aren’t too expensive and are up with today’s trends.

“Mel wants her customers to truly be happy with what she’s making. She’s not just in it for the money. With most retail clothing stores you don’t get that personal touch that you do with Mel.”

Wasteless Apparel offers a wide variety of ‘70s and ‘80s inspired looks, custom orders, thrifted and vintage clothing and everything in between. Reyes makes both men’s and women’s clothing, but she currently has mostly women’s clothing posted on her social media. She plans to incorporate more men’s clothing in the near future.

Reyes is starting a Valentine’s collection that will include men’s clothing, and shortly after, she will be doing an exclusive men’s collection.

One of Reyes’ customers, Nick Simmonds, contacted her about a custom retro baseball jersey.

“I think her company is super impressive,” Simmonds said. “The whole wasteless concept makes sense to me because there’s no reason to be making all new products when someone like Mel can upcycle and make something custom that means something to you out of things that have been donated or thrifted.”

Simmonds bought a retro style baseball jersey before for $120 online — Reyes is customizing one for $75.

“It’s custom made, plus I’m getting it embroidered; it’s almost a steal,” Simmonds said. “She’s earned a customer for life.”

Reyes spends almost every waking moment sewing clothes for Wasteless Apparel.

“If I’m not with friends or sleeping, I’m sewing in my studio or thrifting,” Reyes said. “Everything to do with my shop consumes my free time. It’s a hobby, but it’s also my entire life — it’s therapeutic.”

Reyes buys her fabric from local thrift stores and fabric stores; if she buys new fabric, none of it goes to waste.

Her studio is full of bins overflowing with fabric, waiting to get shipped off and recycled. A company called TerraCycle turns fabric scraps and unused clothing into insulation and pillow stuffing.

Reyes currently works out of her studio in her boyfriend’s home in Springfield, but she said she hopes to open up a store in Springfield. If she expands, moving out of state is also a possibility.

For now, Reyes is sticking to online sales.

“Online is definitely easier when it comes to reaching people from all over,” Reyes said. “It’s also better when it comes to sustainability. People have to drive to stores, and that contributes to pollution.”

Wasteless Apparel can be found on Instagram @Wasteless_apparel.