Since high school, Rubaina Singla has always loved working in retail fashion, styling customers. But the waste she witnessed in the process was a constant concern.
“The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter on the planet,” she said. “Every day we would get shipments of boxes and boxes of stock. In each box, there would be a couple hundred items of clothing, and each piece wrapped in a plastic bag.
“Seeing that every single day for years really got to me,” she said. “That was just one store, but it happens in hundreds of stores in every mall. That waste really sparked my interest in sustainable fashion.”
As did the abundance of apparel made with petroleum-based fibers, a trend Singla saw increasingly as she shopped for lingerie.
“I noticed there was a lack of lingerie in general, and what was available was made with polyester,” she said. “There’s no focus on sustainability and on top of that, the styles are tacky.”
Singla sought to be part of the solution. After months of research, product and supply chain development, and help from Western’s Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, Powered by Ivey, she founded Singla Intimates. She looks to launch the eco-friendly, classically designed lace lingerie line next spring.
Learning about lace
The second-year Media, Information and Technoculture (MIT) student didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur.
“At first, I didn’t think this would be a business at all,” she said, but she now recognizes her entrepreneurial spirit showed up in other ways, including her dogged determination to source the sustainable lace she now uses in her garments.
“It wasn’t an easy process,” she said. “I could talk to lots of people in the fashion industry who know how to make tee shirts, but no one knows anything about lace and lingerie.”
She used the extra time she had during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to find out where to get ethically made textiles, and to learn how to create styles, find designers and manufacturers.
“It took months and months of research,” she said.
Her efforts connected her to textile scientists and to two manufacturers who are now using industrial waste and recycled yarns to help her create her hand-sewn, lace garments.
Support on campus
While in the brainstorming stage, Singla attended innovation bootcamps through Enactus Western, a campus club supporting social entrepreneurs. “They helped me connect to student mentors and gave me the initial confidence to take small steps toward making my idea a reality,” she said. Last March, she won the club’s social impact company of the year award.
Then a Facebook post, advertising the summer accelerator at Morrissette Entrepreneurship, caught her eye.
“The application was due that day,” she said. “I didn’t have a pitch, I didn’t have a pitch deck, and I wasn’t even sure if what I had was a company, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t apply. I pulled an all-nighter to prepare, and somehow got an interview, and was selected.”
The accelerator program brought her a $9,000-stipend, an opportunity to work alongside other entrepreneurs, and workshops featuring Western alumni and mentors.
Singla was then accepted as one of ten students in the Founders Program, where she’s currently gaining more education and mentorship.
“I’ve been involved with Morrissette Entrepreneurship for over six months now,” Singla said. “I don’t think I’d be where I’m at with my business without them.”
Changing clothes, changing perceptions
Over the past seven months, Singla has overseen the design and development of more than 30 styles of lingerie, narrowing it down to three styles in white and black to optimize ethical and sustainable feasibility, fit and quality.
“I’m now testing the garments in the washing machine, in the dryer and ensuring the labels are comfortable,” Singla said. “I’m also testing all the sizes, because I can’t be selling underwear that doesn’t fit.”
As Singla looks to the launch of her line next spring, she’s hoping it will be a springboard for offering even more eco-friendly products.
“We’re not perfect,” she said. “As a business, we contribute to environmental damage by purely existing. There is still so much I want to do in textile innovation. My ultimate goal is to focus on the entire value chain, and make the garments biodegradable, but I can’t do that without people buying into the idea of the product first.”
She’s also keen to change the perception of sustainable fashion.
“People automatically assume sustainable products are not as good, thinking they either sacrifice on functionality, fit, feel, style or look,” she said. “I want to help change that view.
“I don’t want anyone to look at my business or product and think, ‘That’s a sustainable business.’ I want people to think of it as a great business, with high-quality products, that just happens to value transparency and sustainability. That’s not special, that should just be the norm, and the accepted practice in every fashion business, or any business overall.”
Western is celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week November 8 to 12 with a series of virtual and in-person events hosted by Morrissette Entrepreneurship. Make connections, learn more about resources and be inspired by entrepreneurs by visiting Beyond the Start: Global Entrepreneurship Week at Western