How did a Shaman influence a new fabric invention? In the Spotlight: NDSU Grad Mariah Billadeau



Dear Friends, I hope you are staying healthy as Covid-19 is sweeping the world. We've been quarantined for 3 weeks now and I am amazed and how the days are feeling like a "daze"....one day blurring into the other...are you feeling the same? Are you living in your PJ's like me? I am a glass-half-full kinda gal and am using this time to cherish being with my kids, doing things like cooking, playing lots of board games and figuring out online school! There is the challenge of maintaining emotional and mental health and I was happy today to hear that the term "social distancing" is being changed to "physical distancing"...YES! It's so important to stay in touch socially, while keeping our distance physically so that we can support each other in this challenging time. SO,LETS SHARE FEEL GOOD STORIES! Thats what I am to do here at IFD & I am excited to share this story as I too, am a NDSU graduate. This is the about a young gal, who grew up in small town ND, went after her goals and won the Innovation Challenge with her invention of a new fabric, and now is working in London- Please meet Mariah Belladeau!!


To begin- Tell us about where you grew up and your educational path- why NDSU?


I grew up on a farm and went to school in Parshall, ND -- it’s a small town located on the Fort Berthold Native American Reservation. (The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is a U.S. Indian reservation in western North Dakota that is home for the federally recognized Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. The reservation includes lands on both sides of the Missouri River). (Wikipedia).


When I was in high school I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I explored options and looked at what kind of career I could pursue with it. It wasn’t until a Geologist came and spoke to our class on what she does for a career, which sparked a career interest for me. When I first came to NDSU I was majoring in Geology but after one semester I knew it wasn’t for me. I decided to pursue, and graduated with a dual B.S.degree in Apparel, Retail Merchandising & Design, and International Studies.



One of the requirements is to work or study abroad for 10 consecutive weeks before your final semester. I chose to work for a sustainable fashion brand in Australia to fulfill this requirement, and to also have my first experience living abroad in a country that at least speaks the same language as me; I wanted to ease into the living-abroad life and not be so overwhelmed right away with language barriers.


What were some of your most impactful learning experiences along the way?

I would say my top three are: joining and being involved in Kappa Delta Sorority, studying abroad to the United Arab Emirates, and participating in NDSU’s Innovation Challenge of 2019. All of these experiences have been life changing.


When I joined Kappa Delta Sorority (KD) I felt like it was a home filled with girls of all different background stories that you could really learn from. Being apart of KD has challenged me to push myself to become the best version of myself as possible. This was the first big experience I had in university that I wouldn’t change for anything.


My second big experience was when I studied abroad in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and got the chance to explore Al Ain, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. This is the first time I left the country without my parents and it was in a country completely different from the U.S. This experience was the reason that I wanted to travel, live, and experience more of the world to learn about other cultures to better understand them. I went on this study abroad experience through NDSU’s International Office but it was a KD sorority sister that suggested the option and encouraged stepping out into the “unknown”.

The third experience that really changed my university experience was when I participated in NDSU’s Innovation Challenge of 2019. I researched, designed, and created my innovation that eliminates microplastics from textiles while still having the benefits from synthetic textiles called ECOTEX. I never expected such a positive outcome but I could not be more grateful for the experience as well as the encouragement I received from mentors and peers.


I’ve had an amazing NDSU experience and some honorable mentions would be: when I did an exchange to University of Alaska, Anchorage (UAA), also because a KD sorority sister encouraged it, when I lived and worked in Sydney with a sustainable fashion brand, and for studying Apparel, Retail Merchandising, Design (ARMD) at NDSU, which had the most amazing staff who truly cared about you and your potential.


