Ever wonder what happens to the old clothes you donate that you’re pretty sure no one else wants either? Rose Soma, fashion merchandising and design major and president/owner of Rose Soma, LLC did. What she found is that chances are, they get shipped to another country (typically in Africa) where they flood the local clothing market and make it difficult for that country’s textile industry to flourish. The problem is so great that some countries have even put bans on the import of second hand textiles. That’s where Soma comes in.
Soma takes your old t-shirts or flannels and upcycles them into beautiful new fabrics and designs that are eco-friendly and unique. Her process consists of hitting the thrift store racks, laying out her finds, cutting them up, and putting them back together to make something brand new. One upcycled t-shirt at a time, Soma is chipping away at the 16 million tons of textile waste produced in the United States every year.
Soma is partnering with the Kigezi Women and Children Health Initiative to help rural women in Uganda increase their earnings, household income, and purchasing power. Soma is working on sponsoring sewing machines so the women can sew garments to sell at their local market and will soon be implementing a new line of shirts where $10/per shirt sold will benefit the organization. In the future, she plans to include them in her business model and teach them her upcycling techniques so they can take the secondhand textiles flooding their clothing market and create the patchwork fabrics she currently makes herself.
Rose Soma, LLC turned a profit during its first year in business and the model was recognized for its promise at the 7th annual K.C. O’Shaughnessy Business Pitch Competition and Showcase, sponsored by WMU’s Haworth College of Business, where Soma won both first place and the people’s choice prizes.
The fashion merchandising and design program at WMU helped Soma turn a long time love into something she can make a living doing. “I’ve loved making clothes all my life and would always just wing it and cut things up, which I still like to do, but now I know the right way to do things too which has improved my designs,” says Soma. She has also learned a lot about how the fashion industry works and plans to minor in entrepreneurship in addition to her fashion merchandising and design degree.
Long term, Soma would love to continue running her business and develop additional clothing lines. She plans to continue educating people about textile waste and hopes to be able to expand her business and her ability to reduce that waste as her business grows. “I love running my business and it definitely feels like the right thing for me. I’ve always been passionate about making clothes and as long as it remains fulfilling both creatively & financially, I’d love to continue running my business as a career.”
Visit RoseSoma.com to see more of her work or follow her shop on Instagram, @shoprosesoma.