May 15, 2020

Student challenges fast-fashion industry while giving back to local community

Monica Uppal wins 2020 Undergraduate Student Sustainability Award
Monica Uppal
Monica Uppal (right) and Yafet Tadesse of Suit Up! provide business clothing to undergrad students. Karen Uppal

Did you know that many students struggle to afford professional apparel for class presentations, networking events or job interviews? How about that at-risk preschoolers sometimes lack access to warm footwear? Or that many Canadian post-secondary students experience food insecurity?

While many of us might not dig further, Monica Uppal, a UCalgary Bachelor of Commerce student specializing in organizational behaviour and human resources, witnessed these issues and decided to address them. It’s part of the reason she founded Suit Up!, a student club that provides affordable professional apparel to students.

  • Photo above: Monica Uppal, right, and Yafet Tadesse of Suit Up! provide business clothing to undergrad students. Photo by Karen Uppal

Her leadership has been, and continues to be, instrumental to the growth of sustainability at UCalgary. It makes her a very deserving winner of the 2020 Undergraduate Student Sustainability Award.

“Suit Up! has a dual mandate,” says Uppal. “We provide professional apparel at discounted prices to undergraduate students, and then we use those funds and give them to a charity or someone in need within the local community.”

To acquire high-quality items, Uppal reached out to a variety of companies in Calgary, asking if they would donate clothing. In the first year of this initiative, she obtained approximately 300 pounds of clothing, resulting in $400 of sales proceeds going to the UCalgary Campus Food Bank. In the second year, Uppal raised $645 that was used to buy new snow boots, socks and toys for at-risk preschool students at CUPS Calgary.

I realized professional apparel comes with a hefty price tag and that’s something students should not have to pay for when they’re already paying student loans and weekly grocery bills.

“Plus, I was someone who was continually jumping on the bandwagon to try the newest fashion trend. My mom would encourage me to give away what I didn’t wear, so that someone who needed it could use it. These two things influenced my decision to start Suit Up!.” says Uppal.

Incorporating the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Through her work in Suit Up!, Uppal promotes a variety of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through its dual mandate, the club supports SDG 2: Zero Hunger, SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being, SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG 13: Climate Action and SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.

“The clothing industry is one of the heaviest polluters in the world and so many clothes end up in the landfill,” says Uppal. “Professional apparel takes so much time and energy to make, so it’s important to do our part to support the Sustainable Development Goals and decrease the harmful effects of this industry.”

Looking forward

What’s next for Uppal? Once she completes her undergrad at UCalgary, she hopes to attend grad school, where she aspires to contribute to sustainability in a way that is meaningful to her.

“When we do think of sustainability, we often think of going green, but it’s broader and everyone can play a role regardless of their faculty or specialization,” says Uppal. “So often, we associate sustainability with the environment. It’s equally about doing your part and the well-being of your community as a whole.”

Interested in getting in touch with Suit Up!? Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.