When Jenn Vélez founded AROUND, her sustainable clothing brand, in 2017, she had already lived in Puerto Rico, California, Salamanca, Barcelona, and New York City. She emphasized her love for sustainable fashion and how she spreads awareness of the harmful effects of the Fast Fashion Industry, the sector of the fashion industry known to pollute and produce huge amounts of waste. Jenn pointed to how Fast Fashion affects the environment, the workers, and how we can flip the coin and use fashion as a vehicle for change to make a difference in the world.
Jenn, where are you from and how did that influence your passion to travel?
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. My mom is Haitian and my dad is Puerto Rican. My family is pretty big—I am one of four, with three older brothers, and the only time I travelled growing up was to Mexico for my brother’s graduation. I always knew I wanted to travel more, but it was hard for our family to organize trips, and I wasn’t confident enough, nor did I have enough money to travel by myself.
When I attended college in San Juan, I learned about the National and International Exchange Programs and I was immediately interested in pursuing them. I studied Accounting and Marketing in college, and ultimately was accepted to the National Exchange Program in California, where I studied abroad for a semester. Initially, it was pretty difficult—it was my first time being forced to live outside of my comfort zone, having no friends and being around no family. Eventually, I adapted and it was really great living in California. I learned not to be scared or afraid of living in a place by myself, that it’s okay to be new and feel weird.
“What makes someone powerful and confident is education and the pursuit of knowledge and being humble with that – knowing that everyday, you can learn something new.”
The next semester I went to Spain and studied at the University of Salamanca through the International Exchange Program. While abroad, I was able to travel to countries that impacted me and shaped my perspective on life. I loved living in Spain, and I knew that I wanted to move to Barcelona but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I finished my semester in Salamanca, went back to Puerto Rico, and ended up graduating with a degree in marketing. After I graduated, I got a student visa and moved to Barcelona, where I received my MBA in Fashion Management. Eventually, I moved back to Puerto Rico and then decided it was time for me to move to New York and pursue a career aligned with my fashion background.
What was your move to New York like?
Originally, I moved to NYC without a job, so I stayed with friends for a few months until I was able to get on my feet and began working in the fashion industry. In 2016, I realized I wasn’t happy with the job I was doing. I was basically sitting in front of a computer looking at a screen five days a week. I wanted to make my life count by helping people and making a difference.
Around the same time, my brother recommended I watch a documentary called The True Cost, which is about fast fashion and its effect on the planet and people. I was immediately moved when I watched it, and decided to do more research into the topic. I realized how horrible the environment of child workers is and the negative effects of fast fashion on our world, and I decided to stop buying clothes from fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara. Now I only thrift shop and do clothes swaps. Eventually, I quit my job and begin working on something I was actually passionate about.
Can you talk to us about the beginnings of AROUND Eco?
AROUND was founded in September 2017, and it took me nine months to launch the company. At first, I did a lot of research into fast fashion and I found many sustainable and eco-friendly companies. I also started joining groups that focus on empowering women to create their own businesses and learning about companies that help other people. We primarily create custom sustainable t-shirts for individuals, companies, and organizations, and we place an emphasis on making sure that our products are made from factories that are Fair Trade Certified™. The t-shirt materials include recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton that comes from the Chetna Organic Project in India, a community that focuses on working with small and marginal farmers towards improving their livelihoods and making farming sustainable and profitable. We make sure to support good working conditions for factories, farmers, and female empowerment in India. Our packaging is also recycled and recyclable, which is great for the planet. The messages on our t-shirts are focused around traveling, positivity, and unity. The most important aspect for me with AROUND is the ability to create awareness. Even if it impacts just one person to consume a little more eco-consciously, I consider that a win.
Jenn, what makes you feel powerful?
For me, the pursuit of education is powerful. When you know things, you have power. It also gives you confidence because you know what you’re talking about. My mom always says that the power is in your heart and I truly believe that, but what makes you powerful and confident is education and the pursuit of knowledge and being humble with that, knowing that everyday, you learn something new.