Nancy Rhodes completed the Master of Science in Sustainable Fashion in March 2020.
Nancy Rhodes is a design insider with nearly two decades of fashion industry experience and a passion for making fashion more affordable, sustainable, circular, and body positive. She has exclusive insight into mass production, having designed footwear for big names such as Beyonce’s House of Dereon, Kenneth Cole, and multiple private labels for stores ranging from Nordstrom to Target. Her years adding to the wasteful overconsumption of fashion led her to GCNYC where she received her master’s degree in Sustainable Fashion in March 2020.
Nancy is also the founder of alternew, a service she conceived out of her unique research at GCNYC and her own experience struggling to find clothes that fit properly and the process challenges of having clothing altered. alternew is an on-demand, tech enabled alteration service guided by circular economy (CE) principles and fueled by the belief that if we can extend the life of the garments we own, improve their fit, and make simple updates to keep those clothes on-trend (even as trends change), then we can reduce the 80 pounds of clothing the average American throws away each year.
alternew believes the fashion industry must change, and they are actively working to do that. Driven by the belief that if alterations can be more convenient and body-affirming, then more people will want to alter their existing clothing, in turn reducing consumption and keeping clothing in use for longer. With a few simple adjustments, mass-produced clothing can have a bespoke fit, offering clients a luxury experience that doesn’t come with a high cost to the planet or their bank account. alternew’s tagline is: “Clothes are mass produced, bodies are not!”
How did you decide on your thesis topic?
My background is in volume product and throughout my career, I created footwear for Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Burlington, Target, Payless, and others. I understood scale and I understood the need to have scale in order to drive impact. What I didn’t know was how I was going to personally create impact. Through my Values Based Leadership course led by David Grad, I had the opportunity to do a case study on Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. Her process really resonated with me; she was constantly journaling and searching, asking the question “is this my big idea?” about each potential business idea she considered. This made me wonder how could I, in that same way, find my big idea? An idea that I could be passionate about and that could fulfill my need to contribute to the greater good?
I was taking different classes, trying to figure out what my next steps were. One day I was catching up with a classmate and we were (naturally!) talking about sustainability, circularity, and impact. She happened to mention how when she was in college, she did clothing alterations as a way to make money which led to us asking the question “is there an Uber for alterations?” I left that conversation, did some research, and realized that there was a huge white space in the market for a convenient alteration service. I realized so many people had a pile of clothing in need of alterations that was going nowhere fast.
For every class I would find a way to use that case as my project; whether it was a marketing project or an entrepreneurship project. When it came time to consider my thesis, it was a super easy decision. Democratizing Fashion Customization: Accessible Alterations, Sustainable Practices and Consumer Needs is something I am so proud of and so pleased to have accomplished; it became my ‘big idea’ and the green light to start my business.
Why choose alterations as your means of tackling sustainability and circularity?
Globally, 80 billion new pieces of clothing are produced each year, an increase of 400% from only 20 years ago. Consumers purchase double what they bought 15 years ago but keep garments only half as long. The fashion industry continues to produce at exponential rates and the average American consumer now disposes of 80 pounds of clothing annually–clothing that can take up to 200 years to decompose. Many innovative solutions are required to reduce the detrimental effects of the fashion industry to the planet.
Clothing alterations and re-inventions are a significant pillar in the circular economy of fashion. Alterations are currently an underutilized service, but with alternew, we have designed an experience that makes alterations accessible, convenient, and empowering. alternew leverages technology to bring our tailoring experts to you. We believe that the combination of convenience, transparency, and skilled experts will make alterations the new fashion wellness experience for clients who want to have a dynamic relationship with their clothing.
Have a pair of jeans that need hemming? A sleeve that is too long? A much loved little black dress passed down by your grandmother that needs updating? alternew alleviates the hassle of finding an alterations expert and the tendency to leave a pile of items in need of alterations wasting away in the back of your closet by making alterations a seamless experience. We are passionate about the value of the wardrobe you already own; your ‘alternew’d’ garments will be better than before and you’ll feel great knowing that as a mindful fashionista you’re setting a trend to consciously curate your closet.
What’s next for you?
I am excited to share that I was recently chosen to participate in the Fall 2021 Ellen MacArthur Foundation Linear to Circular Programme. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) is a world renowned organization known for accelerating the transition to a circular economy across many industries including fashion. The ten-week opportunity has included sessions with CE experts and collaborative team projects aimed at providing more tactical skills for implementing CE practices in our own organizations. It has been such an invaluable experience so far!
alternew has been steadily growing both in mission and revenue since I started the business last year. A few of our successes include partnering with Reiss for a month long pop-up and continuing to work as recommended tailors to their 5 New York stores. We also had the opportunity to work with the MTV VMA’s to alter the clothing of Camila Cabello’s backup dancers, a project that took 4 of our tailors over 12 hours to complete!
alternew has been self-funded to date and we are excited to begin our funding journey with both a friends and family and an angel pre-seed round. We have seen a steady interest from those that hope to invest in alternew since we hit the ground running last year. We continue to think big about all the ways we can make a meaningful and measurable positive impact on the world through alternew!