As sustainable fashion is still fighting for racial equality, one founder has already been here and she is doing that. Ashley Bolling is a 29-year-old serial entrepreneur, and principal consultant at business management firm Adventurous Jill. Four years ago, Bolling became an investor for her own sustainable fashion enterprise, Closet Freekz International. Closet Freekz opened its third location amid the pandemic with the flagship store located in Orlando International Premium Outlets this June.
Closet Freekz was founded in 2016 as an eco-fashion styling brand combining vintage, modern and futuristic offerings in one luxury boutique experience. “We sell unique selections of vintage and repurposed apparel curated seasonally so that they fit in trend with any other traditional fashion store,” Bolling said. Originally an online store only, Closet Freekz has since expanded to brick and mortar three times over. “This flagship is the model we’re going to use to expand moving forward [beyond] Orlando.”
The fashion industry produces 10 percent of the world’s carbon emission, according to a recent article in Vogue. Many brands are seeking to find the lowest production cost to create a high profit margin at the expense of the welfare of our planet and our bodies.
“When we throw away clothes that are not biodegradable, they…release toxins into the air and atmosphere. That’s what burns holes in the ozone layer,” Bollings said. “So with that knowledge, it just makes sense to find ways to extend the life cycles of the clothes that we already have and then from there, create better ideas on how to manufacture.”
Her solution has been to develop relationships with eco-conscious vendors exclusively. “I started a long time ago sourcing with different companies who were looking to collect donated goods in bulk. So I started making deals with them,” she said of the relationships she built with companies who’d usually sell repurposed bulk clothing overseas to second world nations. “I felt like [I] could repurpose and extend the life cycle here within my own business while also giving them an opportunity to make even more money on the things they were already [selling].”
Bollings has no doubt that sustainable fashion will come along with the “new normal,” as millennial and Gen Z shoppers focus more on generational legacy for those who come behind. “In five years, your closet should be about 85% sustainable or you’ll just be behind on the natural curve of [not only] what fashion is, but what consciousness is on a whole.”
The journey to success has been a calculated one for Bollings. As a creative business consultant, she helps other business owners establish themselves from her personal experience. She urges other business owners to focus on getting their paperwork in order, especially now. “Have yourself documented properly as a business [so] that you can receive any grants and funding and things that are meant to support you,” she said. “COVID or not, a lot of Black businesses are getting funding in ways they’ve never been funded before. So it’s creating tremendous opportunities for people to expand.”
Bollings credits her professional success to the discipline she developed in D1 collegiate track and serving in the U.S. Army. Training for 17 years on the field, she described her time spent in the military as “borderline a piece of cake compared to my track coach,” she joked. “The military gave me a sense of organization and time management. So it just kind of shaped my discipline up and helped me to learn leadership a bit more sharply.” Through her consulting firm she often encounters creatives who move about their business in a “whimsical” manner, but she recognizes that structure is her hidden secret. “A lot of the people that I work with or help or consult within the community, that’s just the one aspect they’re missing,” she said. “[They come to me] ]ike, ‘I have all the ideas, but how do I put them into place so that I can stay focused and keep moving?’ I’m just really thankful for athletics and the military.”
Sustainability concepts are important to every industry as society reaches an apex at the intersection of the battle against the climate crisis and social justice. “It’s kind of the same way generations went from smoking cigarettes to not smoking cigarettes. Culturally, we have gotten smarter,” she predicts. Bolling looks forward to expanding her Closet Freekz empire: “We’ll be in Miami towards the beginning of the fall,” Bolling said, “and hopefully in Atlanta by the end of the year going into next year.” She also plans to open a location in Toronto, Canada.