With her business, A Wool Story, Meghan Navoy is adding another dimension to the growing list of sustainable businesses sprouting in Detroit.
She’s not reclaiming bricks, lumber or metal works from abandoned or aging buildings, but as her company’s name suggests, she’s recycling something much closer to home: sweaters.
A textile artist, Navoy recycles wool from reclaimed sweaters − usually picked up from thrift shops − into hats, headbands, scarves and mittens for women and men. She also makes necklaces from wool.
From her Corktown apartment, Navoy creates limited-edition, hand-knit pieces, available from her website and a few retailers in Michigan, New York and elsewhere. Each item is unique; that’s because of the limited quality of yarn available from used sweaters and the variations that occur during the dyeing process (she uses only natural products).
A Wool Story arose from the 24-year-old’s passion for sustainability and textiles. She’s a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in textile development.
While working and living in New York, she became acutely aware of the amount of garbage the fashion industry and the city produces, as well as pervasive consumerism. She’s hopeful to lead by example with her business and personal efforts at sustainability.
In Detroit, she strives to lead a “zero waste” life. She bicycles to local thrift shops and brings along reusable bags to carry sweaters home (she looks for neutral-colored wool). She also uses other natural materials, including silk, cotton and cashmere in her creations.
Navoy found Detroit to be the ideal locale to cultivate her business, which she began in 2012 while in New York, and as a place to lead a more environmentally conscious life.
“Detroit is much more affordable than New York and has a great creative community,” she says, explaining her decision to relocate from Brooklyn. “A lot of artists and people are pursuing creative careers in Detroit. In New York, most people have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet because of the high cost of rent.
“I thought if I had available time, the business would grow into something bigger,” she says.
So far, it has. And so far, she’s a one-woman show, spending countless hours in a process that begins with shopping at thrift or resale boutiques. Once back in her apartment, the lengthy process begins with seam ripping sweaters to unravel each piece of wool, and then washing and hang drying. She then uses a swift to wind the wool into balls. And from there, designing, experimenting and creating begin.
“One sweater can make multiple items if you get decent material to work with,” says Navoy, who is originally from Aurora, Illinois. “It takes probably about 90 minutes to unravel a sweater. It can take two to three hours to knit a hat − two hours for each mitten.”
With the recent purchase of a knitting machine, she’s hoping to speed the process and produce larger-scale items and expand her product line to create a “small collection of apparel.”
Since moving to Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood in the summer of 2014, she has found the local business community welcoming and helpful.
“There’s this great networking resource and support system here,” she says. “You can ask questions and get help. There is always someone who can help and answer your questions and help you further along in your business.”
“I read somewhere that Detroit has one of the highest number of women-owned businesses in the country,” she notes.
Among Navoy’s mentors (and friends) is Heather Mourer, a holistic nutrition consultant and educator who conducts workshops at the Eastern Market Wellness Center. Mourer discovered Navoy’s knitwear and natural dyeing techniques on Instagram and reached out to her to partner at a workshop. The workshop was a success, attracting social media attention, and Navoy has continued to offer workshops on natural dyeing (she uses food waste like avocado skins and plants).
Mourer also encouraged Navoy to create a zine to explain her natural dyeing techniques.
“I’ve tried to introduce women who are doing cool, underground kinds of things to other women and let them share advice and get their work out in the world,” Mourer says. “I like introducing people and connecting them. I think it’s really common in Detroit that people jump and help one another.”
Navoy likes Detroit’s “small-town atmosphere” and the proximity to restaurants and coffee shops from her apartment, which she shares with her boyfriend, Justin Kavoussi, a film editor.
“We have a pretty big apartment,” she says. “It’s much less expensive than what we could have afforded in New York.”
Her favorite local spots include Rose’s Fine Food, a diner that uses local ingredients and supports fair wages, on the city’s east side, El Club in Mexicantown – she likes the music selection and pizza — and the historic main branch of the Detroit Public Library. “It’s a great place to wander around and leaf through books and admire the giant plants,” she says.
“It’s really interesting to be a part of the upward trajectory of the city,” she adds. “New York is pretty well established. It’s interesting to see new places, new restaurants and new bars opening all the time and seeing new people join in.”
Although her apartment work space is fine for now, Navoy is on the look-out for studio space. She’d eventually like to create a hybrid studio/retail space. She’d also like to do some small-scale manufacturing with fellow Detroit residents.
“I would love to be able to grow my business and hire women from the community to provide them with jobs and income and to create more awareness about where your clothes come from,” she says.
Besides knitting, Navoy also teaches textile design locally and would like to expand class offerings.
“I would love to start a dialogue on sustainability and how we can reduce consumption and take care of the clothes we own,” she says.
While she’s passionate about her business and reclaiming clothing, she shrugs off the notion that it’s unusual. She grew up in a home in which importance was placed on recycling and not wasting.
“People have been resourceful with materials for a number of years,” she says. “My mom used to do this for me when I was little. The cost of a natural fiber of wool or silk can be quite expensive. Not only am I utilizing resources that have already been manufactured but it’s also a nice way to get quality material at a lower price.”
Check out A Wool Story online at www.awoolstory.com/