By Claire Purcell
Deciding to stitch “voting is sexy” on an old cotton t-shirt was the beginning of a backyard business venture that might just help populate the polls when the time comes. New Orleans is filled with thrift stores, resale shops, and yard sales overflowing with clothing. All Nina had to do was take advantage of the abundances of old shirts and make them something new– something people wanted to wear, something they could only get from her. Now these revamped old shirts can be seen paraded all over uptown New Orleans across the chests of strangers.
“I was just with my friends and I thought it would be so cool if there were shirts that said “voting is sexy”, and one of my friends said she could just teach me how to embroider because it was incredibly easy…then we just made the shirts ” Nina said nonchalantly. With over 1000 sales, Stitch It to the Patriarchy is establishing a name for Nina in uptown New Orleans, all while producing zero waste. Nina uniquely combines progressive messages with sustainable clothing, and does it all herself. Nina, a senior at Tulane University, created the company in 2019 after being taught to embroider, simply using thrifted clothing, her new embroidering kit, and an instagram page. Now Stitch-It has a website, a large following, and endless volunteers yearning to model for the page wearing their own custom Stitch-It gear. All of the clothing is created sustainably, nearly eliminating the carbon footprint and waste from the process. Stitch-It aims to eliminate the fast-fashion trend of clothing buying—buying cheap, low quality clothing that is easy to discard when they’re out of style or inevitably destroyed. She elevates the brands’ recycled clothing even further by stitching honest, progressive messages across the front.
Everything Nina makes for Stitch-It comes from a local thrift shop before she stitches a unique message on it and posts it on her instagram to be sold. She hand selects her thrifted clothing and then using string, will embroider the finishing touches at home. One of the best parts of Stitch-It is that this entire process is relatively simple. The process of making or buying clothes doesn’t need to be wasteful or extensive according to Stitch-It.
“The statistics are insane, it’s like 100 gallons of water [to make a] new cotton shirt. So none of what I’m making is new, it is all reused so we can save so much water and have a carbon footprint of like zero” says Nina, “[between] making the cotton in Brazil and sewing it in India and then selling it in the US. Making a product in all those spots has such a large carbon footprint. I save all that waste”. Instead of buying new, all Nina has to do is buy the shirts that are available that week, looking for “quality, for things I would wear, or things people are asking for”. Then she simply decides what message to stitch onto it and it is ready to be sold. Nina recycles the fabric of New Orleans into messages that the people want to hear.
So the clothing is sustainable, but what makes people come back for more is the messages Nina chooses to finish off her masterpieces.
“I thought the phrase blank is sexy was thought provoking” Nina told me, and evidently others agree. Her most popular designs are “voting is sexy” and “she cums first”—two statements you may never have seen on a t-shirt without Nina. She selects messages that are “thought provoking, progressive and never seen” she says. She chooses her messages wisely, as she tries to start a larger conversation using clothing as her device to do so. When most of your buyers are college-aged students, wearable progressive messages are both a hit and an influence on the thinking of their moldable minds.
A perk of being a college-aged entrepreneur is the fleet of free social media PR readily available on a college campus. Nina runs Stitch-It almost entirely by herself–from the thrifting to the stitching–and yet she says that she finds “it is doing so well, and all from people just posting it, or telling their friends, or just wearing it around”. To my surprise, she told me “I’m a poly-sci major, I’m not even a fashion person”. Nina has found a way to intertwine the progressive thinking of her major with her passion to create an eco-friendly way to shop for clothing. She utilized the force of social media to ease her way into the fashion industry and bring progressive thinking along with her.
Being a college student herself, Nina cannot dedicate 100% of her time to working on Stitch-It (though she does donate 10% of her sales to a new charity each month). Currently, Nina is thinking about the future of the company and how to expand on a national scale. “I want different people from different universities to be ambassadors and spread Stitch-It there. There are so many people from different universities that have bought my clothes.” What has allowed Stitch-It to flourish will allow it to expand–Nina sees opportunity and knows how to seize it. Stitch-It has the potential to spread and influence people as it grows. “ I don’t care about making money with the shirts” says Nina, “I care way more about people learning what fast-fashion is and being mindful with their purchases. I’m using it to educate people—you [can] support good industries and still getting cool clothes. Just not with the negative consequences“.