March 25, 2020

This nonprofit design house is creating sustainable fashion and strengthening Houston’s creative community

Meet Magpies & Peacocks, one of the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. Five winners each will receive $40,000 from The Atlantic and Allstate.

Magpies & Peacocks showed two fully up-cycled, zero waste collections at London Fashion Week in 2019. Magpies & Peacocks board members include (pictured on the bottom row, from left to right) Clarence Lee and Jerri Moore, founder Sarah-Jayne Smith and Vice President Ahshia Berry, and René Garza. Photos by Simon Armstrong/LFW and Jhane Hoang/M&Ps Warehouse.

Editor's Note

Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. The annual program from The Atlantic and Allstate honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities. This year, five winners each will receive a $40,000 prize from The Atlantic and Allstate. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out who the winners are and follow the hashtag #RenewalAwards.

Being fashionable and being environmentally friendly don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Magpies & Peacocks is out to prove just that. The Houston-based nonprofit works with local students, designers, and artists to create sustainably made fashion collections. Magpies & Peacocks then sells those clothes to support other local nonprofits and grassroots initiatives, such as animal rescues and local schools.

The fashion house was founded by designer Sarah-Jayne Smith in 2011. She first saw a need for more responsible environmental practices when she moved to Houston from London more than 20 years ago.

“We’ve got to do better. Eighty-five percent of everything we wear goes into a landfill,” Smith told the Houston Chronicle, adding: “We want consumers to look at clothing and fashion in a different mindset. You don’t have to go out and buy new. You can give old clothing new life.”

Not only has the nonprofit worked with hundreds of designers to create more than 7,000 up-cycled pieces and prevented 110 U.S. tons of textiles from ending up in a landfill, Magpies & Peacocks was also featured in London Fashion Week 2019.

How do they do it? The nonprofit holds “closet deposit” events throughout the year where people in the Houston area can donate clothing and accessories. Magpies & Peacocks also gathers trimmings, ends of fabric bolts, textile samples, and even abandoned dry cleaning apparel. All of these bits and bobs are gathered into a resource library. Designers and artists can access the library and up-cycle these supplies into new garments and design projects.

Magpies & Peacocks also supports these up-and-coming designers. From skill-building classes and sustainability education to mentorship and support, the nonprofit is focused on bolstering a creative community in Houston.

“Local art and design is in the DNA of Magpies & Peacocks,” Communications Director Ahshia Berry told PaperCity Magazine.

For the latest updates from Magpies and Peacocks, you can follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You can donate to the nonprofit here.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project