Isabella Dahrouch spent much of her childhood embroidering and piecing together fashionable outfits with her grandmother, but it was not until she gained more free time during the COVID-19 pandemic that she turned a side hobby into something more.
In September 2020, Dahrouch, a senior marketing major, launched 215 Upcycled, an online sustainable fashion store, to promote slow fashion, a movement Dahrouch values deeply. She sells clothing items like vintage t-shirts and tie-dye jeans, and accessories like rings, scarfs and custom zodiac necklaces.
The fashion industry accounts for nearly 10 percent of global carbon emissions and 20 percent of wastewater, BBC reported.
Fast fashion mass produces clothes at lower prices to keep up with trends, according to Ethical Consumer. Slow fashion takes the opposite approach in an attempt to create higher quality items that will last for the consumer.
Customers can order clothes or accessories using Upcycled’s website and opt to either pick up their items from Dahrouch’s apartment, located on 16th Street near Montgomery Avenue, or have them shipped.
Sorting through her closet in November 2019, Dahrouch realized she had a lot of clothes she no longer wore and began posting pictures of her shirts and pants to Instagram and selling them.
Nearly three months later, the pandemic caused schools and businesses to shut down, giving Dahrouch more free time, which she used to paint pants, practice sewing and repurpose shirts she thrifted or no longer wore to alleviate her boredom.
Dahrouch’s Instagram follower base quickly expanded from close friends and family to more than 3,000. She credits the increased engagement she received to other users she followed who were also selling clothes via Instagram.
“During quarantine there was such a large community of girls that were doing the same thing as me,” Dahrouch said. “We kind of had a support system online and we would reshare our stuff, so their followers would see my stuff and vice versa.”
By the summer of 2020, she began accepting custom orders via Instagram direct messages, but managing multiple requests each day through a social media app was overwhelming, so she created a website.
“Once I got to this age and had all the resources, I was able to go full force and teach myself all these new skills and just how to be a sustainable reseller,” Dahrouch said.
Dahrouch’s followers appreciated the shift to a website because it was more accessible.
After establishing the website, Dahrouch earned more than 300 sales in a year.
Because Dahrouch works out of her apartment, she hosts pop-up events on and around Temple’s Main Campus and at student apartments like Vantage and Temple Nest, to expand her customer base, she said.
Although Upcycled is a one-woman operation, she collaborated last March with Katie Brosky, a freelance photographer and Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School senior, to photograph and promote her business.
Brosky has learned a lot about the need for sustainability in the fashion industry from Darouch and is considering pursuing photography and a fashion-related study in college because of the experiences she gained from working with Dahrouch, she said. She admires Darouch’s hard work and dedication.
“She is one of the most inspiring young girls that I know,” Brosky said.
Dahrouch’s parents supported her since she first told them about Upcycled and recently built a studio in their garage in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where she’ll base her operations after graduating.
Dahrouch’s mother, Maria, owner and manager of Agua Bistro in Eagleville, Pennsylvania, wanted to build the studio to help her daughter’s business grow. She values her work ethic and determination to always pursue her dreams, she said.
“She’s the type of person who will never take no for an answer,” Maria Dahrouch said. “She will focus on something and that’s her vision and that’s what she’s going to try until she gets it.”
Dahrouch hopes to one day turn Upcycled into a boutique on South Street, she said.
She values sustainability and hopes people will realize the importance of incorporating it into their lives, she said.
“Sustainability is just something I’ve always been passionate about, not even just with clothes, just in my daily life, so to be able to incorporate it into something that I’m passionate about, just fashion, is just very rewarding,” Dahrouch said.