Delaney Murphy plays multiple roles and can be described as a modern ‘renaissance woman’. She is a Merchandising and Digital Retailing student at UNT, and is known to the members of NRFSA (National Retail Federation Student Association) as the President of the organization. She is also known as a philanthropist, sustainability advocate, DIY clothing restorer, art appreciator, and NRF Shop.org attendee.
This fall, Delaney felt it was important to unite NRFSA members and the CMHT (College of Merchandising of Hospitality Management and Tourism) community with a sustainable cause. Therefore, she recently completed a Blue Jeans Go Green denim donation drive at UNT. The donations supply Cotton Inc. with denim that is transformed into insulation for homes. Through this manufacturing process, the lifecycle of the jeans are extended with a new purpose. Sitting down with the President of NRFSA herself at West Oak Coffee Bar, Delaney and I discussed the drive’s impact on sustainability and the learning process involved in running a successful clothing drive.
Tell us about your collaboration. How did you get the idea for NRFSA to be a part of this?
I’m president of NRFSA, so I was kind of looking for a project we could do. We normally just have our meetings and don’t do outside events. We’re more of a national level [organization], so we don’t have as many local [activities]. I heard about the project through my cousin. She was a merchandising student at Texas Tech and the club she was in had done it a couple years ago. I had been thinking about it for quite a few years actually, since my spring semester of my Freshman year. Back then, I was like, okay, well if I get to be the president of NRFSA I will do this project. I contacted them on their website and they were really excited about what our school does. We started talking about it in May and the project started in October. I had to learn how to plan promotions [and] all the logistics of it. It was a bigger project than I realized!
Is Cotton Inc. the insulation manufacturer?
Cotton Inc. is the one that oversees everything. Blue Jeans Go Green is a part of Cotton Inc. [They] work with another company that makes the Ultratouch denim insulation, and you can buy it in stores like Lowes. You can also apply for a grant to receive the insulation through Habitat for Humanity. [Essentially it’s an environmental alternative that’s] diverting a lot of waste. 600 tons of waste has been diverted since they first started the program in 2006.
Can you describe the process of how the jeans are transformed into insulation?
[The denim goes to Arizona where they make the Ultratouch denim insulation. It’s shedded up. They take out all the metal and any additional embellishments or closures. They combine the [cotton with a] binding agent, which makes the insulation mildew resistant, mold resistant, and capable of meeting all the standards [to be] flame retardant. It’s a safe alternative to the traditional insulation, which is the pink fiberglass that is itchy, hard to work with, and [less healthy] for the lungs.
Are charity homes the only homes that can use the insulation?
The insulation [benefits] houses for Habitat for Humanity, but it can be [used in] any house. It’s also used for other types of insulting. I know it’s a good sound insulator [since it] has a good rating for sound absorption. [The insulation is essentially] denim that would probably end up in a landfill at some point. That’s the end of the game. At least as insulation, [the denim is helping to] keep a house warm. It has another purpose. It’s a cool way to do things, and that’s why I got on board with the whole project.
You mentioned that Lowes sells the insulation. Is that the only retailer that sells it?
I think Home Depot does as well. You can basically buy it at any [home improvement] retailer that sells insulation. It’s not as common to find it [since] it’s not as traditional and it’s a newer thing. Blue Jeans Go Green has collected a million pieces of denim since they launched, and created 2 million square feet of insulation. [An interesting fact is] it takes 500 pieces of denim to insulate one house.
What exactly did you have to do to prepare for the drive?
Starting off, we thought, okay, what kind of promotions do we want to use? They gave me a big list of things that they definitely thought we should use, like flyers. We used some online promotions, t-shirts, insulation samples, and the [Cotton Inc.] branded sunglasses we handed out. I think we were just trying to figure out the best way to reach our audience. I didn’t know a lot about the specifics until probably September. [The company told us] you need to do a few tabling events on campus, you need to a community event... so they had a few different requirements. They give you a layout of the program, because it is an assigned program they do every fall with different universities.
This was the first year the drive was held at UNT and you received quite a few jeans. What was the final total?
We received 288 pieces of denim plus scraps. I found out a Honda CRV can hold at least 288 jeans! We put it all in one box and was shipped off [to] Missouri. At some point it ended up in Arizona where it is actually made into the insulation.
What common trends did you find in the donations?
Some of the trends I saw were colored denim, patterned denim, and some of the Miss Me [jeans with] eccentric bling... and skinny jeans. We had a lot of skinny jeans. When I got jeans from the consignment stores that [came from a] older group of donors, I saw a lot of dad jeans and thought oh my dad actually has a pair just like these. For the older men it was that 80's acid [really light] wash.
Do you think that has anything to do with the flared leg trend we’re seeing with denim at the moment?
I think every time you have a trend, there’s a pendulum swing. I think we have flared jeans coming in [because the] 70's are coming back. [But sometimes] you want skinny jeans [as] something a little skinnier [to tuck in to] boots. I think that’s why I saw a lot of skinny jean [donations].
Currently, what’s your favorite denim trend?
I wear jeans, but I have a very classic style. I don’t invest my money in trends right now. It doesn’t make sense for me to do so. I try to go for something I can wear for a long time and make use of. It’s the whole sustainability concept. [I don’t prefer the] fast fashion strategy of just throwing things out. Personally, I like to invest in something that is going to last a while. Quality is important to me, but of course you want it to be fashionable. I don’t want to be wearing mom jeans. I’ve probably had the same pair of jeans, since I was 15, so 4 years now. I like the jeans that have a different flare to them. I go with the classics. I like a good dark wash jean that fits well.
