Interview by Kaylee Duval
Since you’re going into university this year, do you have an idea about what you would like to study? What would you like to pursue in the future? Is there a specific reason why?
I am planning on studying computer science, but I’m also open to studying computational media, where you use computer science to build the design of websites, apps, and user interfaces. However, I also love entrepreneurship, creating ideas, and sharing said ideas with the world. I would love to create an organization or startup to share a designed technology with the world, work with technology to bridge gender gaps, and combat climate change.
UpCycle Club focuses primarily on organizing action against the detrimental impacts of fast fashion. Were there any moments that inspired you to begin this organization to make a change in your community?
It didn’t start out as a massive plan to create a fashion brand focusing on environmental awareness–it all began with a simple idea in sophomore year of high school. In my area, there was minimal environmental action being taken. All recycling in my apartment complex went directly to the trash and couldn’t be recycled there. I didn’t know where I could go to bring my recycling. So, at school I decided to initiate Upcycle Club to foster a community where people are welcomed to learn about environmentalism and make those small changes in their daily life. We began with simple DIYs, such as bringing white T-shirts and unused pillow cases to tie-dye them or taking CDs from home to make glass mirror art. However, the onset of the coronavirus caused issues, as I had no direction or means of communication with the members in person. Because of this, I realized the value of social media in my organization and in making an impact after placing a sign-up link online to form a team to create a sustainable clothing line. I was touched by how so many individuals were interested and desired to get involved in making a change.
Besides UpCycle Club, what other organizations and initiatives are you a part of?
Technology Student Association (TSA) was one organization. It was an empowering environment where people from all backgrounds would collaborate for competitions. This began my interest in STEM and technology. I was so inspired by how so many women and races wanted to get involved in technology.
At my school, there were 20 guys and 2 girls in my AP Physics class. In comparison, at the competitions I was exposed to people from all sorts of backgrounds. It was nice to know that there are initiatives that encourage that diversity.
Another organization is the Science Olympiad, which fostered my love for science. I was also part of the Freshman Mentorship Program (FMP), dedicated to guiding incoming freshmen who were nervous about coming to school. I am very interested in things that not only expand my knowledge and help gain interest in things I like, but also give back to my community and people all over the world, like through environmentalism with UpCycle.
What factors led you to joining these groups?
I really wanted to find a community where I fit in at first. I remember changing schools from 6th to 7th grade. But in this situation, where I remembered classmates from elementary school and having them not remember me, I had to find communities that I truly enjoyed. I found a pamphlet about TSA, where I found many friends that I know today who are also interested in making innovations to help people.
I was trying to find a community, and as I found communities that I really felt I belonged in, I wanted to start my own. Finding that initiative is definitely difficult in the beginning, but with the right encouragement, I feel like anyone can do it.
In the education system, we are often taught that certain issues (be it political or environmental) exist in our world, but are rarely taught the solutions or actions we can take. Fast fashion poses many dangers to the environment and even making small changes towards a more sustainable life can make a large impact. What role do you think that youth play in changing perspectives about clothing and fashion?
I think as youth, we have the biggest impact in terms of the fashion industry. An obvious answer is social media. So many of us vocalize our opinions there freely as the Gen Z generation, so it’s important in the shift from fast to sustainable fashion. As youth, we just have to have the courage to use our voice, and once we do, I know that people will listen. I think a lot of the awareness around climate change really begins once we have those conversations in the first place. These conversations not only bring in different people with different perspectives, but they also allow for people to change their opinions that maybe being an environmentalist isn’t all that expensive–maybe it is the better solution in the long term rather than cheating your way out into buying a $5 T-shirt created by child labour and unethical environmental issues. Using our voice is so important and we can make these changes as youth.
Climate change in general is a pressing issue, thus it’s easy to be overwhelmed when trying to resolve the situation. How can we take small steps to make a difference, be it in our communities or internationally, when our futures are at stake?
There are two sides to this question: there are the small steps of recycling each plastic water bottle after you use it, taking quicker showers, doing larger loads of laundry to save water, but there’s also the side of going to protests and climate strikes, really encouraging political leaders and figures to change their ways and hopefully focus on helping the environment. I think that, definitely in political terms of the movement, such as rallies and climate strikes, we are able to catch the attention of people with a lot of money and a lot of power. So, once we’re able to confront the people with these issues and say “Hey, if we don’t solve it now, we might not even have the ability to think about any other issues because we won’t have oxygen to breathe or enough space to build corporations.”
Rather than thinking economically, we need to think more in terms of saving humanity, having the humanity of focusing more on maintaining more environmentally friendly actions.
So, I definitely think that doing these actions and encouraging political figures is the main way to create change because they are the ones controlling how many levels of carbon dioxide enters the air and all the factors related to pollution.Both sides are very important in facing climate change.
You do so much work with UpCycle Club: organizing the teams, planning infographics, establishing contacts with companies. What is it like being a girl building relationships and sharing your voice and perspective in intergenerational spaces?
One of the biggest things is people, even just pitching the idea, seems really crazy to a lot of classmates and people in general. I had to be stubborn, be persistent with it and say “No, this is a solid plan. I can make it work, despite the situations in the world.” While it is an on-going process with the UpCycle Club, we have finalized all the designs. The hardest part is figuring out the marketing and financial aspects. It’s also empowering that everyone except three or four on the team are women. It’s really amazing to see the support as a girl from other girls.
As a girl, it’s important to chase your dreams, to chase that idea you have and pursue it, even if people might judge you for it just because of your gender. Your idea is just as valid as a man’s, as anyone else’s. It’s been a long ride, but it’s been fun and challenging, too. I think it’s important to find people that support you, but also those that share the passion and the drive to go through the challenges that the world and society present.
How has your community and background shaped your commitment to making a difference and participating in these organizations?
It’s so vital that the community that I grew up in was supportive of youth empowerment and youth making change. I know in UpCycle and trying to kickstart the club, our principal was so supportive. We were collecting a bunch of jeans for homeless teens in Memphis, and he was so excited. He got a big poster board and plastered it in his front office and brought a massive box. I was surprised. It really empowers you so much that someone, especially someone of authority, is supporting you. Having community support is so encouraging.
Another example is with the creation of an app with other coders in my school. We made an image recognition composting app called C.R.I.S., short for Compost Recognition Image Software. It was amazing because it not only worked, being able to scan an apple peel and items around the house and tell you whether it’s compostable or not, but it was also inspiring to see the elderly in our community recognize the importance of this tool and environmentalism. They awarded us the Collierville Excellence Award for Environmental Action. It was really amazing to see the town of Collierville, the mayor, and everyone, sitting in a room and saying “Good job. You youth are making a change and we see it and we recognize it.” I think it was small things like that that led to something that is UpCycle Club now and that I’m able to bring along a bunch of kids to make that change, and even bigger change.
As girls to girls, we should lift each other up. As women, as people who deserve to have our voices heard and our ideas turned into action, we should create environments where we can encourage each other and uplift each other. Even ten to twenty years ago, that community really wasn’t there, especially online and in person. Now, because information is so accessible and we can contact people at the tips of our fingers, we have this awesome connection and community of support in entrepreneurship, in technology, in art, in design, and in environmentalism. In each one, there are amazing opportunities to uplift each other and make each other grow.
Learn more about Sruti and her work here!
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