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Meet Ellerai, The Marine Biologist-Turned-Fashionista

Photo courtesy of Arlene Easterwood

By Laurie Melchionne

In 2018, Elle Rai tackled the fashion industry’s notorious dark side: air pollution, water waste and landfill pile-ups. According to a recent study conducted by the European Union’s European Parliament, textiles contribute to 20% of water pollution thanks to chemicals used in dyeing and finishing. Synthetics alone account for 35% of microplastics that clog oceans, deteriorate marine habitats and endanger countless sea life species.

For marine biologist Elle Rai, who loves both ocean conservancy and fashion, this is unacceptable.

By launching Ellerai, the sustainable lifestyle brand rooted in zero-waste, water conservation and ethical upcycling production, Ellerai took a career in marine biology to the next level by producing ethical fashion backed by science.

Aesthetically, Ellerai’s first collection blended upcycling the founder’s personal items to contribute to the brand’s signature, made-to-order T-shirt customization service among other items. From unused curtains to scraps from an old scarf, Ellerai elevates upcycling to a whole new plateau of self-expression through style. The best part? No sea animals are harmed in the making.

Fashion Mannuscript sat with Ellerai in this exclusive Q&A.

What came first, your passion for marine biology or that of fashion?

Unconsciously, my passion for fashion came first. Growing up I would remake clothes and my mom would sew some of my clothes. I fell in love with Marine mammals around high school and graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Marine Biology. This led me to caring for a variety of marine mammals such as dolphins, otters and sea lions, becoming an avid diver and an advocate for our oceans and environment. Because of my love for the oceans, I learned about the detrimental effects of fast fashion and began upcycling curtains, bedsheets and fabric I found at home. From doing this, I started to attract conversation with what I was wearing, and that is how Ellerali started.

Why did you choose fashion as the vessel to spread your message about the importance of environmental protection?

Fashion is fun, creative, expressive and unique to each person. I always enjoyed being unique, so upcycling gave me the opportunity to creatively express myself in a way that made me feel “cool and fresh” without creating more waste. Upcycling is a way to reduce items going into landfill. We just have so much stuff.

How does your background in marine biology give Ellerali an advantage in the sustainable fashion sphere?

Sustainability is the root of Ellerali; it’s my heart. I’ve worked with marine mammal stranding organizations, I’ve helped rehabilitate animals back into the wild and I’ve dived in various locations removing trash. Being surrounded with a community of scientists, environmentalists, animal specialists and educators, my heart space is different compared to my peers in fashion. I feel grounded in Ellerali’s mission in sustainability. And I pray I continue to be focused on ways to reduce waste, and make fashion more circular and sustainable and soon, be known as one of the leaders in sustainable fashion.

What are some of the top ways that Ellerali conserves water and makes up for any waste produced during manufacturing?

Upcycling clothes conserves water compared to working with new fabric because we do not have to worry about dyeing or pre-shrinking fabric. Most of the water consumption we use comes from washing the pre-owned clothes as they arrive in the studio which we wash and dry in large batches before cutting. In our upcycling process, we recreate out of the items as is, repurpose as much as we can and transfer scraps from one piece to another. What I love about being a small business is that it allows me to monitor waste and environmental impact.

Walk us through the “recreate with your own T-shirts” service. What makes this different from other custom-designed brands?

My favorite thing to do with Ellerali is this custom service because there’s something so special about recreating out of your own shirts. To request a custom order, you would need to decide what Ellerali style to choose from. The amount of shirts to use varies from four to six, depending on the style you choose. You would mail them over, I would then suggest design options and from that you would choose your design and I would make it. What makes working with Ellerali awesome is receiving back an item recreated just for you, supporting a mission in sustainability and knowing that you’re supporting a small business.

What are some results that tell consumers that Ellerali is making an impact on reducing waste in fashion?

I’m proud to say that Ellerali has diverted at least 800 lbs of clothing and textile waste from landfill. In recreating these pieces, we hope to inspire a new way to re-love your clothes. We look forward to expanding the team to make a greater impact for the future of fashion and our environment.

What are some staple elements in each Ellerali piece?

Each Ellerali piece has the signature “L” patch-worked into each item. Most pieces are unisex, reversible and have pockets.

Anything exciting in store for the future?

Yes! At the moment we are expanding the team and working on manufacturing pieces to scale to allow more people and companies to upcycle with us. We are excited for the partnerships underway and looking forward to opening a Recreate The Created Upcycle Store in the future!

Where can we shop Ellerali?

You can shop Ellerali online at www.ellerali.com and in person at our pop-up locations. To find out where we will be next, visit ellerali.com/events