Q&A with Elle Rali

By Felton Kizer

Elle Rali is an upcycling designer based in Los Angeles. After spending almost a decade working as a marine biologist, she left her dream job to pursue a sustainable career in the fashion world.

How is LA dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

I think we're moving if that makes sense. I try my best to get away from all the media that surrounds it. As an independent designer, I'm usually alone while working but the other day I went hiking for the first time in a long time and It gave me anxiety having to deal with people again, and the chaos of traffic and the regulations. But throughout the hike, I realized how courteous everyone was in regards to wearing masks and giving people space. And it really made me feel like we could get through this together. I think it's gonna be beautiful coming out of this.

Has COVID-19 affected how you source a lot of your materials?

No, not at all. With upcycling and textile waste, we have so much already.. My problem is that I cannot house and store a ton of fabric. The other day a company reached out to me and they say, Hey, I love what you're doing. I have 17 boxes of overstock inventory of T-shirts and sweaters. Do you want it? And you know, as an upcycle designer, of course I want it, but I already have all this fabric. Where am I going to house it all?

So has it been hard for me? Absolutely not. In regards to the earth it has, especially now, because all the thrift stores are closed down. All these people are just hoarding the stuff that they can't donate or give away. I don't think finding fabric is ever going to be an issue for me, which is actually really sad. I wish the industry was just more cautious and aware of how much overproduction we have.

How would you describe your current state of mind?

You know, you actually caught me in a very good current state of mind. I’m outside, and I prayed before I got on the phone with you. It's breezy, and I'm really at peace right now. It’s beautiful.

What do you want me to know about you and your work?

I can tell you that my name is Elle and my company is Elle Rali and my mission is to recreate the fabric created by upcycling fabric to reduce textile waste. I'm a one-woman entrepreneur looking to grow in so many ways because I know that in order to make an impact in the industry, I have to grow. But how can I grow? I think what makes me unique as a designer is my background is actually in marine biology. I was working with marine mammals in conservation and education, and I've been doing it on and off for about 10 plus years. And that's my groundwork because I love the environment. I love animals, and when I started upcycling, I wanted to spread the message of textile waste without throwing it in people's faces. I wanted to make it dope, comfortable, multifunctional, one size, with pockets and everything that I wanted in a brand. I'm hoping to eventually build Elle Rali and work with other designers to share our gifts with upcycling, repurposing, and making things dope and super cool and sustainable at the same time.

When you made your transition right from marine biology to upcycling and fashion design, were you afraid at all? Did you have any reservations? Because that's not a story you hear every day.

Marine bio was my heart and soul at the moment. I loved every moment of it, it was my dream job. It was just a dream to be working with marine mammals and being in the water. It was just amazing. We go through transitions in our life that are uncontrollable at that moment, and I was living on the big Island of Hawaii for five years. My mom got sick and my parents are getting older, so it took a lot of praying and a lot of understanding that it was time for me to leave and go home and take care of my family.

Growing up, my mom was always sewing and she made a lot of our clothes. And so I thought, this might be a great opportunity to rebuild my connection with my mother. I started upcycling while I was taking care of her, and then I was like, I can do this. It's kind of fitting with marine bio in a way, in regards to conservation, but it also gives me the flexibility to be at home and help care for my family and start a new journey. There was definitely a lot of doubt, and I couldn’t believe I had just left this dream job and moved back home with my family. There definitely was a lot of fear, and it continues to be scary. But I keep on getting these beautiful signs and messages from the universe, God and friends. We’re still a baby brand, but there's nothing that felt so right.

Is there anything that you’re looking forward to in the coming months?

Right now, my biggest goal is building a team. How do I do it? Because right now, I’m doing it all on my own, and it's a scary thing. Last year, I was planning to build a team and get everything going, and I'm so thankful that I didn't do that. I believe that everything happens for a reason. If I had built a team my business would have been crazy during COVID-19.

Are you happy?

Right now, yes. That's such a beautiful thing to be able to say. Thank you for asking that question. I feel like we don't ask people that so much.

Earlier you said, “I don’t work in fashion, I work in sustainability.” Would you mind expanding on that?

I believe that sustainability is being aware of your action and always striving to do better in every aspect of your life. That's my definition of sustainability. When you think about sustainability, especially in fashion, what is really sustainable? Is upcycling going to save the world? No, but if my gift is able to inspire the next generation or somebody else to start upcycling, or to start thrift shopping, or to want to start the next scientific invention of how to make textile disappear or create the next new sustainable fabric, all of that makes a difference. I just want to show people that you can be better, whatever way that looks for them. It can be in the way you eat,the way you dress, and the brands you support. Right now, I'm upcycling, but what's to say that in the next year or two that I won’t end up creating something even better for the industry?

Sustainability is my goal and fashion is my medium, it’s the canvas I use. I think that whatever we do, there has to be some sort of deeper meaning. As a singer or as an artist,you have this voice, so what are you going to do with it?