Marist grad goes viral with clothes made from fast-fashion packaging

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A Marist College fashion student had an idea that she didn’t know would land in front of over 12 million people on TikTok: taking a major fast-fashion brand’s trash and turning into a new stylish fit.

Shein, a Chinese online fast-fashion retailer, has been valued at $100 billion, more than Zara and H&M combined. The brand is popular among Gen Z, maybe because of its advertisements on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. Shein is the most mentioned brand on TikTok, and thousands of videos of Shein hauls are shared daily, showcasing its trending clothing (the brand debuts up to 2,000 new products every day).

Each order from Shein arrives in a clear plastic bag with “SHEIN” written down the side and a zipper across the top. Folks have questioned how to reuse these bags instead of tossing them; popular ideas include using them as a makeup bag, or to ship other items.

But Ava Grand had a different idea.

When she was sent home from Marist College at the start of the pandemic, she had her own Shein order waiting for her.

“I had all these bags in my room, and we had nothing to do during that time,” she said. “I used it as material — ripping it up, stuffing it, and stitching it.”

Ava Grand made jackets, shoes, bags and more out of Shein packaging waste. (Photo: Ava Grand)

Ava Grand made jackets, shoes, bags and more out of Shein packaging waste. (Photo: Ava Grand)


Ava Grand

Ava Grand made jackets, shoes, bags and more out of Shein packaging waste. (Photo: Ava Grand)

Ava Grand made jackets, shoes, bags and more out of Shein packaging waste. (Photo: Ava Grand)


Ava Grand


Ava Grand made jackets, shoes, bags and more out of Shein packaging waste. (Photo: Ava Grand)

From her New Jersey bedroom, Grand started turning the bags into accessories and clothing. The first item she ever made was a tote bag. From there, what began as a pandemic hobby has grown into a full fashion line for her capstone project at Marist, where she majored in design and minored in product development and merchandizing.

Grand posted her first TikTok asking people to send her Shein bags in spring 2021, after a year of continuing to make items from

packaging from family and friends. That video has nearly 30,000 views, but it wasn’t until this year that the TikTok community made Grand go viral. Her video posted on April 30 has nearly 2 million likes and over 12 million views.

@ava_grand shein bags into clothes thanks to u guys 😎😎 #sheinsustainable #fashionstudent #shein #fashiondesign #sewingshein #sewing ♬ Borderline – Tame Impala

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, the first thing I actually love making went viral,’” said Grand. “It grew into this huge thing.”

People kept sending their Shein bags, from everywhere between Florida and England, where Grand had studied abroad. “It was mayhem,” she said. “It’s almost like they have the same vision and passion for something they want to do for this plastic, but I’m the arms and mind behind what I can actually do with it. It’s a reward to hear they want to be a part of something I can create.”

Grand has made puffer jackets, skirts, bags and more from Shein packaging. Her favorite item is a vest with an orange zipper.

Ava Grand accepts the award for Designer of the Year at the 36th annual Marist Silver Needle Runway.

Ava Grand accepts the award for Designer of the Year at the 36th annual Marist Silver Needle Runway.

Carlo de Jesus/Marist College

She presented her collection of upcycled Shein bags, “Retreat,” on May 6 in front of nearly 2,000 people at the 36th annual Marist College Silver Needle Runway Show. Grand was awarded Designer of the Year out of the 24 design majors graduating this year.

“These students are thinking about the world around them, from sustainability to body positivity from diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging to gender identity,” said Fashion Program Director John Bartlett in a news release about the show.

“I remember when I was a freshman and hearing about the Designer of the Year and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen … it’s what everyone would want out of the show,’” said Grand. “When it happened, the feeling of [my peers] congratulating me felt the best because it was such an honor to be appreciated by not just the audience but the people I’ve been working with for the past four years.”

Grand has been sewing since she was five and said she wouldn’t have gone to college if it wasn’t for fashion. After taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology during high school, she was torn between there and Marist for college. She ultimately was won over by the Hudson Valley’s beauty: “I go to the Walkway Over the Hudson for a stress reliever,” she said. At Marist, she was able to balance her social life with the sorority she was in, her outdoor life, and her sewing life.

Upon graduating, Grand will continue her fashion design career with an internship in California. For her new customers looking to rock sustainable fashion, she said she will continue on a made-to-order basis. Right now, she’s working on unisex bucket hats and phone purses.

Her one question? “I’m wondering, will it be easier to ship my sewing machine or bring it with me on the plane?”

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