October 16, 2023
ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (MERCER)–With a love of fashion and passion for sustainability, Robbinsville High School sophomore Megana Madhurakavi has weaved the two into her own business – LIILA, an eco-chic, non-profit clothing line.
As the visionary behind LIILA, 15-year-old Megana imagines a world where fashion is a force for good. She hopes to encourage consumers “to make conscious choices without sacrificing style.”
“At our brand we take sustainability very seriously,” Megana said. “We make sustainable clothing with ethical procedures and upcycled fabric.”
Megana explained that the clothes are produced without child labor. The clothes are handcrafted in small batches to minimize waste and the manufacturing facilities use energy saving measures, which are more eco-friendly.
“And a cool thing we do is upcycle fabric, which means we get fabric from brands that were going to toss it in landfills and burn them because of the excess they have,” she added. “Instead, we grab that fabric and recycle it into our collections, creating a sustainable cycle that keeps things out of landfills and helps the environment.”
LIILA launched just before the start of the new school year. It was a journey sparked by a personal realization when she was about 13 years old, said Megana, who enjoys hanging out with friends, social media and dancing Kushitudi, a classical Indian art form.
“I had this strong desire to make a positive change,” she said. “I saw how fast fashion was taking over, especially among teenagers like me. I was unaware and got caught up in this fast fashion cycle. Then I started noticing all the problems it caused – like the exploitation of workers, the environmental impact, the mass production and much more.”
Through social media, Megana met like-minded people who also wanted to make an impact.
She is now proudly a part of the sustainable fashion community. Through her sources, she came across the opportunity to attend a social impact investment and sustainability conference in April 2022. This opportunity to work with the United Nations ignited the spark into a flame.
“It opened my eyes to the darker side of the fast fashion industry,” she said. “The side where the price we don’t pay is paid by the children working in sweatshops or the cries of the Earth. I realized something really needed to be done.”
At the sustainability conference was a youth competition for creating an idea that meets Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the United Nations aims to accomplish by 2030.
“One of these goals really correlated with me,” Megana said. “But I didn’t think I would win. I didn’t go into the conference knowing completely what I wanted to do. But I ended up winning.”
With the win came the title of “Global Youth Ambassador of SDG and Carbon Neutrality.”
“That really helped connect me with all these other opportunities that I have now,” she said.
About a year ago, with the full support of her family, Megana began reaching out to founders of other sustainable brands. She researched for months – learning more about the industry, the clothing and how to upcycle fabric.
“Then I decided to take action. And that’s how LIILA was born,” she said. The name LILLA’s origin is rooted in Sanskrit – an ancient language in India that is special to Megana’s culture. It means “divine play or God’s creation,” the sophomore explained.
But she gave her special brand name a twist.
“This name reflects the essence of creation and beauty that we aim to embody in our brand. A lot of sustainable brands these days are pretty neutral and plain but we want to bring out that bright color and vibrancy – a divine aspect to it,” she said.
In her debut collection, there are five dresses – all designed by Megana. The designs are available on the LIILA website https://shopliila.com/.
“It’s the youth now who I really want opinions from; it’s not just me,” she said. “It’s other people who have to buy them. So, I got opinions from friends. I designed the clothing. And then I tried to find manufacturers who work with a lot of brands and I finally came down to one who really had the same passion as me.”
The selected manufacturer employs workers from villages to handcraft the clothing.
The LIILA price point also is very reasonable, with dresses ranging from $50 to $57 online.
“One of our main goals is not to profit at all,” she said. “It’s just to give a wider range of audience access to these clothes. So, if I keep it at this price point for now, maybe in the future, my brand will get more attention and people will be more willing to buy it. Now, the mission is not profit. It’s knowledge.”
The response to LIILA has been both exciting and successful. Feedback from brands and customers has been very positive, Megana said.
“Things are going great,” she said. “I’ve had brands reach out to me saying that they really like what I’m doing. There are ups and downs obviously. But I’m learning a lot through this whole process. I’m really enjoying content creation and outreach for my brand.
And her favorite part of my day? Sending out orders at the local post office.
“It just it makes me happy to realize that people are actually seeing what I’m doing,” Megana said. “And wearing what I’m doing! Just a few days ago, I got a picture from one of the people that got my clothes. She was on vacation and was wearing my dress. I was like ‘Oh my God, she went on vacation in my dress!’ It was so amazing to see.”
Though college is still a couple years away, Megana hopes to combine sustainability and business into a major.
“In order to keep a successful business going, I need to have those marketing techniques,” she said. “I need to know how a business would grow. I definitely want to incorporate business, but I also want to make sure that our brand’s core values never, ever go because of profit, or greed or anything like that. So, I want to implement sustainability into it.”
In the future, as LIILA grows, Megana envisions the clothing line as a leading force for positive change in the fashion industry.
“Eventually, I would like to open a store but since e-commerce is more popular now, LIILA might stay that way,” she said. “But our goal is to inspire more people to create not just a brand, but a community and not just a trend, but a way of life. We want to create this community of conscious consumers who appreciate the value of our clothes, and that also enjoy that it looks really good.”
Wearing the Cream Floral Bell Sleeve Mini Dress – one of her own eco-chic designs – Megana Madhurakavi, a sophomore at Robbinsville High School, recently launched LIILA, a sustainable clothing shop online. The passion project weaves together Megana’s love of fashion and sustainability