Tell us about the NDSU tech competition and how you came up with your idea

NDSU’s Innovation Challenge is a campus-wide competition where students of any major can be part of a team or individually compete to create a product or service that solves a community or global problem. I have many friends who are engineering, pharmacy, or biology majors that have participated in the Innovation Challenge over the years so I found out about it when I was in my second year at university but I was never serious about participating until my last semester. During my last semester my thought was that this is the last chance I have to compete in the Innovation Challenge. I always wanted to compete and create an innovative fashion or fashion service but I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t already a business. It wasn’t until I lived in Australia where a group of friends and I visited the Great Barrier Reef and we went to the Daintree Rainforest where this shaman medicine man talked about how the inginous people survived in an extreme climate region. He talked about all the different remedies that were found in the forest that could replace some of today’s products. This sparked up ideas for a new textile about how we can use resources from nature with natural textiles to create a new innovative textile for outdoor recreational purposes. I would research new resources all the time and make notes for how they react and respond to becoming a new textile so I had plenty of ideas and plenty of failures.



When I finally found a resource that worked I knew that I had to take that leap of faith and enter into the Innovation Challenge, mainly to educate people about the harmful effects done by the fashion industry. I never expected the outcome from the Innovation Challenge when all I wanted to do was showcase my area of interest and passions in a competition that was primarily Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors. I felt that everyone in the competition had so much more experience than me and had four or more years of knowledge. I was self-taught in areas of material engineering, physics, and chemistry to create my innovation, which goes to show that if you have a passion for something then you are capable of excelling at it.


how did you develop your go about developing your idea?

I always had a desire to learn more about sustainable fashion and more ways to improve it but it wasn’t until I lived and worked in Australia when I got my idea. I started to research and experiment when I got back home. I started thinking of this idea earlier so I was able to spend more time on other parts of the Innovation Challenge (i.e. posters, displays, a dress made of plastic, proposal essays, ect.). I almost didn’t submit my proposal essay for the Innovation Challenge because I didn’t think it was “innovative enough” for the competition with participating STEM majors. Even though I felt unqualified, I still took that leap of faith and participated in the competition with full dedication. I participated as an individual rather than a team because I honestly didn’t know of any other person who was interested in textile engineering. I researched a variety of possible solutions to combine with natural textiles to create a new, innovative one -- my Excel sheet and charts were endless it felt like!



What was most challenging about your project?

The most challenging part about my project was the balance I had to find between work, classes, and a social life. I’m a very social person who believes that education is most important and needs to pay for said education. I can confidently say that I survived managing all these areas of life but I definitely did not manage my sleep schedule very well. I found working on my projects to be fun because you get the freedom to express your creativity and you get to come across those challenges that help you grow as a person.

What is the status of EcoTex material?

Currently I am looking for a facility that can weave the materials- I have been able to make samples through the college, but I am researching a fabric mill that can produce this textile in larger quantities so I can make it available to the public.



How did you land the internship in London?

I was applying to various companies throughout London in hopes of one to take a chance on an American but I was turned down a lot due to them not being able to sponsor a visa for me. I went through a program that has connections with companies looking for interns who can also sponsor a visa for me. The working visa process is a very complicated one so some advice would be to go through a quality program (e.g. Global Experiences) to help you finalize a work placement.



After graduation, you returned to London to work for a fashion brand. What are some of your main responsibilities?

I work for a small fashion brand; my duties vary and every day looks different. My main duties are researching different materials and how to care for them, checking over inventory for our stores, working with global clientele on sales and taxes, and reporting praise and faults of the products to the executive designers.


Can you give us an inside peek on what your job?



A typical day looks like a 9 or 10 hour day of various duties. Some weeks I do pure quality check with the executive designers as we are a luxury fashion brand so every item has to be checked for its quality. Some weeks I’m working on the visual displays of the stores to be aesthetically pleasing. The best part about working for a small brand is that you get to see the business operations from all different sides so you are always learning.

Also every week is different working in the fashion industry with a small brand. One week you will be meeting with wholesale clientele, and another week you will be sorting and shipping hundreds of units of stock to those clients. During the holiday season you spend a lot of time with the stores and preparing for the sales. As a growing fashion brand we are also redoing our e-commerce page so there’s days you prepare the products for the photoshoots and work on descriptions for the webpage. My days are completely different from the next so there’s no true “typical work day” for me.


