Madam Chino, the West Allis store reducing waste while innovating fashion

MILWAUKEE – A Milwaukee woman is on a mission to reduce waste while creating fashionable upcycled clothing.

Madam Chino

Vanessa Devaki Andrew is the owner of Madame Chino. She started it in 2003. Andrew focuses on repurposing clothes that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Why not take something that looks like rubbish to people and make it into something I can sell or add value to,” Andrew said.

She works with old t-shirts, boat sails and any other type of fabric to create unique outfits. It can be a labor intensive process, but Andrew said it was worth it. She said we waste too much and need to reconsider what we buy and think is no longer usable.

“I’ve been on a few tours of Goodwill and seen the huge amount of stuff that we throw into our culture that we don’t even think twice about,” she said.

James Groh

A room full of clothes that were either bought from thrift stores, given to Andrew, or worked on by her.

In 2018, 11.3 million tons of textiles went to landfill, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This represented 7.7% of all waste. Additionally, according to a study published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NSIT) in May 2022, 50 billion pieces of clothing are thrown away within a year of being made. Andrew said that number was way too high, so she’s doing everything she can to make a difference.

Additionally, the NSIT, which is part of the US Congress Department, said the fashion industry is the world’s second largest consumer of water supply, using 20 trillion liters of water annually. In addition, 20% of water pollution comes from the processing and dyeing of textiles.

Fast fashion is a big contributor to these environmental issues. Thinking about how your clothes can last longer and not throwing something away right away can not only have an impact on the environment, but also on your wallet.

“I just think it’s important to put the power back in the hands of the people. You don’t rely on styles, trends, you know, funneling your money into somebody’s big pocket.”

Madam Chino

James Groh

Madame Chino was located on the East Side of Milwaukee until all tenants were evicted from the building, she was forced to find this location at West Allis on Lincoln Avenue.

Throughout its design process, there is little to no waste. Almost everything is used. If she can’t find a way to use them, she donates the clothes to local religious organizations.

Madame Chino is not just a clothing store. Andrew also organizes sewing lessons and does alterations. Classes allow others to create clothes they feel good in, and it’s kinder to the environment. The modifications allow the clothes to live longer and not end up in a landfill.

“Creating some self-sufficiency with people – how to do it themselves,” she said.

Andrew accepts clothing donations. Call or text her to talk about donations – (414) 303-1981. You can go to her website for a full list of sewing class offerings.

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