Meet the Howard student pushing fashion toward a sustainable future

Landfills received in 2018 11.3 million tons solid textile municipal waste, the largest part of which was discarded clothing. As the impact of waste on the environment becomes more apparent, parts of the fashion industry are taking steps to free up these landfills by intercepting and recycling potential waste to create art. Kenzell Munroe, a senior at Howard University who recently partnered with Atmos in a workshop that shows the intersection of fashion and sustainability.

In anticipation of the upcoming release of the Jordan 11 Retro Varsity Red, sneaker and streetwear boutique Atmos and agency Colorway turned their attention to Munroe’s brand, asking him to create one of his signature reworked large bags live in front of an audience. The collaboration provided 12 guests with one-of-one Munroe bags and, in the spirit of upcycling, encouraged them to manipulate the product and create something new.

Munroe designs the bag for the Atmos activation workshop. Photo courtesy of Michelle (Mikki) Taylor, MFA

Growing up in Philadelphia, Munroe recalls being particularly sensitive to harmful environmental practices that would lead to his faithful connection with nature.

“I love nature, I love the earth… Why do we pollute the place where we live – where our future generations have to live? I just think it’s important to preserve our Earth and preserve our home.”

Given his background, when faced with the dilemma of sourcing fabric to complete his coursework at Howard, upcycling was the obvious choice. By scouring thrift stores, using donations from friends and family and saving some of his favorite garments, Munroe was able to rework denim and cargo materials to create original, cohesive and functional pieces.

“Being at Howard, I just learned to sew not too long ago my sophomore year…Dr. [Barbara] Gause was a professor of fashion in the department. She taught me to sew and for my first project I made a bag. I still use it and it’s still intact, it’s just really raw and I love it,” Munroe explained.

“​​That kind of got me into working with a sewing machine, I just learned the little things. It was the fall semester. So I got that Christmas [a] sewing machine, and during the winter break I made another bag and just put it together.”

Kenzell Munroe at the Atmos activation. Photo courtesy of Golden Studios.

By the end of the year, Munroe’s handbags had attracted enough attention to prompt the launch of his own brand, Things of that nature. By the early spring semester of 2020, denim and cargo bags have become one of the most popular fashion accessories in the backyard.

“[Howard students] they are definitely my main customer and it’s always great. One day – definitely before the pandemic. There was that party at Banneker, including mine…I saw four or five of my bags just out and about on the patio that day, and that feeling was just great.”

Despite circumventing the obstacles that sustainable production can present, such as color and texture limitations, Munroe still strives to use his work to demonstrate his love for the environment.

“It’s hard to look at a denim bag and know that it was inspired by nature. I will make it more obvious. I definitely want to get into the die bags too. Mixing your own natural colors with vegetables, fruits and plants. You boil it and it gives it color… I’ll probably do that this year.”

As Munroe plots new ways to push the boundaries of sustainable fashion, he encourages emerging artists to keep a clear meaning and purpose behind their brand.

“Make sure you get your message across, don’t do it just to do it. Having some sort of ethos behind it. The feeling of being important. It will show in your work if you are truly passionate about what you believe in.”

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