KALAMAZOO, MI — Abigail Jaqua saw the damage fast fashion was doing, both environmentally and ethically, and decided she had to do something about it.
The sophomore at Western Michigan University wanted to sell clothes and accessories that are both sustainably and ethically made. So she did just that.
With a savings account built up over years of hard work as a young teenager in the Milwaukee area — and the extra downtime afforded to her during the pandemic — Jaqua, 19, launched online clothing boutique Atomic Sierra in December.
The racks of clothing she purchased wholesale and rebranded under her label now fill her apartment near WMU’s campus, where is currently taking virtual classes.
“Age doesn’t stop you,” Jaqua said. “You can do whatever you set your mind to.”
The idea for the clothing boutique began in her blogs as a young college student. When she was sent home from WMU because of the pandemic last spring, Jaqua took a job working in an Amazon warehouse, she said. She saved up her paychecks, hoping to make a difference with a new business venture.
“Let’s start a business. Let’s do something meaningful with it,” Jaqua said. “I sat down and thought, ‘How are we going to really make a difference in society and create a company that will last a long time and really make an impact on the world?”
Jaqua, no relation to the local Jaqua family or Jaqua Realtors in Kalamazoo, said she believes people need to take active steps to combat climate change.
The fashion industry uses a lot of water and pollutes the Earth with pesticides to create clothing that is cheap but will not last a long time, Jaqua said. The clothing is also often made by workers in foreign countries who do not make a living wage.
“Once I started reading about that; doing research — that information blew my mind,” Jaqua said. “I knew I had to spread the information, number one, and, number two, try and change it.”
She worked closely with wholesalers to find truly sustainable clothing that is made in the U.S. by workers making a living wage, she said.
“It took me months to do that,” Jaqua said. “To really make sure I’m not cutting corners here. I’m not just trying to make money, I’m really trying to provide a product that actually changes the world.”
Another important aspect to her clothing boutique was diversity and body inclusivity, Jaqua said. But, she knows she has a long way to go. The models featured on her website are people she knows personally, and she wants to expand all forms of diversity on her site. She hopes to soon expand her clothing size options, which currently run from extra small to extra large, to include larger sizes as well.
“I knew I didn’t want people to come to my website or come to my company and feel left out,” Jaqua said.
Her business is in its infancy and she is working every day to drive audience to her website and grow awareness of the new boutique.
Her parents were skeptical of her investing her hard-earned money into the business, but “they know my drive, my motivation,” Jaqua said. “They know I can do anything I set my mind to.”
Now, back in her apartment in Kalamazoo studying sales and business marketing virtually at Western Michigan University, Jaqua is focused on growing her business and learning everything she can about entrepreneurship and running a business.
One place she has learning real-life skills is through an internship with the program Young Entrepreneurs Across America. The program is teaching her skills in everything from recruitment to payroll, marketing to human resources.
“It’s such a great opportunity and it’s really going to help me learn how to scale my business, Atomics Sierra, in the future,” Jaqua said.
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