Photo: Kate Berry

There is nothing better than a success story that started during the pandemic and La Réunion is the perfect example. Speaking of perfect, it would not be an exaggeration to say they are doing sustainability perfectly on all fronts.

La Réunion was founded by Sarah Nsikak. Currently she is based in Brooklyn, New York, but grew up in Oklahoma. Sarah started her business during the pandemic by turning her hobby into a business. She always loved making dresses from old material and finally turned it into a business.

Photo: Kate Berry

Sustainability is not a word that she has just thrown into her brand to make profits- rather it is stitched into every facet of her business, her business model, and her goals for her business going forward. Which highlights she has already dealt with a key part that the fashion industry has had troubles with- when it comes to business claiming to be sustainable, and that is transparency. 

“I wanted to make it clear that you don’t need this dress. You don’t have to buy another thing to understand and participate in this idea.”

A quote that reflects her approach to fashion and sustainability. Sarah Nsikak’s garments sell for about $400. Another sign that she is doing sustainability correctly. In fashion so many businesses do not want to make the customer pay for the price of sustainability. So, in the end workers in factories, stores assistants end up with poor wages because a company is invested in marketing themselves as sustainable instead of truly implementing sustainable practices.

Her dresses are made from extra fabric scraps that would have been thrown away, which is why her dresses are described as uncycled. Sarah wants to source fabric from Rwanda, which would support them as well as their community. She has also added mending clothes to her business. A testament to her statement about not needing every new dress, by fixing the one you already have- you can contribute to sustainability in the fashion industry. 

La Réunion: The Upstart
Photo: Kate Berry

The idea of mending existing garments- and how she presents it – speaks to how passionate she is about simplifying the idea of sustainability, to people who might find the subject intimidating. Environmental issues are often classed and classist, in the way they are presented. Which is ironic because the people who will suffer the most are poor people, when it comes to climate change.

La Réunion is available on the reseller platform The RealReal. Their work gained traction and has become so popular, to the point where they plan on producing more affordable garments. But this will be a slow process. Sarah’s business does not support fast fashion. Each product takes time to make. So far, the profits she has made have empowered her to hire one more seamstress.

But profits are not the main focus for La Réunion. Sarah is focused on using her profits to empower every worker, community she works with. Along with other small businesses, like hers. 

Sarah has also made it a point to use La Réunion as a platform to uplift and represent women of color and celebrate her roots, which are in Africa, since she was born to Nigerian parents, who immigrated to the US.

In her words “We are more than having been slaves, or having been colonized, and I think there’s a beautiful history in this amazing artistry that we need to focus more on to kind of establish ourselves without whiteness having happened to us.”

La Réunion is the perfect example of how if you get the product right and focus on quality over quantity, success and support will follow.

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