Birmingham resident and entrepreneur Milagros “Mila” de Souza has set out to change the way we consume fashion.
In 2022, the 23-year-old launched The Clothing Library, a clothing rental subscription service that utilizes secondhand clothing purchased from local vendors.
De Souza is part of Birmingham’s division of Venture for America — a two-year fellowship program that promotes entrepreneurship through a network of investors and industry experts.
After graduating from Duke University in 2021 with a degree focusing on sustainable fashion, de Souza saw an opportunity to combine her passion for business and helping the environment.
“When I was in college, I created my own major and I studied the effects of sustainable fashion on society. Through this course of study, I explored the accessibility issues within the sustainable fashion industry,” de Souza said. “Sustainable fashion is the better choice for the environment, makers and even your wallet at times, but it is not always the first choice.”
According to the United Nations, buying fewer clothes, shopping secondhand and creating new clothes out of old ones helps save water while reducing production pollution and industry waste.
“It takes about 7,500 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans — from the production of the cotton to the delivery of the final product to the store,” a report from the U.N. states. “Eighty-five percent of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated although most of these materials could be reused. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burned.”
While looking to be part of the solution to fast fashion through her startup business, de Souza says she also wants to help small businesses in the same process.
“Instead of starting firsthand and becoming secondhand through the rental process, we partner with local secondhand resellers, thrift stores and consignment stores to source our items,” de Souza said, adding she has confirmed partnership with Birmingham’s D’Trespa Consignment & Vintage Boutique and Quake Plus-Size Resale.
“With The Clothing Library, we hope to support [our vendors] with passive income so they can grow their businesses in whatever way they need,” said de Souza. “We hope to empower people to build a business that works for them not constrained by the market or finances.”