What is your favorite part of the job?

My favorite part of the job is meeting clientele from all over the world. I honestly feel like I have met at least one person from every country because of living here in London. Also, I love all my colleagues so I have been fortunate enough to build great friendships within the workplace.

Least favorite part?

My least favorite part of the job is probably the days I have angry clientele and it feels that nothing will please them. In a previous answer I said I win others over (WOO) so when I work with clientele that cannot be pleased it can be so draining.


How do you see the future of fashion design, based on the changing climate of sustainability & innovation?

I see the fashion industry changing for the better with demands for sustainability from consumers. Even today we see huge fast fashion franchises going out-of-business because consumers are becoming more cautious of what they buy. We also see other huge fast franchises change their ways to becoming more sustainable to avoid going out-of-business. This is all great that businesses are hearing our demands for more sustainability and they are supplying to those demands, however, some companies are still sneaky and greedy to where they market themselves as a “good, sustainable company” but they are still cutting corners (e.g. single use plastic packaging, unlivable wages, zero waste management, ect.). I feel as time goes on we will see a lot more sustainable fashion brands but from those, I believe there will be some that are only marketing themselves as sustainable when in reality they [the fashion companies] are actually just as harmful as the fast fashion companies.


W

hat are some top skills that have helped you?

Some of the top skills you need for this position are: energy, positivity, adaptability, creativity, and a good memory. Most of my days I am working 9-10 or more hours so energy and positivity play key roles, especially when things start going wrong in the first few hours and you still have the entire day to go. The days vary so I need to be able to adapt based off of the day; I’m also living in a foreign country so I need to be able to adapt even when I’m not at work. In the fashion industry you need to be creative even if you are mainly focused on the business operations side. I have so many clientele who will bring up a conversation we had two months ago and when you can remember that one conversation with that one person months prior they [the clientele] become very impressed and it leaves a great impression that you care to remember them. When you are in a small business your clientele and customers need to be treated as if they are family. I’ve always been community-influenced -- NDSU felt like a family to me and now the company I work for feels like a little family to me. I believe this is the best way to build strong relationships with clientele.

I think my strongest skills are: my positive attitude, intercultural communication, being inclusive, ability to win others over (WOO), and my strong self-assurance/confidence levels. A way to excel at some of these skills is to:

  1. Enter a situation or problem with the mentality that this is good because you get to learn and grow from it

  2. Start conversations with everyone, especially to those who are new or alone, by having a curious mindset to what they do or are passionate about so you can learn something new and/or make a new connection/friend

  3. When you speak about others, or yourself especially, talk in an uplifting way to build confidence or spend time with uplifting/encouraging people because friends like that can really influence you in a positive way.


Any advice for students & young professionals?

My biggest advice to is network by being involved on and off campus. The majority of my friend circle are people not in my field. I feel like I learn the most from people who have different career paths and passions from my own. I learn more about myself and my career because of people who are different from me in every way.


"A way to be creative is to listen about possibilities from another perspective. A way to be adaptable is to have a friend group from all different backgrounds. You are who you are because of the people you choose to influence your life. In university I chose to surround myself with strong women and men who had a positive mindset and an adventurous soul. Every single one of my friends has encouraged this challenging journey of moving by myself to a country, where I knew no one, to start a new adventure -- these are the types of people you need in your life."

Just for fun, do you have a favorite book-podcast you can share with us??

My favorite podcasts would be “On Purpose” with Jay Shetty and “Open Your Mind and Move the World” with Prince Ea. These two wisdom gurus are absolutely inspirational and I would also recommend following them on Instagram or Facebook. Also, “Nas Daily” has great content on Facebook about wisdom and worldly travels.

Thank you so much Mariah for sharing your story, your efforts for the environment and iinnovations in the fashion industry. Wishing you the best of luck for your future....and we will check back in with you a year from now to see where you are!



Images from Mariahs Innovation Challenge Presentation

*To reach Mariah for inquiries, you may contact her at: mariah.billadeau@gmail.com