The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Sustainable production takes root in local retailers

Iowa City is where many businesses dedicated to reducing waste sell their products, and these retailers are committed to making a bigger change.
Emily Nyberg
The General Manager of Revival Maggy Moran organizes a clothing rack at Revival in Iowa City on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. Revival is a curated clothing store with a focus on resale and vintage items. (Emily Nyberg/The Daily Iowan)

When Bonnie Streinz established her Facebook business in 2020, she sought a way to share her passion for sewing. What she accomplished is worth much more to the planet.

Her business EmaJo Designs’ products are made with pieces of scrap fabric including old shirts and denim. Streinz also makes wallets with cork, a durable, water-resistant, biodegradable substance. Through upcycling and a careful selection of materials, Streinz has prevented unnecessary waste from entering the environment.

According to a 2022 Iowa Department of Natural Resources study, textiles and leather are the third leading component of residential waste in Iowa City behind food waste and plastic film. Business owners like Streinz are now seeking resourceful ways to reduce this waste.

From farmers market vendors to fashion boutiques, downtown Iowa City business owners are keen on working to reduce carbon footprints, source locally for their products, and increase the longevity of their products. Sustainability is spreading.

Streinz’s small business is best known for its shirt aprons, which are sleeveless kitchen aprons made out of reused button-downs.

She uses a process called upcycling, or the creation of a product with a higher value than the original, with materials that would otherwise be discarded. She has sold several aprons on Facebook and mans a booth at the Iowa City Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning.

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Though clothes are not the only products that can be made and sold more eco-efficiently, the fashion industry is one of the biggest waste contributors worldwide. Most of this waste is a result of “fast” fashion, which refers to the mass production of garments popularized by fads that trend just as quickly as they fade.

Fast fashion pieces, like those from popular brands Shein, Temu, and Target, are not meant to last. Not only are they bad for the environment, but the production of fast fashion also employs underpaid and unpaid laborers working in poor conditions.

Ritu Jain, owner of Textiles on Dubuque Street, personally chooses each fabric and garment to sell in her shop. She said she has been promoting sustainable fashion since the day she opened 32 years ago and has had loyal customers for over 20 years.

“I started as a fabric store, so I feel like my buying is a little different than typical stores. I know how things are made and constructed and the quality of fabrics, and I do look at all of that,” Jain said.

Jain provides premium quality clothing for her customers, but that doesn’t mean all Iowa City shoppers can always afford luxury closet basics. For some people, fast fashion is the only way to financially attain clothing at all.

With second-hand fashion, some small businesses find luxury brands at thrift stores and estate sales and re-sell the garments at regular retail prices or higher to obtain a profit.

The Shop Iowa City on Dubuque Street obtains its second-hand pieces from estate sales, other thrift shops, online, and local artists. The store provides the footwork of finding unique pieces for consumers. Manager of The Shop Jacy Fitzpatrick said the store’s goal is to keep thrifting alive by providing second-hand items at low prices.

“We are passionate about not being an exclusive shop. You’re going to come in and be able to get earrings in here for $6 up to $15 at the most. It’s not a boutique you walk into and you need to spend $35 on a pair of earrings or something,” Fitzpatrick said. “We try to keep the prices down.”

Meanwhile, home goods and cleaning products are the main focus for other businesses and farmers’ market vendors, like the Witch + Hazel Apothecaré, which is based in Fairfield, Iowa.

Founded last year by owner Rogue Sypersma, the Witch + Hazel Apothecaré specializes in eco-friendly home goods. Its candles are homemade from soy wax and packaged in recycled glass. Soy wax burns much more slowly than typical paraffin wax, and when the candle eventually burns out, customers will return it to the shop so it can be reused.

“I just want to keep creating what I call bath, body, and ritual oddities for people that also want to contribute to eco-friendly practices and sustainability,” Sypersma said.

The business sources its recycled glass from the brand Makesy. Though there is a steep increase in cost for the glass, the benefit to the environment is worth it, Sypersma said.

For businesses that may not be able to readily afford materials like recycled glass, one of the simplest ways to practice sustainability is by reducing quantity.

Farmers market vendor Rare Bird Soap Shop sells a variety of skincare products like soaps, lotions, and shampoos. Every product is homemade with solar-powered equipment.

“It is all made from scratch but in smaller batches, which then ensures a better-quality product,” Wende Fugate, owner of Rare Bird Soap Shop, said. “I utilize everything.”

Though every business that practices sustainability is unique, they are all part of a much larger, supportive community that helps everyone learn about protecting the environment together.

DeAnn Johnson, farmers’ market vendor and owner of Re-farming Microgreens, has started to share her discoveries about sustainable farming with other farms in her area.

While farms nowadays tend to harvest based on the volume and size of crops, Johnson believes their focus should be on harvesting crops at the right time for quality of nutrients and flavor rather than quantity.

“I was disabled in a wheelchair for quite a while and finally decided that I didn’t want to stay that way, so I started doing research on nutrition, and microgreens were one of the easiest ways to get the nutrition I wanted in smaller quantities,” Johnson said.

Sustainability in Iowa City has also created a community among larger retailers. When a new business with an environmentally friendly mission launches in the area, fellow businesses are happy to lend a helping hand.

Revival, a retailer located in the Pedestrian Mall that is nearly 75 percent resale, works closely with similar retailers like Velvet Coat and White Rabbit to ensure that customers are exposed to a variety of clothing options, Moran said.

“We all work together and we’re all in constant communication to make sure that everybody can find a place and find a product that suits them and their customers,” Moran said.

Streinz said the number of sustainable businesses in Iowa City keeps her interested in the community.

“The farmers’ market in Iowa City is such a strong community and so diverse. It’s just wonderful to be around these makers and farmers. Buy local,” Streinz said.

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About the Contributors
Zhenya Loughney
Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter
Zhenya is a fourth year theatre design and journalism double major at UI. They are passionate about artistry and creativity. They are from Lebanon, KY.
Stella Shipman
Stella Shipman, Arts Editor
Stella Shipman is a junior undergraduate at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and minoring in Cinema. A former Arts Reporter, she loves reviewing shows and covering musical performances. She hopes to encourage more students to engage in the vibrant arts community of Iowa City. This is her second year working at The Daily Iowan.
Emily Nyberg
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.