Keep it cute, but drop the carbon footprint; then add a little homemade love, and you get &Papaya: a new and fresh sustainable fashion brand. Stitching together excess dead stock that would have otherwise been thrown away, recent Stanford University graduates Ellie Chen and Izzy Jo along with their team of five have created something inspiring, uplifting, and affordable. &Papaya has its first soft launch this coming Friday, August 21st. So when we say new, we mean hot off the press. 

What began as a Senior Capstone Project for the Stanford Product Designers, has quickly turned into a new and upcoming brand of its own. With successful Instagram and website launches, &Papaya has blow past its original Stanford due date. The Capstone group began brainstorming in January, and while they knew they wanted to do something including sustainability and fashion, their ideas were initially very broad. It was not until they interviewed friends that they found an uplifting purpose for their project. 

“A lot of our friends cared about shopping sustainably…but they also didn’t actually do that like they said,” Jo said. “We came up with a metric on a scale of one to ten ‘how much do you want to shop sustainably’ and then another one, which is ‘how much do you actually shop sustainably’ and we saw this huge point difference there.” 

Chen added that people in their age demographic of young twenty year olds are very price sensitive, making it very tempting to shop at places like Nasty Gal or Forever 21 in order to find affordable clothes. Even so, many of these brands promote a fast fashion philosophy that disregards supply chain equity as well as many sustainable guidelines. Creating their brand on the idea to bring awareness to young people and lead a movement on how to shop sustainably, the group is also trying to price their clothing reasonably so that it is also affordable for their target demographic. This sentiment is reflected on the &Papaya website: where their mission is to, “Reduce the gap between the desire to live sustainably and the feasibility of doing so.” 

Despite its quickly growing popularity, the Capstone Project was not short of hurdles. Not only does &Papaya’s team of five have to individually hand sew all of their products, but they have had to find a way to affordably access dead stock material — extra fabric that would have been otherwise thrown away. A big turning point for &Papaya occurred when the group connected with Queen of Raw

“[Queen of Raw] works with a lot of big retailers and gets tons of dead stock fabric…We’ve been working with them to get all of our materials,” Chen said. “It’s kind of like hidden gems because the fabrics are awesome, and they were all going to be thrown away.” 

In terms of the sewing process, Jo says it is just one of the many adventures the group has tackled: “One of our goals for the project was to actually improve our technical skills and work on sewing. So that has been a fun little adventure too” Jo said. 

As an online clothing brand, the group has also had to think about how to ship items without creating too much waste. For now, if you order from &Papaya you will receive your clothing in 100% compostable packaging, but the team is hoping to eventually expand their creativity to include innovative and sustainable shipping material as well. 

An obstacle deterring the fashion industry from being more sustainable is the trend of consumers buying a larger quantity of clothes, but keeping them for less time. This creates a materialistic cycle that is not sustainable. Chen and Jo believe the small batch philosophy of &Papaya keeps their items unique, while also promoting quality over quantity. 

“Part of it is about how our customer feels when they have the shirt…our hope is that they feel themselves. That they feel confident and fun, and even flirty” Chen said.

“We are trying to create a sense of home grown, hand stitch…It’s not as if you’re buying something you have no emotional connection to…and we hope all of that together will get people more invested in keeping their clothes for longer and buying fewer items” 

Launching &Papaya has been no small task. Between an online semester due to COVID, taking time to reflect and support the Black Lives Matter movement, and navigating post-grad, the team has worked non-stop to create a brand that is responsive to the problems we are facing, and built for people who are working to solve them.

“Since we all really care about the project we have held ourselves accountable to continuing the work, and to work at a high standard. And at least for me, I love when I get to work on this stuff because I’m really excited about it and excited to see where it can go,” Jo said.

You can follow &Papaya on their Instagram as well as on their website. Be sure to catch them tomorrow, August 21st for their soft launch. In the name of slow-fashion, there will be limited quantities in stock — so you better get there quick! 

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