I try to reuse pieces of apparel. I like to tear clothing apart and re-piece it back together, cut a hem, or add trimming to a hem. I try to reuse [the product], so I get a little more use out of whatever the product might be. Yesterday, I found this shirt I had for a while. I liked it, but it was a little out of style. There was lace on the arms, and I took off the lace to make it more simple, because it was too much. Now it’s a cute top I can wear again. I have used [old pieces of garments] for costumes. My mom had an old bridesmaid dress and that turned into the Elsa costume!
Which denim trend do you wish would make a comeback?
I can tell you things that shouldn’t come back. I don’t think 80's jeans should ever come back. I’m going to go back to the classic style. It’s always going to be around. I like the style of jeans from the 50's with the cuffs. I know highwaisted kind-of made a comeback, but it was more like 90's high-waisted. I hope low-rise doesn’t come back, but it looks like low-rise bell bottoms is what we’re going to have. Personally, I can’t do flared jeans because I trip. I’m not coordinated enough. Of course, certain styles are better on certain people. If there’s a denim trend at all I would say wear what fits your body type, and wear what makes you feel good. I would rather see less jeans that [cater to just] the ideal and more jeans that actually fit people. It’s the eternal struggle for women to find jeans that fit. Let’s make some realistically [fitting] jeans here!
As a digital retailing major, can you comment on the new technology that is capable of scanning your body to help you find the perfect fitting jeans?
Right now it’s not there. The technology exists, but it’s not ready [since it's] not as accurate as it needs to be. Another 5 years or so, maybe then we can change that. It’s a cool idea. It might work for a very small number of apparel items, but it’s not developed enough to really make a difference in the market.
Do you know of some apparel and accessory companies who are making progress with sustainability?
H&M is trying to recycle. They’re trying to make their clothes sustainable. The key word is ‘trying’. I mean there are some other companies like People Tree. They’re based out of the UK and are featured in the documentary on Netflix, The True Cost. They are very much about sustainable sourcing. You have other companies like REI and Patagonia who try to be sustainable [innovators]. There’s a lot of companies that are doing a good job, but aren’t as well known right now. I always find little small scale companies that are trying to make a difference and I definitely try to support them. I feel better when I buy from those companies, because you can feel good about what you’re getting. When you see pictures of the women who actually made your shoes, that’s so cool. Recently the owner of Symbology came into our pre-internship class. They do traditional stamping and have really cool patterns. I think in the next 5 years you’ll see more companies moving more towards sustainability. It’s not even a trend, it’s a movement. It’s a consumer movement. It’s generational. Millennials and Gen Z are very conscious about that. When I’m shopping I think about, what do I know about this company? Transparency is a huge thing. Ten years from now you won’t see companies around who aren’t transparent... because people want to know [the origins of their clothing].
What did you learn through the process of planning the donation drive?
I learned a lot about several things. I learned about promotions, about organizing events, there was a lot of red tape. I had to contact like 5 people just to get a bin in Chilton Hall. [The logistics] was probably the biggest challenge. I had to contact UNT... I had to contact student activities and get [tabling] events set up. It was a challenge, but we made it work.
What is your next philanthropic venture?
Honestly, I’m exhausted after the last month. I’m [going to] have a break from large scale events. My next step is to find ways to help in the different areas I care about, and continue recycling and buying more sustainable products. It’s a new thing [companies are] trying to break into, and it’s important to support people who are trying to do the right thing. It’s about gradual changes in the right direction. There’s little things you can change on a personal level, but companies especially [can make a big impact].
How will this drive help prepare you for work in the fashion industry, as well as to lead a more sustainable life in the future?
It’s really hard to (gain) experience in [the] area [of sustainability since] it’s such a new concept for the industry. [Sustainability is] one thing I’m trying to figure out how to get experience in. [This project has] allowed me to get my foot in the door. It gave me a lot of insight into recycling... to be able to use innovative technology [within] the fashion industry. It gave me hope [of potentially pursuing a career in] sustainability and fashion. [The fashion industry] gets the stereotype all the time that it’s a very materialistic industry, but I thought this [project would bring things] full circle. [We’re] selling the denim. We do the merchandising, the buying... so it’s kind of cool to see how the life of this product continues.
For those interested in joining NRFSA, how would one become a member?
We have our monthly meetings on the last Wednesday of every month from 5-6 PM. Dues are $20 for the entire year, so it’s a one time $20. Next spring it will be $10. You don’t have to be a member to show up to the meetings. You have to be a paid member to apply to The Big Show or Shop.org. It’s not a huge commitment. For what you receive, it’s totally worth an hour of your time. We have great speakers come in. We have graduate panels. It’s great networking and that’s what our organization is about. One of the officers last year met Stacy London and Martha Stewart at the previous Big Show. [Last year’s] student challenge team created a product for The Container Store and met the CEO and chief merchandiser of The Container Store. There’s a lot of opportunities getting into the industry. You get a chance to give your card to [recruiters].
I gained a lot of knowledge by speaking with Delaney about the importance of sustainability in the fashion industry, as well as how consumers and retailers can make an impact. Sustainability is a vital cultural trend amongst upcoming generations that must be recognized by industry leaders who aspire to succeed in the future. Soon enough, merchandising and digital retailing students will have a say in how retailers are to ethically respond to consumer demands for sustainable fashion and labor practices. By participating in the Blue Jeans Go Green donation drive, NRFSA president Delaney Murphy allows students to be a part of the movement for a more sustainable world.
Copy & Photography: Charis Orr, Fashion Writer
Taylar Gomez, Fashion Editor
Graphic 1: Ashley Nudge, Editor-In-Chief