Alum starts sustainable clothing company
Katie McCarty | Friday, November 30, 2012
Chris Yura, a 2003 Notre Dame graduate, is revolutionizing clothing production through his company SustainU, which is dedicated to changing the way clothing is made to improve the environment, reinvigorating America’s manufacturing sector and educating the world about how clothing can positively impact people’s lives.
A native of Morganstown, West Virginia, Yura said he came to Notre Dame to play football as a fullback, and that experience changed the way he looked at clothing.
“The thing that struck me most at Notre Dame was The Shirt,” he said. “When I ran out of the tunnel and the whole student body was wearing the same shirt, it was such a powerful symbol of unity.”
After graduation, Yura said he went to Miami for his first job and was soon scouted by Ford Models to be a fashion model in New York City.
“I listened to people talk about where they were getting the clothes and how they were made,” he said. “The clothes were coming from third world countries where they did not have enough water to properly make a product, for example. It did not help anything economically or socially … This got me thinking about making a product that really was better, as opposed to just seeming better.”
To learn more about how to make clothing, Yura said he began to write down terms relating to clothing that he heard and then went to the library and did research on those terms. As a sociology major at Notre Dame, Yura said he learned about the devastating job losses that occurred in North Carolina after the North American Free Trade Agreement outsourced manufacturing jobs outside of the United States.
“When I was in NYC, I wanted to find factories in this area that were still manufacturing,” Yura said. “What I found was that not only were there factories that had the infrastructure and trained workforce to produce products but they had also pioneered recycled fiber technology.”
Yura asked if he could intern with such factories and learned how to sew, cut and manufacture clothing, which led him to forming SustainU three-and-a-half years ago.
“My parents took out a third mortgage on their house to get collateral to help me start the business,” Yura said. “We have factories centered in Tennessee, South Carolina and West Virginia.”
The company’s mission is to promote social, economic and environmental sustainability, Yura said. The company makes clothing solely made in the United States and from 100 percent recycled materials. For example, the company recently made T-shirts in Bristol, Tenn. for Bonaroo, an outdoor music festival in Tenn., all from recycled materials.
Yura has spoken about SustainU three times at the White House, and even earned a meeting with President Barack Obama, he said.
“I’m going to talk with the president about different issues that are facing us about green technology,” he said. “We will talk about trying to stimulate different parts of the countries that used to make clothing by investing in these areas. It makes so much sense for our country.”
Yura said the most rewarding part of his job is the opportunity to advance progressive goals.
“We invest in young ideas that are progressive and that can help turn our country around,” he said. “We present a different way of doing business.”
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