Alumni Helen and Nidia Trejo focus on sustainable fashion

Helen Trejo and Nidia Trejo visiting a farm

When most people think about making sustainable choices, they think about recycling, driving a fuel-efficient car, or buying local produce. Helen Trejo Ph.D. ’18, M.A. ’14 and Nidia Trejo M.S. ’15, two recent graduates from the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD), focused their research on another important area − sustainable fashion.

The twin sisters specialize in different fields. Helen is completing her doctorate degree in apparel design this spring and Nidia completed her master’s degree in fiber science in 2015. Last year, they combined their skills to collaborate on the New York Regional Yarn Sourcebook, a directory of fiber farms in New York state.

“The idea is to help increase awareness of the fibers available in New York for designers,” Helen explained. “New York offers a wide variety of natural fibers including wool, alpaca, and even cashmere. The challenge is finding the farms to source materials from.”

The book includes a description of each farm and fiber quality data, like fiber micron and tensile strength. That’s where Nidia’s work came in. She took the role of measuring the properties of each of the fibers and photographing them at the microscopic level. The project also involved collaboration with Haley Smith, FSAD ’20, who worked on measuring and photographing the fibers. Each page of the Sourcebook also features knit swatches by local knitwear designer Victoria Hantout.

To understand the fiber quality, the team worked together to figure out which New York yarns would work best for a small line of hand-woven scarves. They decided to create two woven scarves using alpaca from Lazy Acre Farm and wool from Ironwood Hill Farm, which are both farms in the Finger Lakes Region. Amanda Denham, who completed a master’s degree in Apparel Design, developed the scarves based on her expertise in weaving.

“Over the course of my research at Cornell, I came to understand the big picture of the fashion supply chain,” Nidia said. “This project taught me about the agricultural aspect of the supply chain.”

The source book was funded in part by Engaged Cornell, a university-wide program to encourage community engagement locally in Ithaca and across the globe. Researchers from the Parsons School of Design also collaborated on the project.

The Trejo sisters first became interested in fashion by watching their grandmother sew clothing during the 1990s. She previously worked in sewing factories in Los Angeles during the 1970s. In high school, Helen and Nidia took fashion design electives, which led them to major in fashion at the University of California-Davis.

Both sisters recently moved back to California. Nidia is working as a sustainable innovation specialist at Swisstex, a sustainable fabric manufacturing firm. Helen has accepted a position as a STEM Instructional Assistant at Mesa College’s STEM Center in the San Diego Community College District.

Outside of their new jobs, the sisters plan to continue working together. They have launched a social enterprise called Fiber Novation Loops with a mission to support the long-term sustainability of U.S. fiber farms. Their initial project is to build a website and app database that provides information about fiber farms across the U.S.

“The goal is to do an extended version of the book that features all of the farms in the United States on a map,” Helen said. “A lot of designers are developing their businesses with an effort to be sustainable. I want to work to support their efforts.”

“This project taught me about the agricultural aspect of the supply chain.”

Nidia Trejo, '15
Fiber Science and Apparel Design